Bao Bar + Asian Kitchen
1200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-530-4176, BaoLasOlas.com
Simon Bai takes pride in his chefs' handcrafted noodles, dumplings and spongy bao slider buns, hence the name of his new restaurant in the former Wild East Asian Bistro.
"We are focusing our efforts to be the first true pan-Asian restaurant," says Bai, who was raised in Suriname. "There is a plethora of Thai-sushi restaurants training people to believe Asian food is your typical California roll with a side of pad Thai or pork fried rice full of MSG. We aim to change that mindset by using grass-fed beef, all-natural chicken, fresh fish and absolutely no MSG."
Signatures include Chinese shrimp dumplings called har gow ($10), Thai charred octopus ($14), Tokyo ramen soup with pork belly, poached egg and fish cake ($12,) Korean rib-eye bulgogi ($29) and Filipino pancit Canton noodles ($21), a nod to the Filipino heritage of executive chef Mark Rivera, who helmed Tatu Asian Restaurant at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Lunch includes rice or noodle bowls with choice of protein ($12-$14).
A surprisingly sophisticated wine list accompanies specialty cocktails ($12-$15), craft beers, and of course, sakes.
"The ambiance is cozy due to the earth tones we've used to be an extension of our food — all natural," Bai says.
Wood imported from Indonesia was fashioned into tables and a wavy bark-edged bar, punctuated by white emu booths. Alfresco dining beckons on the semicircular patio overlooking the canal or down on the dock with oversized lanterns and mini fire pits.
A DJ spins Thursdays for ladies night, and musicians perform Friday and Saturday nights. Lunch and dinner are served daily with Sunday brunch to come.
Sweet Nectar Charcoal Grill & Spirits
1017 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-761-2122, SweetNectarBuzz.com
Four months after opening, this Southern-flaired retreat with an enticing patio on the city's prime street has launched weekend brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"While we try to highlight innovative brunch items like charcoal grilled duck bacon and honey-pecan mascarpone cheese made in house, we also wanted familiar and comforting dishes like traditional eggs Benedict and grilled cowboy steak and eggs," says Peter Cumplido, director of operations.
That sinful honey-pecan mascarpone pools atop the challah French toast with berries ($8). Other highlights are steel-cut oatmeal with peach compote ($6) and red salsa chilaquiles ($12). A limited lunch menu offers hits such as roasted Brussels sprouts with kimchi vinaigrette ($8), sea scallops swimming in sweet red-pepper butter on an escargot tray ($12), crispy soft-shell crab BLT ($13) and octopus, cooked sous vide for 18 hours and then char-grilled ($12).
Bloody Marys, mimosas, bellinis and sangria ($12-$14) complement, but you might try the new Smitten with Boodles gin ($14). Cocktails and beer are served in frozen mason jars.
New desserts include croissant bread pudding with peanut-butter fudge ice cream ($10).
Insider tip: Reap the free parking out back.
This quaint historic house with a front-yard oasis has overhauled its wines to pair with new specialties.
"We want to have a wine program and not a wine list," says manager Carlos Gambarini. "Compared to the area down the avenue, we tried to stay in the moderate to low price range."
Gambarini suggests pairing the Tilia torrontes ($30, bottle) with blackened redfish atop gnocchi spiced with a mix heavier on brown sugar than typical ($25). "The sweetness at the end softens the heat and also caramelizes the fish," he says.
He also recommends the Airlie 7 white blend ($9, glass; $34, bottle) with Cointreau Noir-glazed roasted duck with onion-raisin marmalade ($27) and the Planeta rosé ($9, glass; $34, bottle) with beef carpaccio with chili oil ($12).
Other new highlights are five-spiced bacon sticks with apple-blue cheese relish ($7.50) and New York strip with mushroom cream ($24), tender as filet mignon. You'll discover why The Bunny Sundae with bacon-caramel sauce is so named when it arrives with bacon strips for ears ($8).
New cocktails are vodka Apple Ginger and Herb Garden Mojito (both $10), and reggae nights have replaced Havana nights on Thursdays.
1826 Restaurant & Lounge
1826 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-709-0000, 1826Collins.com
A new four-story building with wraparound floor-to-ceiling views of South Beach across from the Shore Club has drawn partner Danny Grant, who was named a Food & Wine best new chef in 2012 while at RIA at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago.
"I've always cooked delicately, even something like a short rib, but I want lighter and less manipulated fare that works well with this climate," says Grant, who earned two Michelin stars at age 30. "And the shared plate concept is conducive to Miami."
Soft touches play out with flower garnishes and elements such as a pastis foam gracing poached king crab ($16). The dinner menu varies, but try not to miss the leek-potato croquettes with sheep's milk cheese and truffles perched on a look-alike black tic-tac-toe board ($10), kataifi-wrapped shrimp with curry ginger ragu ($13) and garlic hen-egg custard nestled in a brown eggshell with jamón ibérico ($12). The grilled short rib ($25) "always steals people's hearts," Grant says.
End with dark-chocolate crémeux with brûléed banana ($10) before adjourning from the refined industrial dining room with white swivel Jetsons-like chairs on the second floor to the third-floor lounge with crystal-vined chandeliers dangling from a soaring skylight. Hydraulic tables with riveted metal chairs and brown leather couches rise for late-night dining or lower for cocktails while DJs spin. The fourth-floor VIP loft overlooks the lounge.