If designers Versace and Christian LaCroix were to collaborate on a restaurant with an Asian inspiration, the look of Mandrake would be the outcome. Then add in culinary alums of NOBU, Blue Ribbon Sushi and Chotto Matte, and you have the delicious dining part of the equation. Finally, add in the “buzz” quotient of Kiki on the River, from where the owners hail, and you get the picture. Mandrake Miami on 23rd Street in South Beach is a stunner, and the food is delicious too.
You know the restaurant will be a design statement from the moment you walk through the turquoise-colored front doors adorned with antique Chinese door knockers. In the front room find a sushi bar and another bar with teal colored tiles and Chinese neon phrases. A hallway clad in vintage Chinese wooden gates and Japanese cherry blossom branches overhead leads to the main dining room hidden behind velvet drapes .
Christian Lacroix-upholstered chairs and velvet banquettes complement a striking color palette of magenta, purple and turquoise. Finally, there’s a lovely zen like garden patio with a wall of bamboo and Chinese sculptures.
But Mandrake isn’t only about stunning decor. It’s also about delicious modern Asian cuisine. The menu which gratefully doesn’t go on forever, is well chosen, divided into hot and cold appetizers; rice, dumplings and noodles; entrees; large dishes for sharing; sides; and a select variety of sushi maki, nigiri and sashimi by the piece.
By all means start with one of their custom cocktails, preferably the Gion. Other than gin martinis, negronis, and margaritas, I’m not usually a mixed cocktail lover, but did I ever love the Gion. Made of Casa Noble blanco tequila, ginger liquor, fresh red bell pepper, agave, lime and hell fire bitters, it had all of the flavor sensations in one — piquant, sweet, and citrus.
As is the case with many menus these days, the approach is small plates for sharing. We started with the pork belly, a novel presentation — four slow cooked, tender cubes of meat with a vegetable garnish. One usually doesn’t find golden red eye snapper tiradito with yuzu lemon sauce, so we had to try that, and were rewarded with a fresh, delicate, and tasty choice. From there we opted for duck gyozas, pan seared pot stickers with ponzu kaffir lime leaf. The sauce was light, tasty and delicious. Next time we want to try the Alaskan King Crab and Uni Inaniwa noodles with dashi and eel sauce, or the crispy rice with a choice of seafood.
The daily specials sounded too good to resist, so we shared the two daily specials. First up, tender and perfectly seasoned Wagyu beef skewers paired with to die for crispy, addictive peruvian potatoes with a ponzu aioli. We accompanied them with a light and elegant butter lettuce salad teamed with yuzu, truffle wasabi aioli, Parmesan, crispy gnocchi and pecans.
We couldn’t come here and not try one of the sushi maki dishes, so next up was Maine lobster tempura with a spicy cilantro truffle sauce. The tempura was actually a wrap with daikon, with plump pieces of lobster. Definitely on our list for next time is the whole fish tempura, a 1.5 pound fish with sweet and sour, ginger scallion sauces, a good deal at $40. Coming with a group of carnivores? There’s a grilled 32 ounce Tomahawk ribeye with gochujang sauce and shiso chimichurri sauce ($129).
Most of the appetizers and dumpling and noodle plates are in the mid to high teens; entrees (just two) are $22-$28; sides, $5-6; sushi maki, $9-$10 except for lobster and the fancy Mandrake with crab and the like; nigiri and sashimi, $5-$8 by the piece. (Note re comments below: these prices are accurate as per the restaurant representative. Open Table menus are inaccurate as of Tuesday afternoon, Feb.26. The restaurant rep said they are being corrected).
A glass of wine starts at $11; bottles start at $48. Cocktails are in the low teens. Instead of the usual dessert, try a glass of the refined Ichiros Japanese malt & grain whiskey ($25).
Coming up soon, a lounge, Drake, on the second floor with a DJ on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, with bottle service.
Mandrake Restaurant Miami, 210 23rd Street, is open for dinner six days a week, Monday – Wednesday from 7 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. For reservations visit www.mandrakemiami.com or call (305) 397-8036. Street parking.