It is hard to keep up with all the openings and closings each year in Miami. Cake Thai Restaurant is another recent casualty to add to the list. I was never a big fan of this restaurant, located at 180 NW 29th Street in Wynwood, although it did garner some decent reviews. The same owners, Javier Ramirez and Leo Monterrey, both Venezuelan, have reinvented the concept of the space and brought in consulting Chef Albert Diaz, formerly of Zuma. The folks who brought us Alter are behind the reopening.
Aesthetically, the design is similar to its last incarnation, maybe with a new coat of paint, but the same tables and the upside down lampshades on the ceiling. It’s a relaxed, cool atmosphere. The restaurant seats 32 inside and an additional 20 outside. A warning – you can hear extremely loud music coming from next door when you are on the patio. The menu at Palmar can be described as a Chinese restaurant with a tropical vibe, it’s concise – with a selection of dim sum, rice and noodles, vegetables, mains, and desserts. They also offer wine, beer, and sake, but nothing will blow your socks off.
I’ve dined here on two occasions and I can say without a doubt it was better the night when Chef Diaz was in the house. The first night that I dined there, Chef Diaz served some bold, flavourful and creative dishes. We tried roasted pork buns, a first for me, as I have only seen the steamed version. The Palmar coleslaw is so good that I ordered some to take out. The jasmine smoked pork ribs are tasty and the clementine chicken, a riff on lemon chicken, is juicy and delicious. The flat rice noodles with braised rabbit and chili garlic was adequate. One area they need work on is the steamed rice – it was a glob of gluttonous mess. A Chinese restaurant should excel in this department. They serve a very good mochi and their mango pudding is good, although I have much better renditions of this dish.
On my second visit, the results were not as good, perhaps because Chef Diaz was not there. However, the crispy prawns with a Sichuan chili is served fresh and hot and the steam pork buns, made in-house, which are huge and flavourful. But, the Mongolian beef was overcooked and tough. We actually sent it back and had to ask for it to be removed from our bill, which they did as well as sending us some fried pork dumplings on the house. They source a lot of local and natural ingredients where they can, and there is a lack of good Chinese restaurants in Miami.
Blackbrick is still my favourite, but there is a void in Wynwood and Palmar is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. Just don’t come expecting refined, polished and exquisite cuisine. This is more of a fun, unfussy, and appealing place. The selections are creative, fashionable, and current, and the staff is friendly and helpful.