There was one of Miami’s first pop-up restaurants in downtown called Phuc Yea pronounced, “fook yeah”, that opened in 2011. The restaurant has been resurrected this past September by husband and wife team Aniece Meinhold and Chef Cesar Zapata at 7100 Biscayne Blvd in the trendy MiMo district.
I would call the restaurant a mash-up of Vietnamese and bold Cajun flavours. You may ask why this strange combination? Well, during the Vietnamese war many immigrants escaped to America and settled in Louisiana. Meinhold’s mother was from Saigon. So this is why this hybrid was born.
The space seats 100 and is bilevel, it has a lounge in front, and a 15 foot raw bar, upstairs is the main dining room and in the back and outdoor patio under paper lanterns. There is also some outdoor seats out front as well. Hallelujah, there is free parking in the back lot. The inside has a funky vibe, with street art, repurposed furniture, wood beams, Asian accents, graffitied walls and dim lighting. The music played is a mix of hip hop, heavy metal etc; but it wasn’t too loud, thankfully.
The owners and staff were friendly and courteous and so it pains me to report I was not a big fan of the cuisine. Vietnamese food usually tastes fresh with distinct, vibrant flavours. The use of fresh herbs, spices and aromatics have a special fragrance. It should also have a brilliant balance of heat, sweetness and sourness. I felt I couldn’t distinguish the ying and yang here, the sweet and the salty, and the cool and the warm, the fresh and fermented. Vietnam was colonized by the French and this had a lasting effect on the cuisine here as well. I couldn’t taste this in the presentation or flavours either.
The menu was divided into raw bar, noodles and rolls, Cajun wok, and mains. I was surprised to see no rice dishes as this is a big staple of Vietnamese cuisine. They serve it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We started with the chili mangoes and cukes, served with red onion, garlic chips, bean sprouts, cilantro, lime and nuoc cham – the Vietnamese national condiment made of fish sauce diluted with lime juice, sugar, chilies and garlic. I would have enjoyed this dish more if it had the ying and yang of hot and sweet, but I only tasted hot. Next we tried the crispy soft shell bao. The bun has a sriracha remoulade, with cucumber, scallion and a touch of jalapeño. This was my favourite dish, but the batter was too salty. The caramel pork niblets, which were small pork ribs in an applewood smoke, with ginger, scallions and nuoc cham, were on the dry side and very garlicky. From the Cajun wok side we opted for some razor clams in a green curry sauce. The sauce was tasty, garnished with corn, potatoes, and sausage a la Louisiana style. But the clams were gritty. You’ve got to wash them properly, otherwise it is not very appealing. The last dish we tried was the cola confit duck. This dish was half a duck with coca cola, hoisin and pickles. They provided lettuce cups to wrap the duck. Let’s just say the dish didn’t leave a lasting impression.
There were eight drinks listed on the cocktail list. I tried the lychee sour made with old forester bourbon, lychee, lemon juice and egg white. The drink was fine and reasonably priced.
They offered two desserts, a green tea panna cotta and a chocolate bread pudding with coconut shavings and condensed milk. Vietnam doesn’t have a lot of dairy in their diet, you won’t see cheese, butter or cream, hence the use of a lot of condensed milk. I found this dish way too sweet for my liking.
Don’t get me wrong, the meal wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t that memorable. Would I return? Phuc no.