There was really no restaurant in Miami quite like NIU Kitchen. Every meal we had at the tiny, narrow Downtown Catalan spot was perfect, exciting, and delicious. The restaurant made you feel special and welcome and a solid 38% cooler than normal.
And then the pandemic happened, which was awful for everyone, but especially devastating for tiny, excellent restaurants around the world. NIU Kitchen closed its dining room, converted the space into a natural wine shop, and eventually merged with its sister restaurant, Arson, which is just a few doors down the street.
But the good news is that everything we loved about NIU Kitchen now lives on at Arson, and it’s still one of the most exciting dinners in Miami.
Many of our favorite NIU dishes now appear on Arson’s menu, like the simple and perfect pa amb tomáque or the much less simple but nonetheless perfect cold tomato soup. Those dishes join some of Arson’s classics, like the great charbroiled oysters, which are singed with a hot coal tableside. But the menu is constantly changing, so even if you come on a biweekly basis (which is not a bad idea) you’ll still find new things that have an above-average chance of making you pound the table with delight. Also, wine (specifically natural and biodynamic wines) is still an essential part of the meal here, so get a bottle on the table. (Or stop by the old NIU Kitchen space and buy a bottle to take home.)
There are things we miss about the old NIU, specifically how the tiny dining room created an atmosphere of intimacy that, to quote the pre-pandemic us in our first review, made the place “feel more like the dinner party you’ve always dreamed of being invited to than an actual restaurant.” But that informal yet thoughtful atmosphere is still present at Arson, which is bigger but certainly not so big that you get lost for ten minutes trying to find the bathroom. You still feel like you’re at a dinner party here, just a slightly larger one, where every ten minutes or so your host lights a dish on fire in the middle of the dining room. And when you’ve sipped the last drop of wine and scraped the plates clean, there’s a good chance you’ll not only feel 38% cooler than normal, but also grateful that such a great restaurant survived such a sh*tty year.
The best things in life are simple - and this crunchy bread with grated tomato and garlic oil is proof of that.
There’s a big scoop of mustard ice cream sitting right in the middle of this bowl of tomato soup. Taste it on its own (because it’s not often you get to taste mustard ice cream) and then mix it into the soup. The result is creamy, cold, refreshing, and the best tomato soup we’ve ever had.
This is one of those rare dishes that’s both fun to watch and amazing to eat. The oyster (one per order) comes topped with the perfect amount of ponzu and rice vinegar mayo, and then gets burnt for just a couple seconds with a hot coal once it hits the table. It gives the whole thing a wonderful charred, smoky flavor.
If, for some strange reason, you are only able to order one dish, make it this. It’s a bowl of runny poached eggs, truffled potato foam, black truffle, and crispy bits of jamón ibérico. You mix the whole thing up, and then spend the next five minutes absorbing every last drop of this magical mixture with bread. Don’t expect to have a conversation while you eat this, unless you plan to communicate exclusively in moans.
These four squares of flatbread topped with anchovies, tuna belly, romesco, and escalivada (roasted eggplant and bell peppers) are the closest we’ve come to a perfect bite since that time we got all seven marshmallows in one spoonful of Lucky Charms.