Little Asian Kitchen a gem on Coral Way

September 19, 2013

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One step into the harsh fluorescent glare of this Coral Way pan-Asian might make you think about doing an about-face. But don’t. Though it has all the charm of a high school cafeteria with purple walls, faux terra cotta tiles and fake plants, this newcomer sparkles when it comes to the food, especially the curries.

That’s thanks to the talented and friendly chef and co-owner Patama Nitnara, a native of southern Thailand who has been cooking in Miami for more than a decade including runs at the Setai on South Beach and Moon Thai.

She runs the kitchen here with amazing grace, and comes out to chat with guests when she gets a chance. The menu (soon to feature more duck and fish dishes) is probably twice as long as it should be, with more than 70 items, including an array of flashy sushi rolls and made-to-order desserts.

The pacing of the meal can be erratic, but the young servers hustle. The staff was quick to arrive with a tiny plate of gorgeously seasoned “white tuna” chunks that were fresh and delicious even though escolar is a fish I would never order.

With sushi ubiquitous (it’s even shown up at my local gas station mini mart) and good Thai and Vietnamese food a rare find in Miami, I stuck to the Southeast Asian side of the menu on my two visits.

Fantastic starters include goi chon — shrimp, vermicelli and greens freshly rolled in rice paper with a sweet, warm hoisin and peanut dipping sauce — as well as a bountiful nest of green papaya salad with a tender snap and a distinct hit of spice.

A meaty rendition of pho with a simple broth includes a platter of super-fresh culantro, mint, bean sprouts and lime to create a complex and multi-textured meal that is too big for one person.

Lovers of curry will delight in the simple but delicious red Thai curry topped with baby basil leaves. We tried it with tender lozenges of white meat chicken in a creamy, spicy broth of coconut milk, dotted with colorful strips of red bell pepper, green peas, crunchy bamboo slices and sweet, fresh pineapple.

Noodle dishes, especially, the delectable pad Thai topped with fresh shrimp and lots of just-roasted peanuts and herbs, are lush.

Desserts are also exquisite, especially the sweet rolls. Ours, with green apple, tasted like a freshly made, gourmet version of a McDonald’s apple pie. A flaky, cigar-sized cylinder stuffed with tiny cubes of hot, cooked apple alongside cold coconut ice cream and whipped cream was irresistible, even for those who don’t love fried food.

The wine list (a choice of six blah bottles) is eminently skippable. The good news is you are free to bring your own with a modest corkage fee of $10. “I just want the people to enjoy the food and have fun,” Patama says.

Although the setting is decidedly uninviting, the food and hospitality are so lovely that a trip back to The Asian Kitchen is definitely in my future. I want to try the ramen dishes and more of the Japanese offerings. Plus, prices are so reasonable it’s easy to make this place a habit.

Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.

Contact Victoria at vpevpe@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesce.

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