The Gang is a new restaurant in midtown Miami where servers inexplicably dress as doctors in white coats, with stethoscopes and fake eyeglasses. The 90-seater is owned by a Romanian couple yet features Asian fusion, with an emphasis on Korean, Indian and Vietnamese flavors, although nobody from those cultures appears to be in the kitchen or anywhere nearby.
“Would you like me to check your heart?” a waiter awkwardly laughed, waving his stethoscope at us.
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My mother always warned that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. So there’s this: From its large picture windows, The Gang offers an excellent view of Gigi’s bustling dining room across the street.
Chili dip with Vietnamese pork rolls packs a nice one-two punch, and Thai-style green papaya salad makes for a refreshing albeit sweet starter big enough for two.
We can forgive Miami newcomers Bogdan and Jacqueline Niculae for trying too hard to be quirky in the shaggy-bearded ironic world around Wynwood. But it’s not so easy to forgive one small, fatty pork chop served as an entrée — despite being billed on the menu as plural chops — or the accompanying tepid pickled carrots, overly sweet pineapple sauce and bowl of plain white rice topped with green onion.
We barely flinched at getting sprayed with water as a server cascaded it into trendy tin camping mugs. We did mind, though, when our Malaysian lamb chops and roasted vegetables came out of the open kitchen overcooked and served with a three-inch strip of flavorless ground paprika.
On paper, The Gang’s offerings sound plenty appealing. A simple menu on a clipboard breaks down dinner into starters, soups and salads, and 10 main dishes, with limited wine, beer and cocktail choices. Bogdan Niculae is an attentive host, hovering over the dining room and stopping by tables to check on diners with a smile at the end of meals.
Even the best intentions, however, seem lost in translation.
Skewered Indonesian-style chicken satay is tender and juicy, but it lacks any grill or marinade flavor. Its cold, thick peanut gravy tastes more like peanut butter than sauce. Shrimp tempura is even more disappointing, blanketed in untoasted white sesame seeds over a mushy batter that obscures the seafood.
Black slate platters that are used for most entrées are too large to fit on two-top tables, leaving hardly any room for glasses or utensils. The awkward presentation seems overblown for dishes like roasted, medium-rare Korean beef, which was nicely pink in the middle but consisted of three meager strips of meat paired with thick, lukewarm slices of red onion and mushrooms.
Desserts such as chocolate lava cake with mint ice cream and Indian sweet carrot pudding are fine punctuations for the night if you’re still hungry.
With its subway tile walls, rough-hewn wood floor and mismatched chairs, The Gang borrows boho-chic design cues from Anthropologie. Scattered old magazine ads and white shutters whimsically decorate one wall. Six washing machines at the end of the rectangular dining room double as the base for a bar — another seemingly illogical feature.
Paired with the waitstaff’s medical gear, the washers serve as a reminder that there are worse things in life than a bad meal: You could be paying a visit to the doctor or doing laundry.
Then again, when those burdens seem more pleasant than a night at this restaurant, the prognosis for The Gang is grim.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense.