When you live in Miami, you get used to the fact that large portions of this city are off-limits. You may never get to take a yacht to dinner or see the inside of a Faena penthouse. Those kinds of things are reserved for Russian oligarchs and Jamie Foxx. We are a playground for the rich and famous, and they get first dibs on the swingset.
NIU Kitchen could be a place like that if it wanted to. It’s cool enough to cater exclusively to vacationing rappers and serves amazing Spanish food that could easily show up on an insanely expensive tasting menu. And this place is so good, we’d still come here even if the staff made fun of our shoes and told us we only had 10 minutes to eat because someone more important was on their way. But instead, NIU Kitchen makes you feel as welcome and important as (we assume) Jaime Foxx feels everywhere he goes.
It’s easy to miss this Downtown Catalan spot. Its storefront is smaller than the optometrist office and bodega that sit on either side of it and the dining room is no wider, with only about a dozen tables against each wall. When you walk in, you half expect a host to politely but firmly tell you this place is for members only. Instead, they show you to your tiny table and happily let you try a few bottles from their wine list, which consists of only natural and biodynamic varieties that you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
There are usually three servers working the dining room and wearing whatever they want, which makes this place feel more like the dinner party you’ve always dreamed of being invited to than an actual restaurant. The staff is every bit as helpful when it comes to the food, too. Go ahead and ask them about the cold tomato soup with mustard ice cream, and they’ll explain that it’s so much tastier than you’re picturing in your head right now.
Nothing on the menu here is over $30, so it’s a great place to try some things you’ve maybe never had before without having to worry that you just dropped a week’s paycheck on a dish you hated after the first bite. That won’t happen here anyway. NIU Kitchen makes cold anchovies, unsalted cod, and almost every conceivable form of tomato taste better than we previously thought possible. The menu rotates based on season and availability, but you’ll probably find the arròs de cargols on it whenever you go. Order it. It mixes rabbit confit, escargot, and rice together so effectively that you can’t really tell which specific ingredient makes the whole thing so wonderful - kind of like the 1992 Dream Team or the cast of Big Little Lies.
Seafood takes up most of the menu for good reason: NIU Kitchen is excellent at it. The calamar is a tender whole squid on top of a potato cream that is so soft and light you don’t even feel it on your fork. The esqueixada is a hockey puck of unsalted cod, diced tomato, white beans, green guindilla, and a lot of olives - and it’s somehow even delicious to those who have a lifelong blood feud with olives.
This is the type of exciting, creative, and exceptional food we imagine being served in those mysterious Miami rooms: the ones guarded by doormen the size of elephant seals and intimidatingly beautiful people with lists that don’t have your name on them. The people in those rooms - sipping grossly expensive champagne and eating boring branzino for the third time this week - pay a lot of money to feel the way NIU Kitchen makes everyone in its dining room feel on a nightly basis, whether or not you have an Oscar and your last name is Foxx.
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 frozen 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.
These marinated anchovies come with cold mashed potatoes, which is a bit of a surprise when you first taste it, but a good surprise - like finding out a hotel upgraded your room or getting an email that says there’s cake in the kitchen.
This tastes like when you’re swimming in the ocean and a wave comes out of nowhere and smacks you in the face. But in this case, it’s a wave full of juicy cod, diced tomato, and salty olives. Order this as soon as you sit down.
These four squares of flatbread with anchovies, tuna belly, romesco, and escalivada (roasted eggplant and bell peppers) on top are the closest we’ve come to a perfect bite since that time we got all seven marshmallows in one spoonful of Lucky Charms.
You should absolutely have this on your table since it’s great for sharing, goes well with the other dishes, and is just freaking delicious.
This awesome little sea monster comes whole - from its triangular tail to its crispy tentacles - and we are very jealous of the fact that it gets to lay on top of the super-soft potato cream. If we got to lay on top of that potato cream, we’d have a much healthier relationship with our REM cycle.