Highly-lauded chef Brad Kilgore’s two eateries at MDD are inspired by his travels throughout Asia and the wood-fired flavors of his native Kansas.
“I originally wanted to create a bar,” explains Brad Kilgore, the James Beard nominated chef, when discussing Design District hotspot Kaido. “But I wanted a bar that had just as much focus on the quality and thought behind the drinks as it did on the food.”
Following the success of Alter, Kilgore’s first independent restaurant in Wynwood, the acclaimed chef opened two new concepts in the Design District—Kaido and Ember— last year, radically broadening the local dining landscape. Kaido opened last December during Art Week and is a seductive Asian-inspired restaurant-lounge. The extensive sake and cocktail list plus innovative Izakaya style small plates tickle the palate with Kilgore’s signature dexterity with Japanese umamiesque flavors and unexpected textures. The lounge is a collaboration with Parisian drinks master Nico de Soto, who brings that same level of industry expertise to the cocktails that Kilgore brings to the cuisine.
“That is what I think Nico and I bring together – effort on both sides of things, from the creativity, to the flavor and the thought all the way through.” The restaurant’s name, a reference to the Hokkaido island in Japan, also translates as “curious one” or “he who asks a lot of questions,” Kilgore explains that is how he and de Soto approach their work. Dishes of grilled foie gras and Wagyu tataki give way to crowd-pleasers like uni fondue and crab rangoon that pair well with drinks like the Hakkaido Sour, made with soy-washed Japanese whisky, Kuritsu licorice syrup, lemon juice and kombu.
Occupying a second-floor space in Paradise Plaza, Kaido is a sleek Tokyo-style drinking den with a striking 1,200 Butterfly knife chandelier hanging above the bar. The designer behind Kaido’s interior, Mark Alan Diaz of M.A.D. Design Co., explains how the chandelier is his rendition of a Japanese sea urchin. “The most challenging aspect of creating this chandelier was sourcing the 1,200 knives needed to complete the design. We had vendors from around the world, but they just couldn’t ship them into the U.S. Luckily, we found one vendor in the States that had the exact number of knives we needed,” Diaz explains.
There is also a hidden even more intimate bar-within-the-bar called Ama where Kilgore serves a 16-course “amakase” dinner—his play on the traditional Japanese chef’s omakase tasting meal. There is only one seating each evening after which, Ama converts into a nightcap spot with an extensive list of Japanese whiskies, the rarest of which is a 1985 Nikko Osaka World Expo which goes for $115 for an ounce pour.
Elaborating on his inspiration for Kaido, Kilgore points out that it’s not based on one particular Asian cuisine, but rather a collection of experiences. “Kaido is the accumulation of things I’ve always wanted to do and things that I’ve seen,” he explains. “My roots come from my life experiences; therefore, my inspiration comes from things that excite me or things that I’ve eaten or places I’ve traveled.”
It’s hard to imagine one culinary mind tackling incredibly disparate concepts concurrently, but that’s exactly what Kilgore has done. While Kaido plays with Asian flavors and tasting portions, Ember is a wood-fired American bistro with big, meaty mains and rich flavors as the focus. “It’s an homage to the restaurant I grew up learning how to be a cook at and the dishes I love to eat on my days off,” says the Kansas native, who is no stranger to barbecue and its trappings. “I love to cook with fire, the aroma of fire, slow-smoking things, working with the element of char, taking items that you don’t always grill - and cooking them on the fire. We do a grilled lasagna, for example, and cook a terrine over the embers and finish it with a demi-glace.”
All of which sounds like a departure from Alter and its focus on meticulously-plated almost-molecular gastronomy-style dishes, which Kilgore concedes is true.
“The core of the dishes is traditional, but we put our own spin on them,” says Kilgore. And he’s excited about the desserts which include his take on a Rice Krispie Treat made with puffed wild rice and served warm in a pan à la mode or his play on banana cream pie using maduros (plantains) and butterscotch pudding. “I want it to be known as place to come for good food, whether in the neighborhood or Miami in general.” If Kilgore’s previous track record is any indication, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Photo of Brad Kilgore by Ruben Cabrera @rubenpictures
Photo of the bar at Kaido by Juan Fernando Ayora