Pao in the new Faena Hotel

There has been so much buzz and anticipation about the opening of the new Faena Hotel (formally the Saxony) in Miami. It was said this was a billion dollar project. Stretching from 32-35 Street, the hotel is quite over the top, some would call it schmaltzy.

But they spared no expense.

They have two Damien Hirst sculptures. One in the garden is a nine foot gilded skeleton of a wooly mammoth. The lobby of the hotel has mosaics and lots of gold leaf. There is a fabulous theatre that is opening soon with “A List” performers. Alinea from Chicago is going to do a pop up for a month in the hotels second restaurant before it reopens as Los Fuegos.

Now for Pao, you walk up a circular staircase, are greeted by lovely and friendly hostesses, and they walk you inside a curtained area into the circular dining room, which is dominated by a 6.5 million dollar Damien Hirst Unicorn, raised in the center of the room. The menus focus is Contemporary Asian, and was designed by celebrity Chef Paul Qui. Qui, a James Beard award winner, dominated on Top Chef. He is of Filipino heritage and the menu had Chinese, French, Spanish, Japanese and Filipino elements to it.

The menu is divided into four sections. Crudo, small plates, rice and large format dishes. There is also a section called Binchotan service, where they grill meats, fish and seafood table-side. We did not partake in this.

We started with a Blue fin tuna crudo with olives, sanbaizu and crispy sweet garlic, but we preferred our other crudo consisting of hiramasa, coconut milk and vinegar, with red onion, coriander and olive oil. We were told this was a Filipino creation. We enjoyed our “Sando” which were miniature sandwiches – one was pork milanese, with two sauces, a choice of a spicy mustard and one was a fruit sauce, and the other sando was green curry chicken. We also tried the grilled greens, which was a variety of bitter and sweet greens in a pine nut praline, green apple and charred onion sour cream. It was a little too heavily dressed.

For our rice selection we tried the wild mushroom rice. It was flavoured with some dashi pickled onion and sake. It was nice but really not necessary as our main course fish dish came with ginger jasmine rice, which they did not mention to us.

We had a whole Branzino that was deboned and served in a cilantro chili sauce for $45. We really enjoyed the smoked short rib asado, which was a tender wagu beef for $75. (There was a more expensive wagu beef dish at just under $200.) It came with this wonderful Japanese sweet potato purée.

There was an extensive wine selection of old and new world, and we selected a bottle of Flowers Chardonnay.

Because of the large portions to the menu, I suggest going with at least another couple.

For dessert we tried two unusual dishes. One was a cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich, and one was a rice dish with rice crispy bits and chocolate. I was not a huge fan of either. It would be nice if they offered some fresh fruit.

The servers were really engaged. The crowd was young, beautifully dressed, and the place becomes a real scene by 9 p.m.

The restaurant has a cool ambience, expensive prices and I would say good food, but not great.

I really recommend going to the “Living Room” on the main floor for a drink afterwards. It’s a cool space and they play live music from 7 to 10 p.m. before a DJ comes on. I felt transported to a different era. It was reminiscent of a supper club from the 50’s or 60’s. They alternate with a jazz band and Latin music every other day. It was a lot of fun.

The hotel is located at 3202 Collins Avenue – 786-655-5608.

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