May 24, 2017
By Carla Torres | November 14, 2016 | Food & Drink
At Kiki on the River, nightlife king Roman Jones and executive chef Steve Rhee are combining Miami's carousing spirit with Mediterranean cuisine.
Kiki on the River honors traditional Mediterranean cuisine but gives it American and global twists.
In a place like Miami, where sizzling nightlife and haute cuisine are both a daily necessity, it’s only natural that one of the city’s original club kids would grow up to be a restaurateur. “Since childhood, my summers have been spent in Mykonos, and I wanted to bring that same style of restaurant and bar [to Miami],” says Roman Jones, founder of Opium Group, about his latest venture, Kiki on the River.
Jones—the son of Foreigner guitarist and rock legend Mick Jones—followed in his father’s musical footsteps but in a different direction, laying the foundation for Miami’s party scene since the ’90s by opening discotheques like the still-talked-about Opium, Privee, Mansion, SET, and Mokai. And since Miamians love food just as much as they love revelry, why not put the two together? This month Jones introduces the country’s first (and only the world’s second) Dom Perignon cabana, which turns pink when you pop a bottle of rosé and yellow for Brut. And if you drink enough Champagne, it sets off fireworks from across the Miami River, where Kiki is nestled against the downtown skyline.
But that’s just one of Kiki’s many attractions, which also include exquisite Mediterranean fare from Executive Chef Steve Rhee. “We’re paying respect to the traditional cuisine, but with a few American and global twists,” says Rhee, formerly the chef at Estiatorio Milos. Exhibit A: the resplendent sashimi, impeccably sliced from whole seasonal fish—head and tail intact—and minimally garnished with thyme, lemon, sea salt, and olive oil on one side and rosemary, white balsamic vinegar, and oil on the other. “It’s one of those dishes that people see and, without even knowing what it is, say, ‘I want that.’”
Besides preparing exquisite raw fish, Rhee (who is of Korean descent) can also cook up a serious lavraki (a European sea bass), whether grilled or baked in a salt crust. Prefer fresh Chilean sea bass, Alaskan halibut, grouper, swordfish, or ahi tuna? He’s dishing out those, too, as well as a perfect octopus and Greek-style bouillabaisse of calamari, lobster, the catch of the day, and orzo, whirling in a piquant tomato sauce. “He’s what I call an honest chef,” says Jones. “Everything starts out with ingredients and preparation.”
Of course, a Greek restaurant is only as good as its mezze, and Kiki excels with a platter of tzatziki, hummus, carp roe, and roasted baby eggplant (alongside cloudlike house-baked pita), all of which pair divinely with a sweet and tart Mastiha Mule or sangria. Just as sweet is the Greek yogurt capped with thyme honey. “You sort of feel like you’re in your grandmother’s house in Greece,” says Jones. That is, if grandma has docks so guests can pull up their yachts and an alfresco terrace akin to a Greek garden, where you can take private gondola rides.
Even with all that Kiki has to offer, it remains irresistibly unassuming. “I found there are other things going on the river that are out of context or scale,” Jones says. “It’s not about exclusivity or the scene, but about creating good memories over great seafood in an idyllic setting.” 450 NW North River Dr., Miami, 305-890-9474
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARY JAMES