When a restaurant has a master chef attached to its name, our first reaction is to picture chandeliers, linens, and ingredients too obscure to pronounce. When stepping into Pao by Paul Qui, the opposite occurs. Letting your eyes adjust after witnessing the burst of ornate velvet and gold in Faena Hotel‘s decadent lobby, Pao’s jungle-infused dining room feels like a tropical escape. The award-winning Filipino chef has created an illustrious hideaway on Miami beach that we’re already eager to re-visit.
Qui’s rule at Pao is that every guest has a seat at the table, enjoying each flavor as one part of a large family and Chef de Cuisine, Benjamin Murray keeps that love alive. If you’re able to take your eyes off the elevated drink carts around the hall and the golden dome above your head, you’ll find your way to your seat where some of the most thoughtful service in town awaits you. There is no schedule at Pao by Paul Qui but a family-style pacing that surprises with every turn and while you might be intimidated by the elevated atmosphere and menu, there’s always something to bring you back to home–yours or Qui’s, it doesn’t matter.
Looking at the entire experience, it’s hard to think such a rich menu would come from the same creator of the famous East Side King food trucks by way of Austin, Texas. Which proves that while every plate is a masterpiece of deep, complex flavors, nothing is too heavy or unfamiliar. You’ll find traditional Filipino staples mingling beautifully among comforting favorites like his celebrated fried chicken where every plate believes in the holy trinity: Thai basil, mint, and cilantro. At Pao by Paul Qui, you can go crazy or light, but never wrong.
Photo by Nik Koenig
As you lean into the meal and the table, you’ll think it’s a small menu but believe us, there’s a lot going on that you won’t want to miss. Our server Javaris, the lead conductor of this orchestra of flavors, was on-hand to answer any odd question (of which there were many) and began pairing our meal with several wines and spirits instantly. And by the time the conierto was over, he was more like a friend than anything else. The modern Asian menu has as many flavors as there are islands in its Executive Chef’s home country, so let’s take a tour.
From the aromatic and refreshing kinilaw bathed in coconut milk to the bright and fruity hamachi covered in fresh passion fruit, surprises were many in this first course. Pair that with Javaris’ pick of Takatenjin Soul of the Sensei Japanese sake and we were already halfway to heaven. Then came his Austin famous fried chicken which opened our eyes to the wonderful world of banana ketchup (yes, it’s a thing), and the unicorn, where uni hides among a grilled sweet corn pudding at the center of one of their most photographed dishes on the menu.
For every luxury there might be at Pao, there’s a balanced detail to remind you that you have a place at the table laid before you. And while he might’ve become famous for doing a duck 9 different ways, it was the mushroom “bistek”, a slow-cooked portobello perfectly doused in brown butter and soy, that truly opened our eyes in majesty a la Ratatouille. The short rib was to cry for (yes, cry), and even the unassuming bread rolls held their own sense of magic. After two sumptuous desserts–the perfect end quotation marks to an impressive meal, a digestif of freshly-steeped herbs somehow made its way to our table and we floated home on a cloud of sisig and cilantro.
If you still think you might be out of your league here, Pao by Paul Qui is a perfect candidate to enjoy during Miami Spice, which ends September 30th and features all of the items I just mentioned above.