With all the excitement surrounding SOBEWFF, Chinese New Year on February 19th was basically overlooked in Miami. But not so at Blackbrick aka @Midtown Chinese, who celebrated the Year of The Sheep by being invited to cook at the James Beard House in NYC. Owner Richard Hales, Chef Ivan, and the team hopped a plane to present the multi course New Years dinner which even featured homemade local Azucar ice cream and Panther Coffee. And they even made it back in time to participate in SOBEWFF"s 101 Gay Weddings and Chicken Coupe events.
Here in Miami, you can celebrate New Years yourself by heading over to Midtown to Blackbrick.
Before even entering Blackbrick Chinese you can detect the unmistakable fragrance of Chinese food wafting down the street. Once inside, the comforting flavors hit you like a brick (pun intended) and instantly you know you’re in for a gustatory treat. Located in the chic Midtown Miami area, Blackbrick serves refreshingly good Chinese food that lures customers from all parts of Miami. Nominated in 2014 by Bon Appetit Magazine as one of the Best 50 New Restaurants ( and the only nom for Miami ) Chef/owner Richard Hales, of Sakaya Kitchen fame, has had an “overall goal, for decades, to bring Asian food to Florida". And with dishes like Yueng Chow duck fried rice and Gung Bao rabbit, Miami can finally indulge in elevated, modern Chinese fare. I had the opportunity to sit down with Hales and his chef, Ivan, to discuss how Blackbrick came to be and what he hopes to achieve with this new restaurant.
“Growing up I was exposed to the same flavors in Chinese food (soy sauce and various vinegars) since I was a baby so I think it was normal for me and it’s always been something that’s been in my plate.” As a child, Hales was introduced to Filipino food through his Filipino grandmother and recounts that his time spent living in Thailand and Hong Kong and traveling extensively around Asia helped to shape his menu into what it is now. His time spent working at Jean-Georges’ Vong in New York City revealed to him new ingredients and pungent flavors that put the wheels in motion for Richard’s long time love affair with Asian food.
His head chef is a Chinese man with the Americanized appellation of Ivan. Ivan began cooking in his uncle’s dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong and over a span of about 30 years opened two Chinese restaurants in South Florida. Hales and Ivan found each other through one of Hales’ distributors after he had been turned down by multiple chefs because he was American. “None of the Chinese chefs wanted to work for me, first of all, because I wasn’t Chinese. I was matching salaries of some of the top restaurants and once they found out I was an American they didn’t want to work for me.”
The duo walks a fine line to create dishes that push the Miami palate to expand their culinary horizons while simultaneously trying to appease and accommodate that very same palate. Dishes on the menu like tripe or beef tendon won’t be found at your typical Miami Chinese restaurant but that’s part of the appeal of Blackbrick. Hales’ goal, like most chefs, has always been for his customers to “take off the blinders” and get out of their comfort zone. You won’t find General Tso’s chicken here, but you will find his version made with Florida gator.
The crispy eggs rolls are traditional with shrimp and seasonal vegetables yet they are accompanied by a tangy pumpkin sweet and sour dipping sauce. The marinated jelly fish salad with Swank farms frilly mustard greens, sesame oil, and prickly ash and the Dongbei lamb tongue Laobing flatbread with Sichuan chili oil are some of the more adventurous dishes on the menu but are each executed flawlessly with a complexity and depth of flavors that any eater can appreciate. Vegetarians will also find plenty of locally grown vegetables cooked in various Chinese preparations.
Hales’ ideas come to fruition with Ivan’s technical skills and his knowledge of Chinese flavors. It’s a constant learning process for both chefs and sitting with them for just a short time, one can recognize the convivial rapport these two have. Hales’ passion and excitement comes through as he describes how he poured all that he had, financially and emotionally, into Blackbrick. The daily struggle that he faces is to change the way Miami thinks about Chinese food. He strives to bridge the gap of Miami’s expectations of what authentic Chinese food is.
“You’re going to have to open your mind a little bit more, there’s just so much more out there. It’s not about only Cantonese food, which is what we are used to in the US, there’s more to it.” Blackbrick’s food is innovative, fresh, and made with high quality ingredients at a great price point. The menu is creative and includes daily Dim Sum as well as Sunday Brunch.
3451 NE 1st Ave, Miami, FL 33137