Cool and The Gang

This new Asian fusion restaurant makes you feel right at home

"A concept of life."

That's how new Asian fusion restaurant The Gang, located on the corner of 35th Street and North Miami Avenue in Midtown, bills itself. A bold statement for sure, but once we heard it, we have to admit we were intrigued.

The restaurant itself is the first American outpost of Bucharest-born Bogdan Niculae, who decided to expand his hospitality group overseas after falling in love with our city on a family vacation to Miami. "I love the energy here; I love what's happening in this part of Miami, it's electric," he says. He then embarked on a journey to bring his passion of all things flavorful, bold and eccentric to the city.

And eccentric this place is: The loft like open space may at first resemble an Ikea showroom, with mismatched color-blocked chairs and wood-topped tables adorned with orchids in orange and teal vases. The main wall, done in white subway tile, of course, is lined with a pillow-topped bench, fitted with a burlap-like material that's stamped with The Gang's logo—which you'll also spot on top of the open kitchen/bar counter.

But there are small touches of personality that shine through, like the bar—more a spot to hang as you wait for a table than its own entity—made of a row of sky blue washing machines; and the vintage-treated, eggshell-colored armoires and shelves, which double as server stations. Try not to be put off by the random printed images taped to the wall or the lone arcade video game in the corner; in their defense, they nod to the quirkiness of the establishment.

Much like the decor, the menu at first glance seems blasé, listing familiar items such as spring rolls, chicken satay, tartare, Korean beef, Indian gravy (curry) and grilled pineapple pork chops. But take a closer look, and you'll find pops of color not unlike the room's colorful trinkets: The green tea used to steam the crab in the rangoons ($6) adds a smoky depth that blends perfectly with the accompanying sweet chile dipping sauce; fatty chunks of foie gras ($10) inside a mason jar are resting on mămăligă, which, if you're not familiar with it, is a porridge-like substance made out of yellow maize—the Romanian equivalent of polenta.

During our visit, dinner continued to get incrementally playful, and it was with the entrees that we believed Niculae when he shared with us that he was buying fresh ingredients almost daily. The samuiwok homemade noodles with sautéed vegetables—and your choice of chicken ($18), beef ($20) or seafood ($20)—and Malaysian roasted lamb chops with garlic, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and fresh basil ($20) were served on communal gray and terra-cotta slate trays that took over the center of the table for all to share. We dug in as if nobody was watching and nothing mattered.

And that's what we like about this place: It's warm, eclectic, fun, familiar and the sort of restaurant where you can easily feel like you're part of The Gang.