This fall an exciting new chef-driven, fast-casual eatery is coming to Coral Gables’ evolving Giralda Avenue: PokéBao by chef/owner Daniel Bouza. For the concept, slated to open November 2016, Bouza – formerly of Nobu Lana’i and, most recently, with Makoto in Bal Harbour – will evoke the flavors, texture and techniques he has spent years honing in some of the hottest, and hautest, kitchens in the country.
As The City Beautiful undergoes the Gables Streetscape project, which will transform Giralda Avenue into a bustling pedestrian-only corridor, PokéBao adds another layer to Coral Gables’ fantastic food scene. Inspired by a tiny surf shack in Lana’i that served poké bowls to guests lining up around the block, Bouza had the idea to serve the cubed fish salad in a chef-driven, fast-casual environment. An afternoon making gua bao at a friend’s house made him further realize that bao buns would be the perfect complement to poké. Before he knew it, the idea for PokéBao was born. “Poké and gua bao are traditional items ripe for interpretation and innovation,” says Bouza. “As a chef with a long history of making both dishes, I knew they would make a perfect pair and that a fast-casual concept was ideal for this style of cooking.”
Using his expertise in both Hawaiian and Asian cuisines, Bouza is offering authentic and creative takes on both of the restaurant’s main attractions. Chef made daily signature poké bowls include DB’s Spicy Ahi Tuna Poké – furikake rice, yellow fin, masago, fuego mayo, green onion – and Shrimp Lana’i Poké – seaweed and cucumber sunomono salad, local prawn, papaya, sweet potato, sesame seed, spicy ginger, and passion fruit dressing. Guests will also have the option to build their own bowls by choosing from an appetizing base, protein, toppings, and sauce selections. Chef Bouza’s signature buns will provide abundant variety with delicious offerings such as DB’s Sweet and Spicy Short Rib Bun – braised short rib, hoisin, pickled vegetables, and cilantro – and a Juicy Pork Belly Bun – roasted, braised and seared pork belly, ginger-soy sauce, pickled red onions, pickled cucumber, and red jalapeno. The Miami born-and-raised chef is also adding some local spin to the menu, incorporating Cuban flavors with a Crispy Chicken Vaca Frita Bun, filled with braised then seared chicken thigh, pickled vegetables and feta-tofu sauce. In addition to the namesake plates, small bites will also appear on PokéBao’s menu. Crispy Rice Tuna, Kona beer-battered Tempura Fries, and Yellow Fin Tuna Tacos will serve as enticing appetizers.
“The PokéBao promise will be fine dining quality food in a relaxed and comfortable setting at great prices,” says Bouza. “Families, couples and business folks on the go will find fast and effective service and convenience without sacrificing quality and health. Everything will be made fresh in-house with no cutting corners. There’s a lot of history behind the dishes we’ll be serving and we want to honor those traditions.”
Located at 153 Giralda Avenue, the walls of the space will be adorned with art specifically designed for the restaurant by renowned local artist Anthony Hernandez (Instagram: anthonyhernandezart), providing a hip ambiance. Imported Japanese beer, local brews, and Hawaii-based Kona Brewing Company selections will be on offer as well as wine and house-made, fruit-infused sake.
In the new millennium’s first decade, Bouza was pursuing an engineering degree when he decided to change paths and follow his personal passion: cooking. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he landed his first gig at the famed Gotham Bar & Grill before moving on to open BLT Bar & Grill in the Financial District. It was there that he met Chef Rodelio Aglibot. Bouza began working as a consultant with the acclaimed toque and opened multiple restaurants with Aglibot across the globe. Following stints at Buffalos Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colorado he joined the Nobu team at Nobu Lana’i in Hawaii; it was there he fell in love poke. “I ate it every day,” he says. “Living in Hawaii, I’d spend a lot of time at the beach and you’d get the freshest, simplest, most delicious poké at these basic waterfront shops and it was incredible. The flavors and purity lingered with me well after I left and I always knew I’d revisit it someday, somehow.” Following Nobu, he served as sous chef of Bal Harbour’s Makoto, departing to dive deep into research and development on what would become his dream project, PokéBao.
PokéBao is scheduled to open in November 2016 at 153 Giralda Avenue in Coral Gables and will be open seven days a week from 11AM to 10:30PM. www.pokebaomiami.com