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Restaurants to Watch: Part 2 (KYU and Grato)

Chef Conley has two other places in tonier Palm Beach: Buccan with its intensely flavored American small plates and equally noisy, and Imoto, right next door, serving pan-Asian small plates -- suggesting that Chef Conley has a curiously restless palate.
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Right: Entrance to KYU in Miami, Florida.

During a recent research trip to south Florida, our local "spies" put us onto these two new hot restaurants that are worthy of a special visit. And we don't often say that. In our series documenting our unpredictable travels -- mine, and those of international food trends pundit Michael Whiteman -- we go beyond just great food to find those "inexplicable traits" that make restaurants special. At KYU, there is the integration of the hipster art culture and culinary intellect; at Grato, we see an expansionism into new territory -- in locale and cooking methodology.

KYU, Wynwood Arts District, Miami

Here's a brand new dining destination that's been booked from the get-go. Built in 60 days on bones of a defunct restaurant, KYU is the brainchild of two expats from the sizzling Zuma chain, financed by local entrepreneur Alan Omsky and a group of investors.

Run by general manager Steven Haigh and executive chef Michael Lewis (Bouley, Ripert, Jean-Georges), KYU's minimalist interiors and outdoor artwork light up an otherwise dreary block of Miami's arts district. Its entryway -- flanked by a stunning "green wall" and a blockbuster mural by local artists Andrew Antonaccio and Filio Galvez -- is already the most photographed in town.

Equally camera-ready is KYU's gorgeous food -- bold flavors offset by bouquets of fresh herbs and designed for sharing.

KYU has lots of Asian influences and is pronounced "Q" -- taking its name from the last syllable of "barbeque." However, this is not your typical southern barbecue, unless you happen to be from South Korea -- which is where the seasonings originate for possibly the best, most succulent seven-hour smoked shortribs south of anywhere. This dish, and a wagyu beef brisket enlivened with black shichimi pepper typify the restaurant's "low and slow" wood-fired cooking methods.

Stylish starters like burrata with yuzu marmalade; heirloom tomatoes with chili and shishitos; tuna tataki with roasted peppers, citrus and fermented chilies, and pork and shiitake gyoza with truffled ponzu set the tone for ambitious main courses.

If you know the lingo, then Asian condiments like nam prik, shishito peppers, white ponzu, shiso, and yuzu will get your mouth watering. If not, ask your waitperson -- or ignore the unfamiliar words and just have a gastro-good time. In addition to the shortribs, we were impressed by roasted grouper with sake-braised white beans and smoke-roasted squab redolent with herbs. Duck breast "burnt ends" is slowly smoked to bare rareness and then resoundingly crisped over a wood fire, resulting in the best of both worlds -- a juicy interior and a crunchy, fatless exterior. Thai fried rice with king crab, served in a stone pot, is a showstopper that you just can't stop eating; better order it for the table.

For the perplexed, a six-course tasting menu for two, plus dessert, sounds like a bargain at $130; repeat, that's for two.

Dark chocolate s'mores cake with banana-bourbon ice cream will put you over the edge, so be forewarned.

The well-lit room is filled with A-listers of the non-glitterati sort, which means everyone's treated equally well. If you loved the front entry design, there's a duplicate mural on the patio out back, and soon the owners hope to open a passage directly into the famed Wynwood Walls just beyond.

KYU is open for lunch, brunch and dinner; closed Mondays. 786 577 0150 kyumiami.com

GRATO, West Palm Beach

Located on an un-chic strip of West Palm Beach, Grato's food is informally Italian and by definition lots simpler that KYU's. As with its sister restaurant, Buccan in Palm Beach, the place is teeming -- but our resourceful cousin, media-darling photographer Barry Seidman, managed to snag a table. Run by chef Clay Conley (a Todd English alum), Grato is rustic, as vast as an airplane hangar, and almost as noisy, which the mostly young crowd seems not to notice.

Grato's centerpiece is an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven and rotisserie; its counter seating is popular among those who (at this writing) enjoy watching the chef work. There are several wood-roasted main courses but most people assemble a bunch of enticing appetizers and then move on to first-class pizzas and pastas.

Crostini of beef tartare with horseradish and balsamic onion, and chicken livers with pickles and shards of radish are winners. Clams, roasted with perhaps an excess of aggressive 'nduja, arrive with lusty dipping juices. Everyone raves about bucatini carbonara, and a outlier of herbed penne with braised lamb, mint and yogurt will please more adventurous diners. Pizzas with nicely chewy crusts are made with organic flour, as are the house-made pastas. We were taken with The Dak, a white pie with onion and superlative ham; and a pie with spit-roasted pineapple, that same ham and pickled jalapenos. We missed a buffalo chicken pizza with caramelized onions, brussels sprouts and roquefort caesar but salivate just thinking about it.

The wine list tilts oddly toward California but two Italian wines on tap from The Gotham Project offer good value.

Chef Conley has two other places in tonier Palm Beach: Buccan with its intensely flavored American small plates and equally noisy, and Imoto, right next door, serving pan-Asian small plates -- suggesting that Chef Conley has a curiously restless palate.

Grato is open for dinner seven days a week and brunch on Sunday 561 404 1334 www.gratowpb.com

Rozanne Gold is a four-time James Beard award-winning chef and author of Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, Healthy 1-2-3 and Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease.