“Ugh, this looks like one of those artsy, overpriced places!”  was my first thought as i walked in and perused the surroundings. I had been invited to meet at this Midtown Miami establishment located at 3470 N. Miami Avenue after attending an event at the very impressive De La Cruz Collection http://www.delacruzcollection.org .  The interior is very attractive, dominated by an open kitchen with fresh ingredients prominently on display. An ample dining room, busy, noisy but in a good way, not cramped. Bustling would be the word.   Self parking in the rear was a reasonable $3.

We were greeted immediately by a stylish friendly hostess. Upon our request, she seated us on the street-side patio.   Right away, a very attractively plated grilled butternut squash snack was brought out. Listed on the menu at $5 we were not charged for it. Squash was cooked then finished on the grill and served with yogurt and spicy vinegar. It was very hearty and were I not sharing, by itself it may have filled me up.  The service was very attentive but not overly so. Better than I have had at restaurants 4 times the price.

Reviewing the wine list, we settled upon a bottle of South African Star Tree Chenin Blanc. Fruity yet dry, it was very well paired to the light dinners and tapas fare Gigi specializes in. The Chenin Blanc was very good and if the other wines on the list are comparable in quality then Gigi is to be applauded for outstanding value. Every wine was under $30 a bottle except for one top champagne and one top sake. Beer starts at $2 and these are not happy hour specials!

Though they bill themselves as “noodles – bbq – beer” one would be dissappointed if expecting a traditional American style barbecue joint. They do have ribs served with Asian hoisin sauce and Peruvian rocoto peppers ($16) and they also have a 16 ounce grilled ribeye steak on the menu ($26) served with perilla (shiso) and hollandaise. This is not a rib shack.

Next we ordered cobia sashimi ($8) and tuna ($8) from the raw menu. Familiar with Cobia, a common Florida saltwater fish, I had never before seen it in a sashimi presentation. It came plated with mango, an unexpected pairing that worked well. The tuna was served in a roll fashioned out of cucumber with avocado. Oddly, I had just had this at the catered De La Cruz reception. Is this the new food couture for this season, or coincidentally could it have been catered by the same organization? Whatever the case, it was well conceived and well presented.

Moving on to the hot menu, Gigi features buns, which both the hostess and the waiter recommended as a specialty. Their buns (all $7) were actually small rounds of white spongy bread; different from, but reminiscent of Ethiopian Injera bread. They were employed taco – style around the fillings. We ordered buns of mixed mushrooms  and beef brisket.  Buns are served two per order and are larger than a taco but 2 together would equal a typical burrito in capacity to fill.  I enjoyed both types, especially the mushroom, but my companion disliked the mushroom; probably for the same reason I liked it so much. The mushroom flavor was not delicate but robust and smoky, which is to my liking. It is very mushroomy. and prepared with sesame and hoisin.

At this point we were far too sated off the snack / appetizer menu to attempt the noodle or rice bowls ($14-16) which are menu features along with entries such as short rib meat loaf ($10) and seared pork belly ($15).  Aside from the aforementioned ribeye, no entree was more than $16.  One gripe is that when the waiter asked if we wanted water with our wine, iced tap water would have sufficed and was what I expected – in fact it’s what I thought I had but evidently I had some special artsy water that cost $2.  It could be worse but we should have been offered a choice. In the past I had been rather underwhelmed with Miami’s Wynwood / Design district scene; so long on style but short on substance or value. Either I have been mistaken the whole time, or Gigi is a welcome exception. http://www.giginow.com

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