Friday, September 18, 2015

Dragonfly Fish Market & Kitchen (Doral): Hiro's Story

ai3's team is in the trenches, battling through construction administration on the Dragonfly restaurant in Doral (close to Miami). If you went to U of F, then you may have had a special date night in the original Dragonfly in Gainesville, Florida. While we wait for the dream to take shape, Jillian Rooker and Kellen Minor wanted to introduce you to one of our most creative clients, Hiro, as he builds his empire.  Don't worry, we are doing everything we can to get a Dragonfly Atlanta!

Our chat with Hiro Leung
What is the story behind Dragonfly?
We graduated from the University of Florida some time ago (no time... uu hmmmm) with a P.H.D. - Poor, Hungry and Determined- (not the real Ph D., but the hard knock one). Our venture began with the opening of a small sushi joint with not more than ten tables in 1999. My business partner (Song Kim) and I decided to do this until we found "real jobs" like our friends who were going into the corporate world. As the years passed, we absolutely fell in love with what we do.

What were you going to do with your life?
Growing up, I knew I wanted to be in business. I also knew that I never wanted to have a job. I couldn't stand the thought of going to work and doing something, for the rest of my life, that wasn't fun. I was determined to create a life that would allow my passions of creativity, eating, and drinking to intersect. Yes, we have tough days, but to be able to express that on a blank canvas when we open a new restaurant is amazing- and to watching it grow is an absolutely awesome feeling!

Why did you name it Dragonfly?
Sixteen years ago, when we were in search of a name, we wanted a name that represented Asia and symbolized grace, beauty, and enlightenment. We knew the answer was in nature, and the dragonfly spoke to us. The dragonfly is a symbol that represents the grace and beauty of Asia, but for us it goes even further. With eyes that are much larger than its body, the dragonfly reminds us to keep our vision huge but our bodies nimble.
What is it about an authentic fish market that inspired you to include this retail component in Dragonfly Doral?
Japanese culture is all about creating true meaningful connections. When you look at the restaurant landscape in the U.S., it's all the same. We want to be seen as the misfits; the ones that people ask, "Why?" We are driven to push the boundaries of Japanese cuisine beyond Sushi. When we landed on the Doral location, we knew that Seafood was a huge part of the Hispanic culture there, and using the Tsukiji Fish Market as inspiration was a no brainer!

Amongst your travels internationally and nationally, what is your favorite Japanese restaurant?
I have two favorites. One is a hole in the wall in Okinawa Japan. My grandparents used to take me there when I was a child, but it's not there anymore (the owners have passed away). The food was great, but the time spent with my grandparents going to that restaurant was one of my most fulfilling memories.
The second is Kyoto Japan (I know I'm cheating, but the whole area deserves to be mentioned!). The service, food culture and humility found in many of the restaurants there is simply breathtaking. I think there are more Michelin star restaurants in Kyoto than in Paris.

Is there a place in Japan that you find truly inspiring? If so, what is it and why?
Again, I'm blown away by the attention to detail, service, and food that exists in Kyoto. It inspires everything we do.

Hands down, what is going to be the BEST item on the menu at Dragonfly Fish Market & Kitchen (Doral) that everyone must order?
haha... It's going to be a completely new menu and design. We'll feature fresh seafood prepared with the love and inspiration of traditional Japanese comfort food. From our grab-and-go hot and cold dishes to the Dragonfly Izakaya experience, everything will be unique. 
If you're reading this... you'll have to come and see!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Smyrna's new tavern

Shared interests and witty debates, from history and through progress, communities develop.  Coming together and taken in from scattered places or sources, community centers are created by the people who inhabit them.  Only they can designate it, but the casual and familiar, warmth and openness are at its foundation.

We are so excited to announce Smyrna's newest neighborhood tavern, from the guys with Whitehall Tavern. Here's a sneak peek at what is coming soon!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Neocon 2015 Chicago furniture show

Neocon 2015, Chicago, IL
Jillian Rooker

A few of us ladies in the studio set off to the big city of Chicago to see what Neocon was all about this year - and what an experience it was.  Neocon is a large furniture trade show focusing on the corporate design market. We dabble in corporate design, so this was an important show for us to attend to see what new innovative options are out there.
We arrived on the Sunday before the show so we could have some time to explore the city. Of course, at the top of our list was to dine  at the awesome eateries Chicago has to offer as well as take a tour through Millennium Park. Our first stop was at Purple Pig, a restaurant known for its delicious small plates and laid back atmosphere. It was sweltering outside, but our champagne cocktails hit the spot. We definitely recommend this little restaurant- the food was amazing!

Our tour through the city led us to Millennium Park with our first stop at the Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry. Apparently they offer free concerts in this thing, too? Nice!

Of course we had to take the obligatory Bean picture, but we also discovered some beautiful bronze cast sculptures along the way.

That night with the wonderful people from OFS Brands and Interface Carpet, we tried the restaurant Oak + Char. We met with the owner who gave us an informative tour of the space, the story behind the design and his family's background in the restaurant industry. Naturally, we ate it up! (oh, and the food, too :)! Not to mention that all of us were super brave and tried bone marrow for the first time. Whoever said we weren't explorative eaters! (p.s. NOT a fan!)

(Heather's reaction moments after consuming bone marrow for the first time.)

The next morning we set out with lanyards in hand to attend the first day at Neocon. There were a zillion people there as well as a zillion cool furniture pieces, lighting, and textiles to look at. Talk about a lot of visual stimulation. One of our favorite showrooms we visited that day was HBF.

They beautifully curated their furniture and it felt so approachable and sophisticated- clean and contemporary. Nancy Suitt, one of our wonderful sales reps from Main Solutions, took us on an informative tour of all her lines. After HBF, we scurried through Davis, which had fantastic contemporary furniture options for our restaurants and hotel projects.

Upon wrapping up our first day at the show, we were surprised to find out that it was pouring rain outside and waiting for an UBER or a cab back to our hotel would have taken hours. We decided to throw our inhibitions to the wind, roll up our pants, and dredge through the streets of Chicago barefoot and happy - an experience we will never forget!

That evening we all dined at Nico Osteria, a delicious Italian restaurant which not only impressed with some of the best Italian cuisine we've ever had, but also with their unique design aesthetic- such a fun restaurant! Beautiful design detailing- always a treat to get inspired from other talent out there!

(Prosciutto, beets, herbs, and goat cheese- yes, all of these ingredients are wonderful together!)

Our second and final day at Neocon, we visited a ton of showrooms including Coalesse, Knoll, and Jasper Group. Knoll had an awesome felt cushion wall and banquette that we all agreed was super unique - maybe a restaurant application is in this product's future?  Heather was floored by the suede tabletop!!! And we were all taken aback by Knoll's new textile line. 

(Jasper Group's zoom book shelf- love the fun use of bent plywood.)

No doubt there were some common themes among showroom designs, but the one that stood out the most to us was definitely Haworth. The 1970s were in full effect. Some of us who had never experienced that decade (sorry, Lucy) definitely got to feel what it was like on that showroom floor!

That night we decided to go big (not go home!) and really explore the Chicago restaurant scene. After taking the most death defying UBER ride of our lives, we made it to Girl and the Goat all in one piece.  This restaurant is one our clients always benchmark.  The atmosphere was buzzing, and we decided to try the goat empanadas along with some signature cocktails. The open kitchen was inviting- we now see what all that fuss is about!

Next on our list was Publican. Again, another restaurant we've always heard about and that our clients love. This restaurant was very unique in its layout. The whole restaurant is comprised of large communal tables that look like they have been hand crafted by a community of talented Amish woodworkers. The signature lighting, a series of warm and glowy globe lights define the entire space, and there is standing room in the middle of everything for those people like us who just want to try a drink.  Our cocktails were delicious.

Next up, Momotaro!  So cool. Avroko did a wonderful job capturing the Japanese detailing in this space. We believe it's all in the details! Our studio is currently working on a Japanese Izakaya inspired restaurant near Miami, FL and we wanted to experience what a Chicago Japanese restaurant was all about- Very Impressive!

We ordered tons of sushi, nigiri, apps, and naturally, we ended with a chocolatey dessert. The staff was really informative, which is SO important for first timers to the restaurant. All around fantastic experience!

We wrapped up our night after stuffing our faces and passed out at the hotel. Chicago is such a great city to explore delicious cuisine and innovative design. Our Neocon trip of 2015 was one to go down in the books!