For more than a decade, Roy Villacrusis has been one of the most creative chefs in South Florida. He first came to prominence as the corporate sushi chef for Mark Militello’s string of restaurants and has been engaged in a restless search for new and exciting projects. One of his most notable recent accomplishments was designing the menu for Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton, which opened last Thanksgiving.
Kapow! has livened the landscape at Mizner Park, a venue not known for groundbreaking culinary experiences. Though Villacrusis is no longer associated with the restaurant, it still bears the stamp of his wide-ranging background in Asian cuisine. Kapow! is a place to hang out, to graze on small plates and imbibe interesting cocktails, and to dine on some of the most authentic Oriental dishes in the area.
The restaurant is long and narrow, flanked by a wooden bar on one side and a cartoon mural on the other (created by Lake Worth artist Mike Pucciarelli). The rear of the room gives way to an open kitchen; rock music throbs in the background, underlining the young and hip vibe. In good weather, Kapow! shares outside seating with its neighbor, The Dubliner.
Begin with some of the amazing wok-charred edamame ($6), flavored with toasted sesame oil, garlic soy and smoked sea salt. Equally impressive are the shishitou peppers ($8) stuffed with crab and cream cheese, panko-fried and served with a sweet and sour sauce. The mild heat of the peppers contrasts nicely with the creamy filling. Speaking of amazing, don’t miss the beet and peach tea cured salmon ($12)—moist and delicate, served with sweet longan berries (a variety of lychee) and a combination of fried and fresh basil. The steamed shrimp dumplings ($6) with chives and garlic are homemade, light and fluffy, and the steamed buns with organic maitake mushrooms and pickled cucumber ($7) are worthy of any first-rate dim sum house.
As tempting as it is to make a meal of small plates, don’t bypass entrées, such as the broiled miso black cod ($23) with whole wheat soba noodles. The cod is perfectly fresh, moist and beautifully undercooked. Pan-seared diver scallops ($21) are served in a mild green curry sauce that balances the sweetness of lychees in the dish. And this is a noodle house, after all, so pick a cool night to indulge in a rich and satisfying bowl of beef ramen ($16) brimming with bok choy, slivers of skirt steak and sliced soft-boiled egg.
The wine selection is short and functional, with a dozen labels offered by the glass, such as Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc ($9) or Red Diamond Cabernet ($8). The list of craft beers is longer and more intriguing, and there’s sake and shochu on hand for purists. The bartenders will not flinch if asked to make a St. Germain cocktail and will cheerfully offer a Manhattan with Bulleit Bourbon and agave nectar as standard fare.
Service is provided by a battery of black-clad coed youngsters who are friendly and helpful and make up in enthusiasm for what they may lack in experience. Management patrols the floor, and the high-energy environment functions very well.
Kapow! Noodle Bar interjects an intriguing multicultural note into a dining scene that badly needs one. It’s a terrific experience, and one that should not be missed.
Kapow! Noodle Bar
WHERE: 431 Plaza Real, Boca Raton (in Mizner Park); (561-347-7322; kapownoodlebar.com)
OPEN: Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-12 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
FOOD: Pan-Asian, Pacific Rim
ATMOSPHERE: noisy and hip
SERVICE: friendly and helpful
RESERVATIONS: only taken for parties of six or more
DRESS: come as you are