Wok Star: Chef Anyi Yulieth can handle the heat at Dragonfly
From the sleek, dark-wood dining room, you can see the flames rising from the Colombian chef’s stove in the kitchen as she whips up an order of pad thai, red curry beef, Cantonese fried rice or chicken teriyaki.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
The wok-star helped design the new pan-Asian menu for Dragonfly, adding a sizzling pepper steak platter with onions, mushrooms and peppers; a Chinese pork tenderloin with sweet barbecue sauce, noodles and scallions; chicken and beef yakitori skewers thick with home-made teriyaki sauce; and chicken or vegetable spring rolls – which means more high heat cooking.
Chef Yulieth’s petite stature and soft voice belies the fact that she’s a culinary powerhouse. She’s been running the Dragonfly kitchen since the restaurant opened in February 2017. “The first day that we opened was very exciting,” she recalls. “We were wondering how many people were going to come, because a few days before we were all here unwrapping spoons and forks.” But people did come, and they return regularly for the nightly live music, the by-reservation-only all-you-can-eat sushi from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and the early bird three-course specials featuring miso soup, grouper wrapped around a Dynamite salad or mozzarella salad as an appetizer; teriyaki chicken, vegetarian green curry or another wok specialty as a main course; and ice cream for dessert. (“The menu says only vanilla but sometimes we’ll surprise you with coconut or green tea,” adds Dragonfly Supervisor Naomi Cruz, who translated the interview with Chef Yulieth from Spanish.)
The Dragonfly kitchen staff has grown close in two years. “There are no conflicts between us in the kitchen. We all work as a team,” says Yulieth. “Unlike a lot of kitchens, there’s no ‘that’s not my station, so that’s not my problem.’ We all take responsibility,” she says. More than that, they’re friends. On her birthday, they sang for her and then went out after work to celebrate. They can’t hear the daily live guitar or Sunday steel-pan music from the kitchen, but they play their own. “We play everything. I like rock a lot,” she says, “but since it’s a bigger team, I play whatever makes everybody happy.”
That willingness to please is reflected in the updated sushi menu – which includes more cooked options than raw and a combination of Caribbean and Asian flavors. Her favorite roll is the smoked salmon, fried avocado and cream cheese roll with sweet plantains, wakame seaweed salad and a creamy ceviche-inspired sauce. “I love the combination of the sweet-and-sour flavors,” she says. The same lime and cream sauce does double duty in her new Fly Roll with cooked chicken, avocado, caramelized pineapple and bacon in a lettuce wrap. “I like it because it’s very tropical and light,” she says.
In addition to the new items, the revamped Dragonfly menu has expanded to accommodate the special dietary requests they used to get from their customers. The new menu now features a vegan and gluten-free section that spans Asia: veggie tempura, a tofu sushi roll with roasted peppers and pesto, a veggie roll with avocado, mango, carrots and cucumber as well as vegetarian pad thai, tofu teriyaki, mushroom soup made thick and creamy with coconut milk, and an exotic summer salad of mango, pineapple, apple, peanuts, cherry tomatoes and coconut flakes.
They even have gluten-free soy sauce available. And all the sushi can be made gluten-free without the sauces, and some sauces that come with the cooked dishes are naturally gluten-free, like the passion fruit sauce for the sautéed shrimp or the mango sauce for the grilled grouper (Chef Yulieth combines the pulp of fresh mangoes with a sprinkle of togarashi chili flakes, cream and salt rather than soy sauce).
And while the food and ambiance are reason enough to try the restaurant, the ginger saketini don’t hurt. Well, too many would probably hurt, but the refreshing cocktail made with gin, ginger liqueur, sake and orange bitters is the perfect way to cool off after all the wok-fuelled flames (or the beach) – though, if you walk in straight off Palm Beach, you might be more in the mood for Dragonfly’s refreshing sparkling sake and elderflower creation. When in doubt, order both? Kampai!
Asian Restaurant – Lounge
Juan E. Irausquin Blvd. 370
Across from Barceló Aruba