By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Dessert provided a prime opportunity to clear up at least one myth about Japanese food: You can gain weight eating it, especially if you indulge in Akashi's tempura-battered amaretto cheesecake squares, deep-fried and drizzled with chocolate syrup and dabs of whipped cream, an unusual end to a meal at Miami's newest and most exciting Japanese eatery.
Thanks to a few varieties of parasite that proliferate in improperly stored raw fish, sushi has always been saddled with the reputation of a delicacy for the preternaturally adventurous, men and women who covet the taste and don't worry about ill after-effects. At Hiro Japanese Restaurant and Sushi & Yakitori Bar in the Sunny Island Square Shopping Center in North Miami Beach, risk-takers should note that the danger lies not inside the popular restaurant, where proper refrigeration and a high turnover ensure fresh food, but outside of it. This past December Hiro's owners were mugged at their home; one of the suspects who was later arrested is an ex-Hiro employee. And on a recent evening when I stopped in for a late-night snack, I overheard a female customer making a phone call: Apparently, her car -- and the purse she'd left in it -- had been stolen from the parking lot.
Despite the melodramas, Hiro hums with the activity of a steady, loyal clientele. A decade-long tradition in its two former locations, the restaurant opened brand-new digs on NE 163rd Street east of Biscayne Boulevard this past fall. Known for its soothing jazz soundtracks and almost-round-the-clock hours (till 3:00 a.m.), Hiro is the place to enjoy a number of meal styles, from complete lunches and dinners to cocktail-hour snacks and after-movie munchies.
A wraparound dark wood bar in the center of the restaurant, backdropped by a brick wall, is the prime focus. Penned within the square, Hiro's sushi chefs grill a variety of miniature meat, chicken, seafood, and vegetable kebabs (yakitori), and assemble sashimi, nigiri, and rolls. Our party had no trouble ordering enough to make a satisfactory meal from the yakitori/sushi bar alone.
The average yakitori sword costs a dollar and delivers four to six bite-size pieces, all brushed with the same sweet sauce, on a toothpick-size skewer. Vegetables A firm but tender sticks of zucchini, mushroom caps perfectly grilled A were among the juiciest samples. Shrimp were of medium size and succulent, the clean flavor of the crustaceans enhanced rather than masked by the sauce. But a skewer of squid was a major league chew, prompting a companion to characterize it as "just a pinch between cheek and gum"; squid legs, a separate order, were tough enough to lock our jaws.
A house salad, described as "green," actually contained more red cabbage than lettuce. The salad dressing, a combination of the traditional miso and carrot-ginger, was flat, so insipid that no matter how much we added it seemed to disappear. Miso soup was a savory broth, a superior alternative to the salad.
We continued with several makimono, chosen from the relatively short list. Though Hiro cuts its rolls slightly thinner than other Miami restaurants, the ingredients are of unquestionable quality. A tekka roll was perfectly fresh and delicious, as was a pretty California roll filled with crab stick, avocado, and cucumber, and seeded with masago. A variation on the California, the Hiro roll was served with tender eel on top, definitely a challenging tidbit for the chopstick-impaired. Fingers also might work better on the spider roll, a delicious presentation of fried softshell crab, crisp lettuce, avocado, roe, and mayonnaise. A "salmon c.c. roll" -- cooked salmon coupled with cream cheese and scallions -- was a more interesting version of a bagel roll, which utilizes raw salmon.
One danger rightly associated with Japanese food is the bill. Sushi, which carries a seemingly innocuous price tag for single pieces, can and does add up. I found, though, that none of the restaurants I visited were particularly threatening in this regard. Generally a sushi-centered meal runs about $20 dollars per person. When you dine at Hiro, just don't leave your wallet in the car.
Several incredulous people have already informed me that a Jamaican cooks at Tap Tap, a new Haitian cafe on South Beach. Horrors! Allow me to outrage you further. My uncle, a nice Jewish man, has run his Italian restaurant for the past two decades. And Italian Carlo Ferrari co-owns Coconut Grove's newest sushi enterprise, Sunrice.
The innovative menu is hardly Italian, however. Indeed, one of the only Mediterranean influences we discerned at Sunrice was the basil that freshened the "tropical twist" salad, a cool bowlful of cooked shrimp, raw scallops, tomato, mango, papaya, avocado, and scallion that contrasted the sweet with the acidic and the fragrant with the mild to great effect. A lovely light lunch for a hot summer's day, "tropical twist" is also a refreshing way to begin a meal here in the humid subtropics.
Though we had wanted to follow the fruity seafood with an entree of spicy duck breast, wasabi, eggplant, avocado, and brown rice, we were told that the chef had not shown up for work that day. Because Sunrice is barely a month old, some flak over staff is forgivable; and fortunately we were able to order a couple of hot items anyway, including four greasy but light beef-and-scallion-filled gyoza (dumplings) accompanied by a sharp and sweet vinegar dipping sauce.