Go Fish

"Sunrice chicken tonight," the other item that was served warm, took the notion of cooked makimono a step further. Substituting grilled poultry for fish, the delightfully crisp roll contained avocado, crab stick, cucumber, and asparagus. A variation on this theme is the "son of a beef" roll, which utilizes filet mignon rather than chicken.

Several cold sushi rolls were delicious. A bagel roll was actually a California roll with the addition of cucumber topped with raw salmon and cream cheese. An "Xmas" roll was the same California base rolled with fresh fillets of boiled shrimp on top (this one had a tendency to fall apart). Spicy tuna had been chopped as in a tartare and mixed with avocado, cucumber, and roe, then sealed in rice and seaweed like a regular tekka roll. Two pieces each of asparagus and spinach sushi, both fresh and wonderful, were a palate-cleansing way to finish the meal.

A forward-thinking sushi bar, Sunrice is a bright idea for the Grove and a nice addition to the more formal restaurants that line Commodore Plaza. The restaurant's logo is mimicked throughout the minimalist decor: A row of plates, all inscribed with different renditions of suns, lines the wall behind the sushi bar; Italian designer chairs, done in tones of sand and black, are also decorated with images of the star that lights our world. Despite some glitches, Sunrice has the feel of a restaurant about to become very hot.

The prototypical neighborhood sushi bar, Sushi Rock Cafe is not only the finest fish on South Beach, it's also the most dependable. Locals greet the sushi chefs by name, dine on "the usual," order exotic makimono to go without ever once glancing at the extensive menu (printed on sheet music and sheathed within an old Seventies album cover). And of course, the later the evening, the longer the line. Well, that's South Beach for you.

Ebi shumai were outstanding dumplings, hot and crisp with an almost creamy shrimp filling. A mustard sauce on the side added the perfect zing. The garden salad, which seemed to be everyone's favorite starter, comprised chilled iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and snow peas seasoned with the two best salad dressings in Miami: rich and sweet honey-miso, and thick, fragrant carrot-ginger.

Sushi Rock offers 25 sushi rolls, rivaling Akashi for breadth of selection. A vegetable roll included an assortment of cooked carrots, spinach, and asparagus, all wrapped firmly in nori (no rice). A spider roll -- fried softshell crab encased in rice with asparagus, avocado, scallions, and masago -- was excellent, as was the South Beach, another cooked roll. Hot battered and fried yellowtail snapper turned the avocado and spicy mayonnaise creamier and delicious, while the cucumber and masago added texture contrast. Though the shrimp in the Boston roll was cooked, this makimono was served cool and fresh, a stuffing of buttery soft lettuce and avocado enhancing the lighter flavor.

If you're tempted to sample a variety of a la carte sushi items, by all means order a boat. Sushi Rock's vessel is gifted in its design and generous in its portions. Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and mackerel sushi and sashimi were magnificent, free from toughness and prime examples of first-rate, quality fish; crab stick, shrimp, and octopus sushi were good. A cocktail glass of sunomono (slices of conch, octopus, crab stick, and cucumber marinated in rice vinegar) also appeared on the platter, as did a California roll and a bagel roll, nice contrasts to the simpler sushi. Tekka don was a bowl of vinegared rice mixed with shreds of dark green seaweed, sesame seeds, and topped with slices of fabulous raw tuna.

Several hot dishes are worthy of note. Shrimp tempura, which consisted of three giant shrimp plus vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, and broccoli, was flash-fried in a light batter and served crisp and greaseless. Chicken teriyaki was a tender breast, cut into strips and presented with broccoli and white or brown rice. And a vegetable stir-fry was a large quantity of cabbage, broccoli, carrots, bean sprouts, snow peas, and onions in a sweetish soy-flavored sauce, also served over rice.

Still, Sushi Rock's main attraction is the superior fish-and-rice combinations from which the restaurant takes its name.

Journalists periodically make restaurant kitchens the subject of their explorations. But what they find A dirt, bugs, unsanitary storage conditions A never surprises those of us who have worked in the food industry. For every exceptionally clean kitchen, a dirty one inevitably exists next door. Sometimes I feel it should be part of my job to take the tour. Other times I feel better off not knowing. And then there's that rare, unfortunate moment when I can visualize exactly the level of kitchen cleanliness simply by what I find -- or, more accurately, by what finds me -- in the dining room.

Dinner at Zen Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, a slightly rundown Kendall strip-mall establishment whose decor consists of a kimono nailed to the wall and a handwritten list of specials trapped under the plexiglass that covers the scarred tables, was not exactly a transcendental affair. Some cooked dishes, such as oshitashi (steamed cold spinach in a broth flavored with sesame and soy) and crunchy age kaki (shredded vegetables dipped in a tempura batter and deep-fried), were good. Miso soup was sweet and mild, and an order of age nasu, an unbreaded, deep-fried half of a very large eggplant served with the skin on and a rich miso sauce on top, was excellent.

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