Go Fish

Individual pieces of nigiri, though, were warm -- dangerously so, the salmon stringy and the shrimp soggy. A bowl of fishy tekka don exhibited some of the poorest quality tuna (more gray than red) I've seen in a long time. Even the wasabi lacked spunk and vitality. Any dedicated sushi eater knows that the odds of getting ill from a piece of bad fish increase with each successive bite. Zen made this peril easy to avoid: After carefully sampling the raw fish here, I knew enough not to eat any more.

Cooked seafood posed less of a health risk but exhibited the same poor quality. A seafood and vegetable soup was fully stocked but faintly repulsive, the skin hanging in shreds from the light pink salmon and white mackerel, bones poking out. A small, whole crab dominated this primordial stew, the still-boiling liquid moving its claws in such a way that the poor thing looked alive. A shrimp tempura udon fared little better, the noodles long and appropriately slurpy but the broth lacking zest of any kind.

Even more unappealing was the odor of the restaurant, like the inside of a McDonald's fry-o-lator, which we carried out on our clothes and hair and which I could still identify on my jeans the next day. I knew this smell well from working in a kitchen, but I had never experienced it so directly as a diner. Still, I resolved to give Zen a second chance; I even took along the same companions. Only we didn't get very far. A young roach scurried out of my menu as soon as I opened it, prompting my guests to reveal that they had spotted another roach, this one fully grown, on the table during our previous visit. Needless to say, we didn't stick around to watch this new one grow.

Yes, I am aware that Florida has roaches. But so do New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and every other big, dirty city in this big, dirty nation. And I won't tolerate roaches on my table in those places, either. I do accept certain "givens" about this climate, and that includes the fact that the very desk upon which I am now writing is infested with sugar ants that mistakenly (I think we'd all agree on this) think I'm sweet. If I saw a palmetto bug, no big deal. They scoot in from outside. As with fleas, you may not be able to get rid of roaches once you have them, particularly if your restaurant is part of a strip mall, and your neighbors, who don't own restaurants, don't care. But you can control the insect population, or at least keep it from reaching your dining room. Even in Florida.

Sunrice, 3195 Commodore Plaza, Coconut Grove; 445-1933. Open Tuesday A Saturday from noon to 4:00 p.m. and from 7:00 p.m. to midnight; Sunday from 4:00 to 11:00 p.m.

Sushi Rock Cafe, 1351 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 532-2133. Open daily from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

Zen Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, 10855 Sunset Dr; 596-4464. Open from 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. every day except Tuesday.

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