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The food is as good as ever, only now it's kosher. Yes, Tani Guchi's Place in North Miami, which twice was named best sushi joint by New Times, began serving glatt kosher food about eight months ago, just a few weeks after Passover.
Why? That might be the obvious question for Carole Taniguchi and her Japanese-born husband, who after a dozen successful years of business, decided to change the formula. "People ask me all the time," says the friendly and garrulous Carole, who is always at the restaurant greeting customers and soliciting feedback. After all Mrs. Taniguchi (née Brackman), a Jew from New York, is not observant herself. She gives a variety of reasons for the conversion. "For five years a rabbi was trying to persuade me," she says. "Rabbi Jory Lang of Temple Beth Moshe was pushing and pushing and pushing."
She notes that sushi restaurants have become "a dime a dozen," and says it was time to do something different. "It's something that was needed," she comments, "for the community."
That community consists not only of Orthodox Jews but also of vegetarians, Muslims, and health-conscious eaters who come to sample the carefully selected and prepared fare for lunch and dinner.
The vast dinner menu includes an extensive variety of sushi, sashimi, temaki, and other rolls with a few notable absences, such as eel, shrimp, crab (and all shellfish), and cream cheese. All are offered in faux versions so American sushi classics like bagel rolls, California rolls, and futo maki rolls are available. Finally a real use for that fake crabmeat!
Perhaps even better are the hot selections. Cooked dishes include extraordinarily light tempuras of vegetables, fish, or chicken ($10.95 to $14.95), plus, chicken or fish katsu ($12.95), sukiyaki ($11.95 to $13.95), teriyaki ($10.95 to $18.95), and don buri -- omelets with chicken or vegetables ($8.95 to $9.95). All are served with sautéed vegetables, and some include white rice.
A fantastic and filling bento box, a lunch special for $10.95, includes salad with ginger dressing; a clear chicken broth with fresh greens and mushrooms; tempura chicken, onion, sweet potato, and zucchini; a California roll; and a large fillet of teriyaki-style salmon, chicken, or beef served over wilted sprouts.
The decadent dessert selection is overshadowed by an outrageous concoction consisting of tempura-fried banana chunks served alongside a slice of dense banana-nut bread and a monstrous scoop of vanilla Tofutti drizzled with hot chocolate sauce ($5.25).
Duck, steak, tofu, stews, salads, seaweed, and soups, plus a half-dozen noodle dishes, including a rendition of the ubiquitous pad thai, provide plenty of variety for regulars who pack the place, especially on Thursday and Sunday nights. Prices might seem a bit high, but as Taniguchi explains, "It's an extra expense to have a full-time mashgiah here." That's the "eyes and ears" of kosher law, the inspector who sees that all dietary restrictions are being met. Also, just acquiring basic ingredients is more challenging and pricey. "It took us over a year and half to find the right products. In the beginning we were making our ginger by washing it in our own washing machine. Have you ever tried to find kosher soybeans?"
The talkative Taniguchi admits she can be "too pushy" at times. "Just tell me to be quiet," she insists. But in this case, her persistence has paid off. The food is great, a decent beer and wine list is available, the simple atmosphere is comfortable if a bit cluttered, and the service is polite and attentive. "It's a big responsibility," she confesses. "I call it meshugaas." Crazy or not, it works.