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
Bond St. Lounge is the South Beach outpost of Manhattan's megasuccessful nouvelle Japanese sushi and sake restaurant. There are differences to be sure. Whereas the Big Apple Bond St. is an elegantly minimalist three-floor emporium, the one here is in a basement (of the Townhouse, a recently renovated hipster hotel off Collins Avenue at Twentieth Street). Up north they serve tuna sushi topped with edible gold leaf, bamboo-wrapped fluke, and sea bass sashimi with cod roe and fennel-oba leaf sorbet; the menu here doesn't lack innovation, but it's not nearly as brash and exciting. I won't dawdle any longer down this depressing SoBe versus SoHo path, except to note that if New York's Bond is Sean Connery, ours is Timothy Dalton.
Let's stress the good news first: Nigiri, sashimi, and sushi are consistently fresh and comparable to any in town, and the sake selection is superb, suavely overseen by connoisseur Christopher Johnson. Sashimi comes two pieces per order and swims the usual gamut from mackerel to yellowtail; the only surprises in the mix are Maine lobster and seared beef, the latter of which is traditional in Japan, where the raw beef is rolled on to a hot plate for just a few seconds. They were out of big-eye tuna chu toroon two of our three visits, but when we finally snared some, the tender slices melted mellifluously on the palate. Sushi picks were creatively sauced and extremely flavorful, the rice containing a proper balance of sugar, vinegar, and salt. Crisply crusted sesame-fried shrimp roll, tails rising from the center of two slices, sizzled with an orange-curry mustard sauce, a balsamic honey drizzle adding dazzle. Lobster tempura roll sparkled as well, especially when dipped into a yellow tomato sauce dotted with chive pesto. Slivered almonds added crunch to hot eel dice, rectangular stacks of rice, sansho pepper (or Szechuan peppercorns, which actually are dried seeds), and rich oily sea eel. Arugula crisp potato roll was the only letdown. Despite a sprightly carrot-ginger dressing that played well against the bitterish green, this was, in fact, just an arugula roll, which is not particularly riveting, sided by a small stack of thin potato sticks soggily imbued with day-old flavor.
We indulged in no sushi on our first visit and, in retrospect, not nearly enough sake. Things started out awkwardly when we parked up the block and across the street from the Townhouse and, after hiking to the entrance, were told it would cost ten dollars to leave our car there. Absent were any "No Parking" signs, nor was there a "Valet Parking" sign. We walked back to the car, drove it around the corner to a metered parking lot, and plugged in eight quarters for two hours, which was playing it safe in light of our plans for a quick bite at the sushi bar. Or so we thought. When we told the host at the door that we'd like to do just that, he said "Bar?"
150 20th St.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Region: South Beach
"No, sushi bar," I repeated, to which he said, "Sushi bar?"
"I guess a table will do," I relented, and, yes, his response really was, "Table?" (To be fair the music was loud.) My wife chipped in: "Is this Bond St., and if so, can we be seated somewhere to eat?" At that point the young man snapped back to earth and led us to a small area at the far end of the baby-blue-color room behind and above the main dining space.
We thought we were being seated at a makeshift spot usually used for cocktails only, until a glance around revealed that all the tables looked this way. To call Bond St. a stupidly designed restaurant would be an exaggeration -- remember, with only 60 seats, it's just a lounge. The modernist/minimalist décor, while casual, and from some angles even moderately attractive, is fashioned by extremely uncomfortable furniture. Big U-shape banquettes with hard cushionless backs (albeit with some throw pillows), along with wooden-slatted backless benches of the sort usually reserved for sitting shiva, clumsily surround little round tables. (Torturous seating seems to be a trend in this year's new crop of restaurants, perhaps a conscious effort to produce a quicker turnover rate.) The eight people seated next to us were reduced to crouching around a trio of these teeny tables and leaning over to grab food, as if at a party with too many people. Bond St. has even created an entirely new type of chair, called a "two-person barstool," evidently so that couples can share in the discomfort.
The cuisine comes from a kitchen that's right beyond the bathrooms. Waiters carrying, say, steaming hot bowls of miso, must dodge large doors that swing out quickly into their path. I didn't witness any waiters getting knocked in the noggin while trying to negotiate that pass, but it must happen -- how else to explain their staggering about the dining room with dishes of food in their hands and no idea where to go? Our eight neighboring diners were served in a manner that can only be described as ballpark-style, the rallying cry not "Hot dogs! Get yer hot dogs!" but "Sea eel tempura! Anyone order sea eel tempura?" Meanwhile a hotel elevator is located on one side of the lounge, its doors occasionally opening to emit a blast of fluorescent light. I'll admit this doesn't do much for the ambiance, but it does provide a good opportunity to attempt speed-reading the menu, as the room will return to being too dark to do so when the doors close again. It also was difficult to read the "No Smoking" sign stenciled on my seatback, the letters lost in the dim lighting and a haze of cigarette smoke.