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Still there are occasional, exceptional exceptions, like the sushi bar at Siam River that seafood fanatic Kevin Cory (who buys his live local catches direct from Haulover's fishing boats every day) transformed from a gimmicky floating fish-boat snackery to a repeat "Best of Miami" winner. And now there's two-month-old Oishi Thai, whose sushi bar component could develop into a challenger that would give Siam River a run for its money. This is not just a coincidence: Oishi's chef/owner Piyarat Arreeratin, a former colleague and good friend of Cory's, credits the more established sushi whiz with inspiring him to do the fresh fish thing right. In fact Arreeratin confesses with a chuckle that he hits the docks at Haulover twice a day: "I tell Kevin, 'Now we must fight for the fish!'"
Unlike many of Miami's sushi bars, Oishi serves absolutely no frozen seafood, whether local or imported, making everything a treat, even the white tuna -- which is genuine albacore rather than the usual ringers such as escolar, which can cause diarrhea. But the best bets come from a changing list of specials, many inspired by Arreeratin's stint at South Beach's Nobu, including a lemon-garnished take on chef Matsuhisa's famous broiled black cod with miso -- unctuous slabs of sablefish Arreeratin marinates for three days.
"Oishi Thai new-style sashimi" is another Nobu copycat, but a good one: carpaccio-thin slices of raw salmon, white fish, or beef whose surfaces are semicooked by a drizzle of hot oil (an olive/sesame mix) before being garnished with ginger, chives, puréed garlic, sesame seeds, and a tart yuzu/soy dipping sauce. This $10 dish is also available as a roll or as a hand roll for $6, but go full freight -- the unique charm of the barely seared surface is lost when these bite-size bits are wrapped in rice.
The same goes for "Hamachi Jalepeño." The imported Japanese fish (sometimes translated as yellowtail and thus confused with Florida's yellowtail snapper, but actually means amberjack) was good in a six-piece roll for $6.95, but as thinly sliced sashimi it was truly sublime. The presentation of the latter dramatized far more effectively the contrast between the hamachi's richness and the pungent garnish of hot pepper, cilantro, garlic, soy, and yuzu.
There were a few missteps involving the substitution of ingredients. "Oishi Tartare" (chopped salmon spiked with onion, scallion, and garlic) was described as garnished with ossetra caviar but came topped with roe far smaller, blacker, and crunchier than eggs any true sturgeon ever produced. And a beautifully balanced, sweet/salty/slightly tangy "Panaeng Curry" (the only Thai item tried) arrived with common peas instead of the promised Asian long beans.
But these were small disappointments compared to Oishi's many delights -- not the least of which is its tastefully dramatic décor. Highlighted by high ceilings, striking flower arrangements against warm beige walls, and beautifully crafted lacquered-rope chairs from Indonesia, the room alone makes Oishi this town's most stylish Thai restaurant. And if the sushi is not quite Nobu/Siam River-level yet, the fare's freshness -- and the care with which it's prepared -- make this newbie a front-runner.