Breez currently is blowing a breath of cool fresh sushi and seafood into the northern reaches of Ocean Drive, but as the base of the not-yet-completed, four-level, 40,000-square-foot Billboard Live, it will be hot soon enough with frenetic overflow from the club-and-bars scene of that megaentertainment complex. Ephraim Kadish of China Grill fame is the culinary DJ who decides the playlist for Billboard's dining properties, and he's started out at Breez by spinning a sprightly menu of his trademark "World Cuisine." Granted it's not a new concept anymore, but Kadish, ever the savvy veteran, has kept pace with the next wave of chefs simply by staying true to his noble global roots. (Chefs tend to have a longer shelf life than DJs --or for that matter, actors, athletes, and presidents.)
He obviously still has the chops when it comes to banging out an alluring Asian beat, though the Oriental influence mostly presents itself on the left side of the menu, which is taken up by sushi and sashimi selections with a few interesting twists. The "stuffed and folded" section features fish-filled egg crêpes wrapped into various shapes: Lobster comes in a sac with shiitakes, asparagus, and cream, while raw tuna gets rolled with scallion, masago, and hot togarashi chilis into two piquant and intensely mouth-watering "stogies." Three dipping sauces on the side are each better than the next: "eel" sauce (made with reduced dashi stock and soy); citrus ponzu; and a spicy, kim chee-based Japanese remoulade.
Another invigorating offering comes in the form of various raw fish sliced thinly and plated only with droplets of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. A "tasting plate" of such -- composed of tuna, tako, red snapper, and hamachi -- yielded delicately pristine flavors, though the lack of rice or accompaniment made it seem insubstantial (especially for $19). Breez also lets you roll your own sushi, wherein you're presented with the components and left to put them together according to whim. I didn't ask, but I bet if we offered a few more dollars, they'd have let us wash our own dishes, too. Just kidding -- it's fun to play with food, so this isn't a bad idea at all.
I'll tell you what is a bad idea: cutting monkfish into circles the size and width of quarters, then frying them in thick, crunchy crusts. This is one of a dozen entrées on the short, breezily written "regular" menu. Circling the plate, these hors d'oeurve-like fritters looked like squashed Tater Tots and were void of monkfish flavor; there couldn't have been more than three ounces of fish altogether. Two bright spots on the same dish: dabs of sparkling citrus mayonnaise interspersed between the fish, and a centering frizzle of sprightly dressed frissée interlaced with bacon. If they gave fewer, denser pieces of monkfish, this could work well as a starter -- and at $13 they wouldn't have to lower the price much.
Then again considering the quirky pricing structure of this menu, if they transferred the monkfish from entrée to appetizer, the price might actually go up. A starter of pineapple-glazed baby-back ribs with tuft of fried sweet-potato shreds goes for $18, but you can luxuriate in a main course of Pacific salmon with asparagus and mushroom chips for $3 less. That same $15 is what Breez charges for its three soups: lobster bisque, a "hangover cure" made from greatly reduced clam juice, and mussel soup. Admittedly the broth beneath the ten mussels was ambrosial, but even with a pinch of pricey saffron, splash of fine white wine, snippets of fresh herbs, and a generous dab of butter, that's a lot of money for just ten of these humble shellfish. (Insider info: If they were to buy a 200-count bag, each mussel would cost nine cents.) Using the same menu for both lunch and dinner also is unusual -- it makes the former an expensive proposition, the latter a moderate one.
The cuisine is praiseworthy at any price. Fleshy fillets of a huge, breaded, whole fried red snapper, like all the seafood here, were impeccably fresh and tasted as though they went directly from ocean to fryer. Cilantro mayo came on the side, though our sushi sauces (which we requested be left on the table) served as appropriate dips as well. Juicy pink flakes of grilled salmon were delectable, enlivened by a noncloying "sweet-soy glaze" that remained arm's distance from both sugar and salt. Solid spears of broiled asparagus and "mushroom chips," added a complementing earthiness to the dish, though the dried shrooms, looking like blackened thumbnail clippings, were bitter from overcooking (or, more accurately, overdrying). Best of all: seared tuna with tomatoes, the understated buildup for what were thick disks of succulent fish, each meltingly raw inside and crisply seared with a cumin-based spice mix around the edges. Diced ripe tomatoes, saline Niçoise olives, a chiffonade of basil, and drizzle of olive oil made for a simply perfect treatment and a particularly refreshing meal for a sultry summer evening.
Concerning the few nonseafood items: New York steak at a nearby table looked much better than the rotisserie chicken on a plate right in front of me. The moist meat of the bird was bereft of herbs, marinade, or spices (excepting a slight roasted garlic flavor); the skin wasn't properly crisped; and the roasted dice of onion, celery, and carrot on the plate grew tiresome after a few bites.
Appetizers include a trio of neat, petite tepees of marinated Scottish salmon surrounding minimounds of scallion cream, each sitting atop a soft potato pancake. The same number of tender crabcakes, practically filler-less, come sided by a savory Napa cabbage slaw and drizzled with balsamic reduction. Both starters were delightful and far less expensive than the Big Three of caviars -- sevruga, osetra, and beluga -- which are offered with traditional accompaniments.
Lobster cobb, one of a quartet of salads, uses blue-cheese-dressed greens to prop up striped rows of diced tomatoes, chopped egg yolks, chopped egg whites, meaty nubs of bacon, half a beautifully ripe sliced avocado -- and lobster, which was cut into such small pieces that its characteristic texture was all but lost. By contrast, juicy clumps of the same crustacean studding a dish of fettuccine absolutely burst with lobsterness, the strands of homemade pasta neatly coated with a bisquelike lobster brandy sauce mellowed with cream.
It has been my wont lately to gripe about the incongruity between main courses and desserts. I'll let you be the judge on Breez, but I will note that these are the sort of finales that don't exactly stretch a pastry crew to their limits: banana split; cheesecake; a brownie so densely fudgy it can feed and gratify three or four; and strawberry shortcake, a wheaty scone sliced in half and garnished with hand-whipped cream and marinated strawberries. Personal reservations on style aside, they're big, sweet, and tasty, as these American favorites usually are.
There are plenty of other things to like about this place: a conch-shell-shaped glowing gold bar that pours, among other things, Guinness on tap; an iridescent lighting scheme that makes it seem almost as though you're viewing the room through a prism (the space is far more impressive at night than in day); friendly and informed waiters (albeit thus far untested by testy crowds).
Breez may have missed the mark with a couple of dishes, but in seeking to provide deliciously fresh sushi and seafood at prices that won't blow you away, its aim is right on target.
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