Mr. Yum serves fresh Thai and Japanese on Calle Ocho
Bond Trisransri, whose parents started the Sushi Rock restaurants on South Beach and Las Olas Boulevard, projects precisely the image one might conjure of a son of Sushi Rock — from his slender, jean-clad frame to a shock of black hair that shoots vertically from his head like an anime character's mane. Yet Trisransri has become more than just a prodigal purveyor of raw fish; his Mr. Yum Asian Cuisine on Calle Ocho serves Thai food too (a more palatable pairing than that offered by this site's prior tenant, Wok 'n' Pizza).
The 40-seat dining room is as conspicuously stylized as Trisransri's hairdo. The ceiling, walls, chairs, and tables are white, and all but the last are festooned with red heart patterns that look like the Target logo reconfigured for Valentine's Day. Black candelabras and other kitschy decorative touches lend a '60s retro look to the otherwise modern space; rose nosegays on the tables and calla lilies on the counter lend a timeless warmth. And there are outdoor tables for partaking in the Calle Ocho street scene, which is not nearly as cheery as the interior, but better in terms of people-watching. (Also, Mr. Yum has its own little parking lot on the left side.)
Appetizer options abound. About a dozen sushi/sashimi selections ($2.50 to $3) are offered from a sushi bar that slices into the room with four stools in front and generally two chefs in back (along with a bartender, who will shake saketinis and other cocktails from the full liquor stock). There are likewise temaki and makimono rolls; some are termed "special," which in regard to sushi rolls generally connotes "a little whacky." One such makimono is the volcano roll: a California roll topped with a savorily baked medley of seafood (snapper, conch, octopus, shrimp, and crab) in spicy mayo. Waxing wackier is a Mexican roll, involving eel, avocado, cream cheese, and tortilla. That was too much for us to bear, but we weren't too purist to appreciate a Havana roll, featuring fried red snapper, avocado, cucumber, and masago, with a smidgen of spicy mayo — the rationale being "When on Calle Ocho..."
But, again, there are all sorts of ways to begin a meal here, from salt-encrusted edamame pods to seared beef tataki; from raw hamachi tiradito heated with jalapeño to squid ceviche "Thai style" (which is pretty similar to Peruvian style — lime juice, cilantro, and red onions — except with a shot of soy sauce); from fried calamari to fried shrimp tempura to — well, to too many fried items, including both vegetarian and Thai spring rolls. The latter featured "shrimp, pork, mushrooms, carrots, and clear noodles," but the minced insides tasted mostly of pork, which with the darkly fried rice paper wrapping was overly reminiscent of a corn dog — served with plum sauce.
Our waiter assured us that pork gyoza were "pan-fried," but the quintet of crusty dumplings had indeed been deep-fried; go with the steamed version instead. Or just choose a different starter, perhaps a beef or chicken satay. We sampled the latter, three strips of chicken breast marinated in yellow curry/coconut milk, skewered and grilled to juicy effect, and doused with satay peanut sauce. Undressed slices of cucumber "salad" came alongside.
Soups include a mellow miso with tofu, scallions, and wakame, and the more intriguing tom yum goong, a seafood broth stocked with mushrooms, scallions, and hot peppers and tinged with tangy lime juice and lemongrass.
Japanese cuisine is represented by a couple of tempura entrées and four types of teriyaki: chicken, salmon, mixed seafood, and steak. The last brought a seared rectangle of rare New York strip whose thin, narrow slices neatly overlapped each other beneath a sweet/sour brown sugar/vinegar glaze. Alongside the meat sat blanched broccoli florets, baby corn ears, and coins of carrot and zucchini — simple, healthful, and light.
Still, we preferred Mr. Yum's Thai specialties. Pad thai, the dish that launched a million lovers of this cuisine, validates its popularity via a flawlessly balanced tangle of flat rice noodles, tender chicken, scallions, sprouts, ground peanuts, and scrambled egg — not too soupy, not too dry. Mellow massaman curry featured slivers of beef in a golden sauce flecked with coconut milk sweetness and stocked with cashews and potatoes that were barely cooked through; a ripe fan of avocado cooled the top. Red curry also comes imbued with coconut milk, but with a bell-pepper/bamboo-shoot/basil-leaf presence. You can't go wrong with either.
Diners are offered a choice of white or brown rice alongside their meal. Fried rice dishes are likewise tendered: The "special" version flaunts chicken, beef, pork, and three large shrimp tossed with onions, tomatoes, peas, scallions, and neatly julienned strips of omelet. The pineapple-fried rice is more focused, with shrimp and the namesake fruit standing out in the mix — and looking mighty impressive served in a hollowed half of pineapple.
Trisransri oversees and orchestrates his staff in a manner that suggests his having been raised in a restaurant environment — meaning that when he "works the room," he actually works. Some waiters are clearly more experienced than others, but during our visits, everyone in the crew was pitching in. Service is solid.
And prices are fair. Nearly all hot appetizers, temaki, makimono, soup, and salad selections are under $10. Most Japanese and Thai dinner choices run $14 to $16. Lunch offerings, including sushi/teriyaki combos, cost $9.95 or $10.95 and come with soup.
We can't blame Trisransri for the dreadful concept of tempura Twinkies; this once-proud Hostess snack has been getting dunked into deep fryers for years. We can, however, find fault in this particularly wretched rendition wrapped in flabby, oily-tasting batter. Avoid the Twinkie at all costs — in this case $5.95. Thai doughnuts with condensed milk dipping sauce is a good bet, but mochi-wrapped ice cream is better (choose three flavors, such as mango, cream cheese, and red bean). Thai iced tea gets served in a tall glass and might be dessert enough for some diners — it is one long, cool sip of sweetness.
And Mr. Yum is one sweet spot to eat. In fact, when it comes to clean, fresh Thai and Japanese food in a clean, fresh setting, Yum's the word.
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