In SoBe it's easy to get spoiled when it comes to sushi. Great grub of most other Asian nations isn't easy to find in Miami, but visiting know-it-alls from New York, or even Asian food mecca San Francisco, are unusually impressed by my Japanese-food tour de force -- a strolling progressive dinner down Washington Avenue's sushi row, hitting the highlights: near-transparent shrimp shu mai at Sushi Hana, duel-sauced salmon carpaccio at Thai Toni, a festive sushi/sashimi boat at Maiko.
Still, there are times when one wants a supremely stylish sushi experience -- impeccable fish freshness plus tasty and tasteful innovation (meaning Norman Van Aken-type sushi, not a lox and cream cheese bagel roll) -- in just one restaurant.
1685 Collins Ave (in the Delano Hotel), Miami Beach; 305-674-6400.
Open 7:00 p.m. till midnight, Sunday through Thursday; 7:00 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
The place has drawbacks: There are only eighteen seats around one marble-topped counter, and they're first come, first served, no reservations. But then a fifteen-minute wait in the Delano's lobby, where the sushi bar is located, on a comfy couch with a glass of champagne from the cocktail bar, is not really a hardship.
And the sushi is worth the wait -- and the money. Admittedly the bill is easily twice what it would be for the same items elsewhere in town. But that's the point. One can't get the same items elsewhere.
Take, for instance, BlueSea's version of spicy tuna maki ($17). This is usually a pretty simple roll of maguro with hot chili sauce. Here it's a jumbo combo of raw tuna, barbecue mahi-mahi, and richly spiced hot mayo, plus three wild cards: olives, almonds, and raisins. Sounds overdone, but isn't. Those ingredients, which could deal disaster if overused, instead are subtly employed as palate-perking accents.
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Rather than the usual plain soba or udon, BlueSea has green tea-flavor noodles ($9). These delicate bitter strands are topped with crisp salmon skin, tamago omelet, and, in its shell, a raw quail egg meant to be mixed in -- sort of an Asian spaghetti carbonara.
Hamachi sashimi ($15) is served in elegantly thin glistening slices, interspersed with equally thin slices of buttery Hass avocado, with an unusual pungent dipping sauce of lime and blackstrap rum. Also unusual to find in a standard sushi bar are oysters ($3 each), especially when they're crisp, coldwater Pacific Northwest morsels, not flaccid Florida Appalachicolas. The Fanny Bay's sauce of miso, black sesame, and carrot sounds weird but has an appealing slight sweetness that nicely complements the oyster's brine. On the Kumamoto, Japanese cucumber does nothing, and spicy chili oil does way too much; the critter cries out for citrus. Fortunately all BlueSea's dishes are customizeable, thanks to a tabletop assortment of six different dipping sauces: soy, Thai peanut, eel, kimchee, asam manis, and citrusy ponzu.
If nothing else appeals, there's caviar, not tobiko or supermarket-quality salmon eggs but imported sevruga, osetra, and beluga (starting at $65). Best, what we worst feared from the Delano location -- attitude -- wasn't there. Patrons, most rail thin and clad in designer duds (black), certainly looked terminally cool. But all conversed, passed the ponzu, kept up enthusiastic running commentaries on others people's food choices as they arrived, even offered tastes to strangers on nearby stools. Mild, warm Momokowa ($8) Silver sake was equally friendly.
Remember the Japanese toast: Kampai! You'll want to use it.