Jeremy Eaton

Suddenly Sushi

Hey, Nobu, listen up: The last thing South Beach needs is another sushi restaurant.

I say this with all due respect for your unquestionably wonderful product. I say it with a firm nod toward your eye for location. I say it knowing full well that you have experienced some of the most frustrating construction delays, and that you are so thorough in your hiring practices that prospective employees are screened for both drugs and background glitches. I say it understanding that your commitment to this city has not wavered but, well, good help really is hard to find. I say it realizing there may be consequences: What? No invite to the opening bash?

But I can't keep silent any longer. If you had opened, as we'd heard you were going to, at the beginning of the season in October, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. If you'd debuted as you next intended to in February, months after your help-wanted signs in the paper were answered by at least 700 applicants, you'd probably have a shot at impressing me. Nobu, I hope we can still be friends.

The hard truth is, you've been scooped. Seasoned with vinegar, cut wide open, filleted. It's not just because we have more sushi restaurants per square mile than the man formerly known as Sean "Puffy" Combs has defense attorneys (though we do). After all, we are now on the third wave of sushi bars. The first, started by Japanese chefs, gave us our long-running places like Maiko and Sushi Rock and Tony's. The second ripple washed in a couple of years ago, when sushi was paired with just about all the Thai food there is under this subtropical sun, resulting in double-pronged eateries like Ruen Thai and Sushi, Siam Sushi, and Roppongi. Frankly you could have been -- should have been -- the first to surf the third wave, the big one, to shore. But instead of starting the trend of presenting highly innovative but deeply traditional sushi, you'll be wrapping it up -- and I don't mean with seaweed.

Direct from New York, Bond St. Lounge has beaten you to the punch. Shoji Sushi, newly making some serious noise thanks to chef-proprietors Michael Schwartz and Myles Chefetz (Nemo, Big Pink), has taken out your knees. Breez, the restaurant in Billboard Live operated by chef-partner Ephraim Kadish, is, with its pressed and layered sushi, about to go for your throat. Sushi Samba, that Brazilian-Peruvian-Japanese joint on Lincoln Road also trying to get its gloves laced up, may or may not wind up boxing your shadow. But either way you can bet it will come out swinging.

Normally I'd say don't get all worked up. Remember, offense is the best defense. Back the competition into a corner. Pull the goalie from the net. Full-court press. Yadda yadda sports metaphor.

But you can't do that, can you? Because, quite simply, the way it looks from here, you're a few good men down.

I daresay if/when you do manage to unveil, you will be the true bride revealed to our waiting bridegroom. Your Zenlike interior will make the hand-painted kiwi on the wall of Breez seem crass. Your ceviche will blow the cured-fish quartet at Bond St. -- marinated octopus, lobster, salmon, and fluke -- out of the, ahem, water. Your James Beard pedigree will reduce Sushi Samba's tag line -- "linear Japanese and curvaceous South American styles" -- to meaningless drivel. Your sixteen half-siblings (Montrachet, Tribeca Grill, Layla, Rubicon, et cetera), egged on by your fertile parent the Myriad Restaurant Group, will leap to the defense of the youngest member of the tribe, kicking the collective ass of the Schwartz-Chefetz family.

I daresay.

No, don't do that. Please. There's no point in crying. No use in getting mad, getting even. This intervention has been staged for your own good. I'm only doing it because I care -- for your monkfish pâté with caviar, for your black cod with miso, for your halibut cheeks with wasabi pepper sauce.

Nobu, I'm not the only one worried about you. Ephraim Kadish has regard. "Competition is healthy," he notes, and doesn't even smirk when he says it. Myles Chefetz is concerned, at least enough to mix a refreshing sakitini -- kind of like a cosmopolitan but with sake instead of vodka -- while he contemplates just what kind of rival you'll prove to be. I don't know about the Sushi Samba folks, because the phone line installed there doesn't yet accept incoming calls, but I suspect they are just as anxious. But then it seems they've got their own problems.

Believe me, I know what you're going through. You think you're alone, but you're not. We're here for you. And it hurts us just as much -- if not more -- than it hurts you. But Nobu, I'd rather tell you straight than continue to weep for what might have been.


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