Thinking Outside the Box

The Japanese traditionally consider a huge variety of ingredients appropriate for use in sushi: pieces of egg omelet, a myriad of pickled or fresh vegetables, and most anything that swims in salt water, excepting foods that do not pair well with vinegared rice, such as oysters. In the Western world the boundaries have been stretched beyond sense. Hawaii's favorite sushi snack is Spam musubi: a rice log topped with a slice of America's most dog-foodlike luncheon meat!

Although Miami's sushi bars don't go quite that far, most menus are heavy on hokey overkill far removed from the clean, lean Japanese aesthetic. The high-ticket chef's specialty items, especially, feature gloppy melted mayonnaise sauces, mountains of deep-fried tempura flakes (a euphemism for the greasy batter dregs traditional tempura chefs skim off the top of the hot oil), and cream cheese in every other creation.

At the newly opened Sushi Square, there are one or two high-cholesterol makis that will please those for whom too much is never enough, notably the "Julienne," a roll of shrimp, cream cheese, and pickled jalapeño, baked with spicy mayo, Parmesan, garlic, and bagel crumbs. But most of the fare demonstrates an admirable restraint that allows each main ingredient to shine, as well as an appealing mix of innovation and tradition.


Sushi Square

7244 Biscayne Blvd; 305-754-3100.

Open daily 11:00 a.m. to midnight.

In fact the menu features an entire section called "Tradition," which includes not only the familiar basics like tekka makis (tuna) but also seldom-seen selections such as zuke and kanpyo makis. The former contains lightly tamari-marinated tuna and is a modern adaptation hearkening back to sushi's original purpose of preserving fish via a months-long fermentation in rice. Providing crisp counterpoint to soft fish makis, the latter vegetarian roll contains carrot and sweet pickled kanpyo, strips of preserved calabash squash. Here's a fun fact for those seeking a dinnertime conversation starter: The bottle-shape shells of calabash — not to be confused with pumpkinlike calabaza — have long been used by New Guinea tribesmen as jock straps.

More modern makis are equally moderate in their cultural fusion, despite misleading menu descriptions. The "crunchy yellowtail" in a SoBe roll, for instance, sounds like deep-fried breaded fish but is actually raw hamachi; the roll's crunch comes from scallions and julienned jicama. More complex, but not overdone, is a Key West roll, fat strips of key lime-marinated salmon paired with juicy Asian pear, cilantro pesto, and chives. And why settle for a plain kappa (cucumber) maki when a hachimitsu ume kyu maki — cuke enlivened with simultaneously sweet, sour, and salty Japanese honey plum paste — is on the menu?

The signature item here is the san shoku bento, an elegant sectioned box featuring one of nine main dishes plus assorted appetizers and a good mesclun salad. Though pricey at dinner ($18.50 to $26), the full-meal boxes are bargains at lunch ($6 to $14). Our $10.95 sushi bento included five generous-size individual nigiri plus a California roll whose crabmeat was real snow crab rather than surimi. And the two appetizers were not cheap filler, either — an interesting seaweed/bean curd salad and a lovely lump crabcake drizzled with wasabi aioli.

Although the restaurant has only sixteen seats inside and a few sidewalk tables, the French brothers who own it hope to expand within the next few months. Their plans will incorporate a large back-yard garden area (with barbecue grill) that promises to be an atmospheric and inviting neighborhood party spot. Until then, Sushi Square's square footage may be low, but its quality is high.


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