Karma is the Buddhist principle that says what a person does in this life will determine his destiny in the next.
If that's the case, then the folks behind Karma, a très moderne pan-Asian restaurant just off the eatin' path in downtown Coral Gables, should be raking in some serious celestial brownie points, for they're dishing up damn fine food at prices that might force their competitors to consider abandoning their stoves, shaving their heads, and joining an ashram.
Karma's food may exhibit the Zen-like quality of exalted simplicity, but the ambiance is pure South Beach, blessedly without the snobby servers, traffic hassles, and tendency to pry dollars out of the fists of well-heeled tourists.
2325 Galiano St, Coral Gables; 305-445-2293
Open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday 11:00 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 5:00 p.m. to midnight. Closed Sunday.
The capacious interior is flashy and splashy impossibly high ceiling, distressed concrete and hardwood floor, plush red-and-gold banquettes and sleek black chairs, rust-color walls painted with Chinese symbols and studded with dozens of somber Buddha heads, a 1000-pound sculpture of the Enlightened One himself, hewn out of Indonesian volcanic rock. There's also a flat-screen TV set, blaring dance music, and the chef's midnight-black chopper parked out front. Think Buddhist chic meets neo-industrial minimalism on Ocean Drive.
The East-slips-West-some-tongue menu draws inspiration mainly from China and Japan (in addition to cooked dishes, there's the requisite nigiri sushi and wacky maki rolls). Here and there you'll also find homages to Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines, with the occasional beurre blanc and aioli thrown in for good, multiculti measure.
Speaking of multiculti, Karma does a terrific Latinesque take on Japanese sunomono. A generous amount of impeccably fresh-tasting tuna, bay scallops, conch, shrimp, and octopus arrives slathered with sweet-tart-incendiary aji amarillo sauce. The tuna (diced à la tartar) and scallops (the fiery sauce cooled with mayonnaise) are presented on little white porcelain spoons, the two succulent shrimp stretched out like sunbathers, the conch and octopus not too thinly sliced, the better to show off their perfect tender-chewy texture. And to tamp down the flames singeing your palate, a round of soft, soothing sticky rice.
As for wok-seared pork dumplings, they're your basic potstickers, plump as the Buddha's tummy but underseasoned and not a whole lot different from what you'd get for half the price at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant.
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So never mind them. But do mind the Hong Kong-style pan-fried noodles, a thick noodle pancake doused with a savory, mahogany-color sauce studded with plenty of tender shrimp, chunks of chicken, and crunchy stalks of bok choy, Chinese broccoli, snow peas, and carrots.
And you really must try the "spicy charred rare tuna." Yeah, I know, around here seared-on-the-outside, raw-on-the-inside tuna is as common as fish sandwiches and stone crab at Joe's, but the Karma version is something special. What seems like an entire loin of tuna is coated in togaroshi (Japanese spice blend), seared to a crusty turn, sliced into fat coins, and napped with an unctuous soy-mustard beurre blanc, whose lush, creamy richness accentuates the meaty, buttery character of the tuna. There's also a goat cheese-avocado sushi roll, just for fun.
It is fun, too, though not quite as much as Karma's wickedly decadent banana-caramel eggroll, a Chinese cannoli by way of New Orleans that features a cracker-crisp, cinnamon-dusted shell filled with mushed banana and set off by scoops of vanilla and ginger ice creams, chocolate and caramel sauces, and fresh berries.
That isn't good karma; that's goddam great karma.