Restaurant Reviews

A New Sushi Hero

Sushi Club is located in an area of Miami Beach often referred to as "Little Buenos Aires." But don't expect the cutting-edge black and orange décor, loungelike ambiance, valet parking, live DJ, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, or all-you-can-eat sushi offered by the famous Sushi Club chain in, um, Big Buenos Aires.

Instead imagine a Hiro's Sushi Express trying very hard to be more than just a take-out joint — encouraging patrons to eat in with amenities like wireless Internet access and shelves of reading material. There are also several unique items at Sushi Club. For instance, there's appealing, crisp tofu and lightly battered deep-fried bean curd squares with hoisin dip to jazz up the neutral taste.

Otherwise the two places are similar as siblings. Price differences are small or trade-offs: seaweed salad $1.45 more at Hiro's, a salmon California roll 45 cents more at Sushi Club. Quantity and quality of items seem virtually the same — with a few exceptions. Drizzles of white carpaccio-style sauce render Sushi Club's Thin Salmon superior to Hiro's undressed finely sliced Salmon Don. Light, crisp batter makes Hiro's tempura shrimp and veggies much more elegant than Sushi Club's, which are coated with a good 3/8-inch of fritterlike stuff resembling heavy beer batter.

Some extremely parched-looking salmon scraps in the display case made it seem like freshness could be problematic at Sushi Club, but the arid dregs turned out to be simply a décor faux pas. The fish the chef actually used came from hidden plastic containers, a much better way to keep seafood fresh. Just one item failed the freshness test: a piece of ikura nigiri, a seaweed-wrapped rice roll generously filled with salmon eggs that, sadly, were overly salty and past their prime.

In contrast, the salmon, tuna, whitefish, and precisely cooked shrimp in a chirashi bowl (thinly sliced fish atop sushi rice) were impeccable. Only the inclusion of surimi was disappointing; hide it in California rolls if you must, but why flaunt fake crab?

Among makis, an avocado-topped maki stuffed with an unusually generous amount of raw salmon was wonderful. A salmon skin roll was so-so, owing to an insufficient application of eel sauce, plus the odd substitution of cream cheese for scallions, which normally counter the crisply cooked skin's rich fattiness.

Actually the unpleasant surprise of the cheese could have been avoided if Sushi Club were more like Hiro's in one important detail: menu. Hiro's explains the ingredients in various makis and combos. Sushi Club's menu has only tiny photos; they're captioned, but "four-fish roll" doesn't help much when the pieces of food in the picture are the size of grains of kosher salt. At least most of Sushi Club's surprises were pleasant.

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Pamela Robin Brandt