Restaurant Reviews

Doral Japanese-Peruvian Gem Tira.D.Toss Hides in Plain Sight

Take a pull of chicha morada -- a sweet, bluish drink made with Peruvian purple corn, pineapple, and orange accented by the spicy aroma of cinnamon and cloves. Nibble an anticucho of a half-dozen juicy, glistening chunks of beef heart seasoned with little more than garlic, salt, and a good sear. Relish the glow of tiki torches and dim string lights.

It's hard to believe you're in a strip mall sandwiched between a Subway and a chiropractor's office.

Tira.D.Toss is a slick, 60-seat Japanese-Peruvian spot that opened in 2012 along a tractor-trailer-clogged thoroughfare linked to Miami International Airport. In the entrance, a quartet of white plastic tables and chairs rests on a concrete floor near a sushi bar illuminated by fluorescent lights. But continue along a narrow walkway and you'll discover a sleek, modern dining room with crimson and white walls covered by vibrant llicllas, traditional Peruvian women's shoulder wraps. Pass through a door to find a covered deck overlooking a small lake. A half-dozen tables offer a scenic spot to sample the extensive list of ceviches, tiraditos, and sushi while relaxing to a soundtrack that swings from light salsa to the Notorious B.I.G.

Owners Jonathan Sanchez and Flavio Travano, banking on the development of Doral, a fast-growing suburb filled with office and apartment complexes, lured chef Daniel Vassallo away from his restaurant in Iquitos, Peru. They wanted to create a seafood-centric menu dominated by dishes that marry Japanese and Peruvian techniques and ingredients. The seemingly nonsensical fusion can be traced back to the widespread immigration of Chinese and Japanese workers to Peru throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sanchez and Travano, partners in a construction machinery rental company, wanted their restaurant to embody the blending of cuisines, which is reflected in the name, an odd spelling for "tiradito" (raw fish in a spicy sauce). "It's where the Peruvian and Japanese cultures meet," Sanchez says. "You have the thin-sliced fish, all of the Peruvian spices -- it was the perfect name for what we wanted to do."

What resulted is a humble gem with a lengthy list of treats that, like the restaurant itself, hides in plain sight.

Vassallo's Peruvian sushi rolls are the menu's biggest attention-grabbers, and he skillfully avoids overusing potent ingredients. He infuses just the right amount of ají amarillo, a peppery paste that's common in Peruvian cuisine, into velvety mashed potatoes that are cleverly wrapped around a pink cylinder of meaty tuna; then he rests them on slivers of creamy avocado. The cucumber spears mentioned on the menu would have added some crunch, but they were missing. The Rolls-Royce roll includes a meaty slab of bright-orange sweet potato with lukewarm sushi rice that is sweet and tart enough to enliven the shiny slivers of fatty salmon that crown each piece. You can forgive a good dish for having a bad name.

There is even a Peruvian riff on Nobu Matsuhisa's oft-replicated spicy tuna crispy rice. Here the fish is chopped rough so the nubs of meat are easily recognizable, even when coated with a spicy mixture including Japanese kewpie mayonnaise. The savory, thumb-size blocks of tacu tacu, a Peruvian staple of day-old rice and beans fried into a crunchy shell, are far superior to the usual sushi rice.

A larger, even crispier rectangle of tacu tacu is the base for more than a half-dozen buttery shrimp, grilled and then slicked in an addictive blend of garlic aioli and ají amarillo. The rice is studded with white beans cooked in pork stock; it inevitably soaks up the rich, spicy sauce. Rice is also a highlight in the chaufa amazónica. It is coated in a sticky, dark soy sauce and stir-fried with sweet plantains and flap steak.

Yet the kitchen is just as skilled in creating Peruvian classics as in turning out well-balanced mashups of Latin American and Asian cuisine. The anticuchos, minimally seasoned, seared, and accompanied by only roasted potato disks, are a joyful ode to simplicity. The ceviche All

Spice makes the argument that more can be better. The lime wash is infused with four kinds of ají: amarillo, limo, rocoto, and charapita. The last, a slightly citrusy pepper that grows wild only in Peru and is rarely seen even in Miami, is a fiery yellow-orange bubble that looks like a cherry tomato. Together, the four ajís create an intoxicating, smoky brew that is thicker than the usual leche de tigre and clings to a generously portioned knot of translucent, velvety tilapia slivers.

To finish your meal, try the lúcuma mousse. The fruit, which has been enjoyed in Chile and Peru for thousands of years, appears similar to an avocado, with yellowish, pulpy flesh that is creamy and nutty. Vassallo blends it with ginger juice and condensed milk until it reaches near-pudding consistency. Then he chills it ice-cold for service. Although it's sweet enough to cause cavity concerns, the rich notes of maple syrup and sweet potato will draw your spoon back for more well after you push the bowl away.

Despite the far-flung location, treacherous traffic, and unassuming entrance, Tira.D.Toss offers a long list of flavors and combinations that are hard to find in Miami, even with its glut of Peruvian restaurants. If that's not enough to attract you, just imagine a place in Doral where you eat sushi on a dimly lit patio overlooking the water with '90s hip-hop in the background. All you have to do is drive there.

Tacu tacu bites $9.95

Anticuchos $8.95

Causa maki $14.95

Rolls-Royce $14.95

Chaufa amazonica $17.95

Tacu d'shrimp $7.95

Lúcuma mousse $5.95

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson