Inside RA Sushi and Benihana's Aventura Test Kitchen

The test kitchen of RA Sushi and Benihana is located in a super modern Leeds-certified office building in Aventura. Jeannie Means, vice president of marketing for Benihana National Corporation, parent company of the family of restaurants that includes Ra Sushi, Benihana, and Haru Restaurant and Sushi Bar opens a nondescript office door that transports you into a gleaming, state-of-the-art kitchen complete with working bar. The test kitchen is about six months old. Previously, chefs would examine new recipes at local Benihana's (the location on the 79th Street Causeway was a frequent stop), but it proved difficult to have chefs work all day then turn over the restaurant to customers, so the test kitchen was born out of necessity.

Inside, about a half dozen chefs are hard at work. Four of them work full-time in the test kitchen, along with Alfredo Martinez, director of beverages for the company, and Yusuke Onaka, regional chef for Ra Sushi. Onaka is based in Scottdsale, Arizona, but was in town during a recent visit to launch the sushi chain's new brunch offerings.

Mains says that the company launches menu changes about every 90 days, taking seasons and regions into account. "For instance, now you'll see heartier items and more soups on the menu because it's a cold weather season...well, everywhere but here in Miami." While the chefs work on new items, a team of Benihana employees from culinary, marketing, purchasing, and executive taste test the items and vote on which ones make the cut. "We look for a combination of tradition and what's on trend.

RA Sushi's new brunch menu is a good example of the process that goes behind the meals. The restaurant's concept is playful and youthful, so chef Yusuke and his team created dishes that blended Japanese izakaya pub-style dining with some American brunch classics. Items like the bloody mary roll ($8.50) takes everything that you would find in a the brunch beverage and rolls it up into a bite. The roll contains shrimp, bacon, asparagus, tomato, cucumber, and sriracha mayo. Pair it with an actual Bloody Mary for $14 and you've got the ultimate hangover remedy.

Alfredo Martinez, tasked with creating new cocktails for all three restaurant groups, has come up with several new takes on the classic bloody. The Tokyo bloody is a light, bright version, made with Absolut citron and Sho Chiku Bai Nigori sake, crushed cucumber, and wasabi ($7), while the premium is  more traditional drink, finished with a skewer of shrimp, bacon, celery, and asparagus.

Martinez's samurai shandy is made with Kirin Ichiban, Absolut Mandrin, and crushed oranges ($6). When I suggested the drink could have used a little more acidity, Martinez went back to the bar, added some citrus and presented me with the new version, which was fantastic and refreshing.

A chicken katsu slider features a panko-breaded chicken breast, spicy Asian slaw, and Romaine in between two rice buns ($6).

Arabiki slider ($7.75) consists of a Japanese sausage between two rice buns. 

If you like a good, runny egg for brunch try the tamagoyaki. Bacon fried rice is topped with  soft baked egg and soy butter sauce. Break open the egg and let the golden yolk mix into the rice ($7).

Another play on traditional breakfast is the smoked salmon tamago roll, which features smoked salmon, tamago, and asparagus ($9).

What else is in the works for the chefs of the test kitchen?  According to Martinez, a revamp of Benihana's classic cocktails is next, with a new line of tiki-inspired cocktails.

Although the test kitchen isn't open to the public, you can try all these items at RA Sushi's brunch, offered Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3  p.m.

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