Matsuri: Almost a Quarter-Century Later

Matsuri has been open since 1988. A quarter-century is a long time on Miami's dining scene. The restaurant, tucked in the middle of a random strip mall on Bird Road at Red Road, is not where you'd expect to find some of Miami's best and most affordable sushi, but that's exactly what you get here. What you won't get, however, is an English-language menu or much help ordering. Don't worry. That's what we're here for.

See also: Best of Miami 2008 - Best Sushi

Seven years ago, Matsuri was remodeled. The narrow eatery boasts a sense of calm and serenity -- after you finish with the long and arduous wait at the door. This is the kind of place you definitely want to make reservations for on the weekends. Even then, be prepared to wait.

Once you finally take a seat, bamboo wallpaper acts as a backdrop to the crowded booth and table seating in the front of the dining room. It is useful to scope out the dishes your neighbors are having, because the servers at Matsuri aren't much help with suggestions. The menu is extensive and heavy on authentic Japanese dishes.

Asked what her favorite item was, our waitress said, "I don't like to recommend anything because then people don't like it and they return it and don't want to pay for it." Talk about an up-sale.

Our next shot was a little less personal: "So, what do people order the most?"

Her response: "Everything. They get everything on the menu."

Touché. "We'll take one of everything, then." The expression on her face was priceless, but we quickly took back our comment.

Begin with miso soup ($2) and ginger salad ($2.50). Nothing special (the ginger salad and dressing at Shibui trump all others) other than warm and fresh comfort all at once. Matsuri offers a variety of other soups and salads, such as asari (miso with cherrystone clams -- $5) and a kanisu salad ($5).

"What is the next door?" -- an oddly named dish -- is a sushi pizza of sorts, comprising seafood with spicy mayo atop sushi rice. Definitely go with the negitoro wasabi ae, which like "next door," is from the New World part of the menu. Chopped toro and scallions are ground together in a spicy wasabi sauce, and on top sits a quail egg, waiting to be broken.

And while we're on the topic of toro, let's not stop. The tuna carpaccio baguette ($10) is a refreshingly simple dish. What initially seems bland -- three little baguettes topped with tuna toro and negiri -- ends up being crisp and addictive. We credit this on the sauce, a blend of mayo, olive oil, lemon, and garlic. We don't know whether this is Japanese, French, Italian, or something else, but it's a damn near perfect bite.

There's also "Mr. Bush's 3:00 p.m." ($10). We're not sure what that means, but we know this dish consists of tuna tartare, cucumber, and avocado drenched in wasabi mayo. We didn't actually get to try this, but some other patrons highly recommended it. Until next time, Mr. Bush. Though we'd love to have an affair with raw tuna, there's another contender. The meat yukke ($8) is probably one of the simplest and oldest items on the Matsuri menu, for good reason: It's spicy, meaty goodness.

This is a sushi restaurant, though, so it calls for two things besides raw fish: something fried and something with rice. Pork katsu ($8) is one answer. Breaded and served with a scrumptious dipping sauce, it's excellent.

While we didn't have "Mr. Bush at 3 p.m.," we did get an invitation from the White House ($12). The presidential delight features a quad of sushi rolls that have been charcoal-broiled, so they are warm inside, and topped with tuna-avocado, salmon-cucumber, hamachi-scallions, and snapper-masago. We vote yes.

And because our waitress wasn't very sweet with dessert suggestions, we stayed on the savory side and went for some vegetable noodles ($8). After all, noodles are all the craze. They're good, but they're not as good as Momi Ramen's. Go for dessert or ask someone else what else you should get. If you're all done, sit tight, They'll bring you your handwritten check right away. At 25 years of age, Matsuri doesn't believe in adapting to technology -- they still don't even have a website. Still, they've managed to swim in an ocean filled with lots of restaurants and not sink. That's what you call fresh.

Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha

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