It used to be that the best fish in Peru went to the chickens. The coastal location ensured there was never a shortage of seafood, but because Peruvians preferred meat, much of their ocean bounty was fed to the birds — which unfortunately permeated the poultry with a fishy taste. Clever cooks compensated by creating a potent marinade of citrus juices and vinegar; the resultant roast chickens became one of the country's signature comestibles.
That's according to Sasha Issenberg in his excellent 2007 book, The Sushi Economy. He also writes that Peruvians didn't begin eating fish en masse until 1969, when leftist Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado cut beef consumption to 15 days a month. Citrus marinade again came to the rescue, this time mothering the creation of ceviche — and the cevicherias that served it. Japanese immigrants, who knew a thing or two about fish, likewise opened cevicherias, but served a firmer rendition of seafood (due to marinating for a shorter period). This proved to be an inadvertent but effective gateway food to sashimi and sushi, which Peruvians had hitherto mockingly referred to as "rice bound with isolating tape."
These days, sushi and ceviche sashay side-by-side in sundry restaurants from Lima to Miami and beyond. Locally we find such fusions at Sushi Samba Dromo, Abokado, Moshi Moshi in South Beach, and now Moshi Moshi 2, the latest in a string of eateries to swing open their doors on the MiMo stretch of Biscayne Boulevard — also called, with some degree of irony and imagination, the Upper Eastside.
MiMo Moshi is lighter and cheerier than the original: Glossy red tables sit on terrazzo floors; photographs and artwork cover Velveeta-hued walls. Sans the sushi bar up front, the place could pass for any neighborhood café.
Fresh fish is fleshed from the sushi bar, but the delicately curved cuts of salmon, fluke, striped bass, and the like are not distinctive enough to keep Nobu Matsuhisa awake at night. "Traditional" rolls (California, spicy tuna, eel-avocado) are pristinely presented, as are the dozen "specialty" rolls, nearly all of which wrap rice around shellfish — lobster, crab, shrimp, oyster, and conch, to name a few. Only the Moshi Moshi roll brings fish — tuna, white tuna, and salmon. The trio is wrapped with avocado and masago in a green-tinted soy sheet that's much thinner, lighter, and milder than nori. A dab of spicy mayo caps each disk.
Ceviches are similarly fresh and straightforward. Try the yellowtail version, its succulent squares of fish refreshingly braced with citrus and ginger and delicately draped with wisps of red pepper, red onion, and daikon radish sprouts. We were far less impressed by thick, tough slices of octopus tiradito with a lackluster garlic dressing tabbed "chimichurri."
Moshi's tagline of "premium sushi and tapas" is half-true: The word tapas generally suggests something other than edamame, pork dumplings, and beef negimaki. Linguistics aside, fried oysters and vegetable tempura were terrific. The former featured bivalves bulkily coated in cornmeal, their brittle exteriors succumbing to pudding-soft oysters nestled within and — what else? — oyster sauce drizzled atop. Tempura, whose vegetables were more varied in form and texture than usual, was also a crunchy treat. Components included potato, sweet potato, carrot, eggplant, a triangle of Portobello mushroom, and a thatch of dainty enoki mushrooms — served with a steamy-hot soy-and-fish-broth dipping sauce. Dark and soggy dumpling skins dampened our response to six petite half-moon gyoza, although the chopped chicken fillings were notably moist.
A glimmering brown pool of slightly spicy and alluringly aromatic Japanese curry sauce was delicious when spooned over an accompanying clump of warm short-grain Japanese rice. And a $2 surcharge brings beef or chicken katsu, the latter featuring a sliced cutlet of juicy, panko-breaded chicken breast. Yaki udon also pleased via long strands of chewy rice noodles pan-fried with plush pieces of chicken breast and vegetables. Buckwheat soba noodles can be substituted; either way, the dish is gratifying, especially at just $11.
Moshi lacks the polish and pizzazz that others of its ilk possess, but prices compensate: "Tapas," tiraditos, and ceviches are $7 to $11; rice and noodles $10 to $14; sushi rolls $5 to $10; and specialty rolls $10 to $15. Entrées run $17 to $24, with Chilean sea bass at the top and teriyaki steak the next toniest dish, at $21. The strip loin was a tad tough but fully flavored, bathed in tangy sauce, and sided by mashed potatoes parsimoniously supplemented with butter and milk.
A concise selection of sakes comprises enough mid-and-upper-range bottles to satisfy most tastes. We enjoyed a silky-smooth corn-whispering Hananomai Ginjo ($18 for 300 ml). Wine choices are limited and lackluster, with markup around two and a half. Desserts include only a trio of tempuras (ice cream, banana, cheesecake) and "donuts for 2" — 10 hot, cleanly fried spheres of sweet dough encircling ample scoops of vanilla and green tea ice cream.
Business wasn't exactly booming during our visits here. That's too bad, because ambiance and service are warmly welcoming (thanks in part to co-partner Yani Yuhara's amiable presence) and the food affords excellent value. Moshi Moshi is simply too good to let go to the birds.