First Bites

Sushi by Bou Opens in the Former Versace Mansion

Striped jack.
Striped jack. Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Is it synchronicity, or just good timing? On the heels of the Assassination of Gianni Versace winning a Golden Globe for best miniseries, Michael Sinensky and Erika London's company Simple Venue partnered with chef David Bouhadana to open a four-seat sushi bar atop the eclectic, jarring, and oftentimes just-plain-weird oceanfront manor, now called the Villa Casa Casuarina, where the Italian designer lived and died.

Bouhadana's first eponymous place, Sushi by Bou, opened a year ago in a Midtown Manhattan hotel. It was quickly lauded for its precision nigiri as well as its clever location and amenities: a converted hotel suite with a sake-dispensing machine.

Though the Miami location is just about to open to the public, its hour-long, $125 omakase experience is already booked well through the coming weeks. New Times was invited for a preview and found the speakeasy-style spot, perched atop the mansion in the 500-square-foot space called Gianni's Suite, offering precision sushi that fills the hole left when Myumi's 10-course omakase experience abandoned the Wynwood Yard several months ago.

To begin, a hostess leads you past the mansion's tall black gates into its courtyard, then upstairs to a pair of heavy wooden doors. Behind them waits a dark space with a wooden vaulted ceiling crisscrossed by intricately inlaid beams. Smoked glass doors provide an obscured view of Ocean Drive. A pair of low, chunky couches and high-top tables surround a sake vending machine, aptly dubbed Mr. Sake, that offers three-ounce pours of rare varieties for $10. The best part, perhaps, is you get a little chip card with a Versace logo sticker to pay for each pull.

Past this room is the "dining room," where four seats are arranged before a lumbering leather and granite bar. It's a delightful contrast with the place's itamae, or sushi chef, who is Wenjie Lian. The slight 22-year-old trained with Bouhadana and can't weigh more than 100 pounds. After a curt bow and welcome, the show begins.

click to enlarge Striped jack. - PHOTO BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
Striped jack.
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
On preview night it was 18 courses, served as individual pieces. A business card-sized menu available at the front of the lounge showed 17 courses and some slight variations. The highlights included a velvety slip of striped jack that tasted like a hybrid of meaty, fatty hamachi and butter sweet Hokkaido scallop that came later in the progression. Soy sauce-marinated ikura, or salmon roe, arrived on a gold-rimmed plate with a Versace logo at its center. The eggs boasted a deep orange color, like roasted calabaza, and a balanced, fresh ocean flavor intensified by rich soy.

The two shortfalls in the menu included a piece of lean bluefin tuna called akami, whose true flavor was masked by a heap of daikon and green onion, and a final sliver of wagyu beef, which tasted as much of the butane used to torch it as it did of meat.

click to enlarge Skipjack tuna. - PHOTO BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
Skipjack tuna.
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Other standouts included a piece of skipjack tuna crowned with shredded ginger and chive, a generous heap of Santa Barbara sea urchin, chu-toro, medium fatty tuna with pickled fresh wasabi, and a slab of the fatty tuna called o-toro culled from the beast's collar that gave the bite a deep, almost raw meat flavor uncommon in this traditional fat bomb. Finally came an o-toro and pickled daikon hand roll and a vaunted piece of the egg sushi called tamagoyaki that was akin to a creamy custard somehow set in solid form.

click to enlarge Kama (collar) o-toro. - PHOTO BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
Kama (collar) o-toro.
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Sushi by Bou joins a mix of chef-driven nigiri progressions that have long been led by the obsessive, taciturn, and always precise Kevin Cory at Naoe on Brickell Key. In recent years Makoto in Bal Harbour has joined the fray, while Tadashi Shiraishi's Hiden in Wynwood, also tucked away in a speakeasy-style setting, has quickly become a celebrated favorite.

This latest spot enters the game at an approachable price for this kind of dining experience, with safer bites. There is no mackerel or any of the other more intensely flavored, silver-skinned fish integral to many omakase experiences. That said, it's an ideal way to get a friend or loved one to trust the chef without worrying about a massive bill or a mound of sea cucumber ovaries appearing before you. The latter did once show up some years ago at Naoe and were delicious.

Sushi by Bou, 1116 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-922-9195;; Open daily 5 to 11 p.m.
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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