Thai Rocks, Sushi Rolls

As his health failed, William S. Burroughs wrote solely in his journal, passages about how his life had been lived (with excess) and how it would end (the same way). Two weeks after he passed away, on August 2, The New Yorker published several of these entries. I found one anecdote particularly gripping:

"Now, son, when a man gets on the Beluga Caviar, there's nothing he won't do to satisfy the Caviar hunger eating at his breadbasket. He'll lie, he'll cheat, he'll even kill for a gob of it. He'll get where he isn't human anymore. Just a vessel for the vile Russian Trojan whore deploying her deadly cargo.

"I can imagine someone bankrupting himself buying best Beluga at twenty-eight dollars an ounce. He comes home one day and his fifteen-year-old daughter and a bunch of teen chums are eating his Beluga and washing great gobs of it down with milkshakes.

"'Come on in and join the party, Pop.' Holds up an empty jar. 'Too late.' He would have killed them all had he not dropped dead for the Timely Want of Caviar."

Had Burroughs been living, writing, and indulging in immoderate Miami, a place he no doubt would have adored, he could just as well have been obsessing about sushi. I've seen local kids bring sushi to school for lunch like just another peanut butter sandwich. Adults, of course, realize it's still a pricey delicacy. But I know several who have felt the hunger at their breadbaskets and who say the sushi in this city is some of the freshest and most innovative in the nation; they'd literally board a plane to Miami to satisfy the dreadful craving.

The terrific profit margin on fish, rice, and a little dried seaweed might account for the recent rash of sushi bars. Even Publix has gotten into the act, stocking refrigerated cases with preassembled California rolls and the like. In addition, Thai and Chinese restaurants have been forsaking pure ethnicity and turning Japanese by adding sushi bars.

What all these entrepreneurs fail to understand is the notion of "Timely Want." Who wants to toss ready-made "tropical" rolls into the shopping cart along with the kitty litter? Frankly, the sight of yet another new Japanese restaurant or Thai sushi bar nauseates me.

I suppose I didn't hold out much hope for Fuji Hana, which recently opened a "sushi bar and Thai corner" amid the shops of Loehmann's Fashion Island in Aventura, complementing the original location in Kendall. Which made me doubly surprised to find that the sushi was good enough to reaffirm my faith and the Thai items were expertly prepared.

The main emphasis of this bright, clean restaurant is meant to be Japanese, as evidenced by the prominent sushi bar shaped like the prow of a boat. Accompaniments are also Japanese -- though we ordered several Thai entrees, the soup that preceded them was miso, chunky with tofu and threads of seaweed. The salad, an alternative to soup, was the customary Anglified Japanese variety: crisp iceberg, quartered tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and shredded carrots, topped with a tangy carrot-ginger or a slightly sweeter honey-miso vinaigrette. We asked for rich peanut dressing on the side for a Thai influence, and the waitress, though slightly bemused, complied. The same tactic failed with the soup, however. Our request to substitute one of the zestier Thai concoctions for the miso was denied, and we wound up ordering a cup of po tak separately. Generously spiced with roasted chili paste and lemon grass, the light, clear broth was potent. Straw mushrooms and a good assortment of seafood -- scallops, shrimp, and squid -- floated in the steaming liquid.

After soup and salad, sushi rolls were a delicious, if somewhat more expensive, second course. For $9.50, the rainbow roll was almost worth it, a hefty California roll (crab stick, cucumber, avocado, flying fish roe, rice, and seaweed) layered on the outside with delicate tuna, salmon, and yellowtail. We noted the freshness of the raw fish, then turned to the $9.00 salmon tempura roll, a nice alternative for those who like their expensive fish cooked. Thinly sliced salmon, crab stick, and asparagus were rolled in seaweed and then deep-fried, shattering all illusions that sushi is nonfattening. No matter; sweetened with a sticky sauce, this combo was delicious.

The extensive Japanese menu yielded some appealing appetizers -- steamed gyoza stuffed with lightly seasoned beef was particularly tasty -- but the entrees on that side were uninteresting at best. Shrimp and vegetable tempura was a little too greasy, the batter soaking up the oil in which it was fried. Steak teriyaki, a sliced sirloin, was cooked to order medium-rare but was slightly tough and lacked flavor other than the masking teriyaki sauce. A noodle dish, hiyashi chuka, was also bland. Curly egg noodles were refreshingly garnished with sliced tomatoes, julienned cucumber, shredded crab stick, and sesame seeds, but the vinegar dressing that doused them needed kick.

The Thai main courses, on the other hand, more than adequately stimulated the senses. Red curry (available as a vegetarian dish, or with chicken, beef, or pork or all three) was ordered medium-hot and arrived well-spiced with curry paste and fresh basil. We chose the "all meat" option, which featured tender hunks of the main ingredients in addition to bamboo shoots, bell pepper, and sweet green peas. The coconut milk countering the chili spice was soothing; the only flaw was a too-dense layer of oil that kept separating from the rest of the sauce.

Sweet-and-sour duck was half a bird that had been chopped into pieces, then breaded and deep-fried. The duck was crisp and surprisingly meaty, garnished with sauteed bell peppers, onions, carrots, and pineapple chunks. Uncooked tomato wedges and cucumber slices were piled on top, and a sweet soy-chili sauce united the ingredients.

The evening's crowning achievement was a steamed seafood pouch. A foil bag enclosed a plethora of mussels, shrimp, sea scallops, squid, and salmon on a bed of grated fresh ginger root, shredded Napa cabbage and celery, and glass noodles. A vibrant chili-garlic-lime sauce soaked through the noodles to gently flavor the seafood above, all of which, with the exception of some slightly tough squid, was beautifully cooked.

The wine list (four vintages) includes a bit of a shocker -- Lost Horizons, a South African cabernet/merlot blend, for $16.50. We played beverages safe with sake but fooled around with conventions concerning dessert. A slice of fudgy layer cake, billed as homemade on the menu, turned out to be a bakery-supplied cake I've seen all over South Florida (the staff didn't know where it comes from). Regardless, it was a satisfying if nontraditional way to conclude this dual Asian meal.

I still don't believe this city needs any more sushi bars (even if they do also serve reasonably good Thai food), but as long as the new ones are equal to the standard Fuji Hana is setting, I guess the market -- and I -- will bear them.

Now if only someone would open up a caviar bar.

Fuji Hana
18757 Biscayne Blvd, Aventura; 932-8080. Lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; dinner from 5:00 to 11:00 p.m.

Hyashi chuka
All-meat curry
Steamed seafood

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