There's a new kid on the downtown block, and he's Nobu veteran Mai Ponrathorn. Fort Lauderdale hot spot Tokyo Blue has decided to take its blue-hued lounge, signature ice glass bar, and larger-than-life menu to the Magic City.
The easy-to-find, 3-week-old restaurant sits between Ten Fruits and Juan Hoyos' growing Peruvian empire (Pollos y Jarras and CVI.CHE 105). Simply look for a color-changing façade with signage that looks straight out of the streets of Tokyo.
The first thing you'll notice inside is a crystal U-shaped sushi river bar that changes colors every five seconds, lighting up the place in colors that range from 50 shades of blue to bright pink and neon green. If you're alone or on a hot date, grab a seat at the river or the adjacent bar. Groups, however, will be more comfortable in booths. The decor is groovy with a dash of swank. The colored floor, meant to resemble the ocean and coated with acrylic epoxy, gives the feeling of walking on water. Live shrubs perched throughout the place and a bamboo wall add an earthy element.
Tokyo Blue is the brainchild of hospitality impresarios Shawn Mac and Frank Talerico, who along with Chef Mai purchased the Ocean Manor Hotel in Fort Lauderdale out of bankruptcy. When they opened Tokyo Blue up north four years ago, the idea was to do something totally different. "I have a lot of friends who like Japanese food but not sushi," Mac says. "We thought, Well, why not make a menu that appeals to everyone and fuses all of the things we like to eat?"
As you peruse the titanic menu and decide the direction of your meal, feel free to grab a plate off the boats breezing down the sushi river. Almost everything from the selection of rolls sails past in smaller portions and price points (plates range from $3 to $6), allowing you to explore many of Tokyo Blue's offerings.
During a recent visit, there was no cocktail menu. "We're working on it," Mac says. "It's part of the reason why we haven't really announced that we're open or done a grand opening. We want to make sure we have everything in place that's right for this neighborhood." A comprehensive cocktail menu in Miami's growing craft cocktail scene should be top priority if Tokyo Blue wants to stand out and be downtown's go-to place to eat, drink, and be merry. "We're the only place in the area that can serve liquor till 5 a.m., and we plan to take full advantage of that." To do so, Tokyo Blue will soon offer midnight sushi on the river with a DJ and a plethora of cocktails. "We do it up in Lauderdale, and it's very popular."
Until that happens, you can imbibe beer (Sapporo, Kirin, Budweiser), as well as a selection of sake. A large carafe of the house unfiltered sake will set you back $11 ($9 for the small). You can also get it half-off during happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
As for the food, don't get overwhelmed and just go with the flow. Choose one or two items from each section. Start with a hamachi jalapeño ($16) -- sliced Pacific yellowtail topped with garlic purée, jalapeño, and radish sprout. The freshness of the fish is enhanced by a zesty cilantro and yuzu infusion.
Squid spicy garlic ($10) couples sautéed squid with asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and garlic sauce.
Fried-rice fans will be pleased with Tokyo Blue's six carb-laden offerings. The Tokyo Blue fried rice ($18) is chock full of Wagyu beef with kimchee, green onion, white onion, bean sprouts, and fried quail egg. The aged kimchee was a welcome and very nice touch to the already-flavorful rice.
Truffle-obsessed? They've also got truffle fried rice ($22) with a choice of tenderloin, organic chicken, shrimp, vegetable, or seafood.
Prices at Tokyo Blue range from the low end, with items from the robatayaki grill starting at just $8, to $45 for the Wagyu hot stone. Though a night here can quickly get expensive, you can also have a moderately priced meal by making wise decisions. The wisest of all is lunch, which is a helluva deal on a bento box or hot Asian kitchen lunch (think pad thai and Massaman curry) for less than $13 and accompanied with a soup or salad.
Another aspect to Tokyo Blue's menu is the tiradito and ceviche bar. "We're a fusion of Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Peruvian flavors," Mac says. It's a totally different Peruvian from what you'll get two doors down at CVI.CHE 105, though. Here, you'll find live scallops, fresh uni, and Bahamian conch. But the real star of the ceviche show is the Thai-style tiradito ceviche, which comes with a choice of beef, shrimp, squid, seafood mix, or lobster. Go for the last. Fully cooked slivers of lobster are tossed with red onion, bell pepper, scallions, cilantro, cucumber, Thai herbs, and chili paste before being submerged in a pool of leche de tigre ($18). The dish is called yum yum leche de tigre, and it's exceptional.
Main dishes include slow-roasted duck (with 100 percent organic Spanish foie gras), pad thai, panang curry, and sea bass balsamic teriyaki, which patrons on a recent night gushed that "it melts on your tongue." Salt-and-pepper-crusted Chilean sea bass is pan-seared and then glazed with a 25-year aged balsamic teriyaki ($28). The meaty fish indeed dissolves on the tongue, and the sweet glaze is as addictive as sugar (more would have been welcome).
It wasn't till the end of the meal that I noticed a chalkboard with soup options. Asked whether I should try the spicy seafood or the mushroom broth, Chef Mai responded neither. "You like coconut?" Yes. "What about spicy?" Yes again. "I make you something special." Minutes later, a simmering bowl of tom kha gai ($8) hit the table. The aromatic and spicy broth infiltrated my nostrils before I could even try it. Just one spoon of the silky broth laden with mushrooms, strips of chicken, and Chef Mai's secret spices was enough to show that this is the must-have dish at Tokyo Blue.
Desserts are sold separately and priced at $8 each, but platters available for big parties include everything from tiramisu and chocolate flourless lava cake to green tea and Thai tea crème brûlée.
You can also get your Thai tea in iced liquid form ($5). It's the perfect way to end your meal.
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