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Last night I went to Sushi Chef, named the Best Japanese Restaurant. Here's my review...
Sushi Chef is not particularly appealing on the outside, sort of a grungy stripmall vibe minus the actual strip mall. The interior decor doesn't convey much ambience either -- and on the day we walked in, neither did the seemingly all-non-Japanese staff, although the presence of the Japanese mini-market of foodstuff, alcohol and snacks did make it seem more authentic. But Sushi Chef had just received the Miami New Times Best Japanese Restaurant stamp of approval so we sat down and took our chances.
And I'm glad we did. The menu -- in multiple languages, and fully illustrated with lots of photos -- is almost too extensive and takes forever to plow through. It has a great selection though, with plenty of traditional dishes, but also many different inventive ones, including unusual rolls one wouldn't find in Japan. We ended up with a mixture of cooked and raw dishes, pretty much all of which were good. At some point, the Japanese owner actually appeared from the kitchen. He looked straight at me and said "Hi" -- maybe he was just surprised to see an Asian in his restaurant.
* Hamachi Jalapeno -- Thinly-sliced hamachi (yellowtail) with a sauce of shoyu and yuzu, each piece topped with a small slice of jalapeno. Despite some misgivings, I tried it and found the pepper added just the right amount of kick, enough to add flavor but not so much that I couldn't appreciate the rest of the flavors (or the rest of the meal)
* Black cod with yuzu butter sauce -- I like yuzu, so having more than one course with yuzu was not a bad thing. The fish was deliciously fresh too, not too fishy, and the skin was salty, a bit crispy and generally a good match.
* Baked smelt -- this was my least favorite dish, but perhaps that's not fair, because I'm not sure I ever really like it that much. It was a little stringy and difficult to chew, and not that crispy. Provoked an "..eh.. could do without it next time" response.
* Spicy tuna hand roll -- decent although nothing special
* Madeline roll -- tempura shrimp, asparagus, cream cheese, avocado. Good flavor and texture, a nice change from the very-popular-in-Miami "Japanese bagel" roll
* Crunchy roll -- a roll with (I think) salmon, dipped in tempura batter and fried. This was very good -- fried but still extremely light. The fish was slightly cooked but not overdone, and generally showed off well the possibilities of combining different Japanese techiniques. I have to say that after my recently horrible Sushi Maki experience, this was a great relief
The best Japanese restaurant in Miami? I don't know. But among the ones we've been to, definitely one that could become a go-to staple along side Su-Shin Izakaya.