Tag Archives: sushi

Salt Block Experience at Park Tavern

Looking for a fun date with your sweetheart?  Think salt – the Salt Block Experience at Park Tavern.

The hands-on meal at the Midtown Atlanta restaurant will appeal to all five senses, not just taste.  With the Salt Block Experience you create your own hand rolls using fish and beef that you cook yourself on a super hot Himalayan salt block.

For couples it is a romantic activity; for first dates it is the perfect conversation starter.  And for blind dates, what could be a better ice breaker than a hot salt block?

I was recently invited to try the Salt Block Experience and took my husband as my date.  While toasting to our early Valentine’s Day dinner with sparkling sake, we planned out various strategies for cooking the meat and assembling the rolls.

The meal starts out with a big dish of edamame and a mixed green salad with ginger dressing.  Don’t fill up too much because the big production comes next – and it is big.  After the salt block, screaming hot from the oven is placed on your table, a whole host of plates and bowls follow.  There’s Wagyu beef and Hawaiian sashimi grade tuna, salmon and wahoo, plus seaweed, rice and a ton of toppings – avocado, jalapeños, cilantro, cucumbers and more.

The concept of the Salt Block Experience is simple enough.  You select your fish or meat, place it on the salt block, then let it cook to your desired doneness.  The meat comes seasoned with spices and the salt block adds an extra touch of flavor.  The fun comes when it’s time to decide what meat you’re going to cook, and then what extras you’ll add to create your hand roll. There’s plenty to choose from so you can play around with a variety of combinations.

The meal became a friendly competition for my husband and me.  With each new hand roll we tried to create the perfectly seared piece of meat and select the best-matched toppings.  I tried to make my hand rolls look neat and colorful; my husband preferred to load up the seaweed, resulting in much of the roll’s contents falling onto his plate after the first bite.

If you have room for dessert after your hand roll extravaganza, I recommend ordering the molten lava cake.  Rich and chocolaty with an oozing warm fudge center, it’s a sweet exclamation point at the end of your salt experience.

The good thing about dining at Park Tavern is that the night doesn’t have to end when your check arrives.  Just a few steps away is the ice skating rink, open through the end of February.

The Salt Block Experience, available at Park Tavern
500 10th Street Northeast, Midtown Atlanta  (404) 249-0001
$29 per person

Spicy & Sweet: RA Sushi's New Dishes

When planning an evening out in Atlanta, there’s a new reason to check out RA Sushi.  Numerous reasons, actually — the Midtown hot spot known for its new take on traditional Japanese cuisine is offering a variety of new dishes and cocktails.  I was recently invited for a taste.

While looking over the new menu I sipped on an Emperor’s Cucumberita ($8), one of RA’s nine new cocktails.  It had Patrón Silver and Patrón Citrónage shaken with fresh lime juice and yuzu sour, served with fresh cucumber slices.  It was pretty strong so I didn’t order a second drink, though I plan to go back for the Ginger Blossom (Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germain, muddled strawberries, pink grapefruit, lime juice and a splash of ginger ale, $8).

I started with the Shishito Peppers ($7), which I loved from the first bite.  The long green peppers are sautéed and served in a spicy Asian seasoning.  The sauce gives the peppers a great hot kick.  My mouth was on fire (in a good way) and I couldn’t resist coating the peppers with the extra sauce at the bottom of the bowl.  If you’re a fan of spicy food you must try this dish.

What RA Sushi does best are its unconventional rolls.  Sure you can still order a tuna roll, but no evening at RA is complete without one (or several) of the specialty rolls.  In addition to their creative names and colorful presentation, the rolls are great for those who don’t eat seafood or sushi novices who aren’t ready for raw fish.

My favorite of RA’s new rolls was the “RA”ckin’ Roll ($13), which had kani kama crab and cream cheese that was rolled in rice and seaweed and lightly tempura battered.  It was topped with tempura fried shrimp and guacamole, and served with a creamy gingery teriyaki sauce.  Also good was the Pacific Roll ($9.50), a spicy mix of albacore, cilantro, jalapeño and cucumber that is topped with fresh avocado and mango salsa and finished with red beet tempura bits and sautéed cashew nuts.

From the rolls I moved on to a new entrée: Lobster with Garlic Sugar Snap Peas ($17.50).  The lobster is sautéed with garlic, sugar snap peas and shiitake mushrooms.  The dish is really flavorful; I enjoyed soaking up the tangy sauce with the accompanying steamed rice.

I ended the meal with the Sweet Mochi Trio ($7.50).  Mochi is one of my favorite Japanese treats.  It is a soft rice cake that has a sweet filling, either a paste or ice cream.  RA’s mochi has three kinds of ice cream: mango, strawberry and vanilla.  I loved the combination of flavors and textures, the chewy sweet rice outside with the cool creamy ice cream inside.  And there’s something about eating ice cream with your hands that makes it taste better.

Starting with spice and ending sweet, RA Sushi’s new dishes offer a great combination to kick off a night out.

RA Sushi Bar and Restaurant is located in the 1010 Midtown building at 1080 Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta.  (404) 267-0114

Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Happy Hour 3pm to 7pm Monday through Saturday, with sushi, appetizers and tapas ranging from $2 to $7.

The new menu items are available at RA Sushi locations throughout the country.

Naoe: A Unique Dining Experience

Let’s make a deal.  I’ll tell you about one of the most unique and memorable dining experiences I’ve had in Miami but you’ll have to promise not to tell too many others.  After all, I want to still be able to get a reservation there!

The place: NAOE in Sunny Isles Beach.

My husband and I dined there two weeks ago and we’re still talking about what a great meal we had.  There is only room for 17 diners at a time so the experience is truly intimate and special.

NAOE (pronounced na-o-é), is a Japanese “omakase” restaurant, meaning the selection of the food is up to the chef.

You’re in capable hands.  Chef Kevin Cory is an experienced sushi chef and trained with Japanese chefs in Japan and the United States.  He uses only the freshest ingredients available and executes each dish to perfection.  Wendy, the friendly hostess and sole server, treats each diner like a new friend.

The meal starts with the chef’s choice bento box ($26).  When you finish you can continue with as many rounds of sushi as you would like.  Each piece of sushi costs between $2 and $8 and you get two pieces per round.

The only menu is the drinks menu, which features sake from Nakamura Brewery, Chef Cory’s family’s brewery in Ishikawa, Japan.

We ordered a bottle of the Nichiei “Glory of the Sun” Ginjyo ($68 for a 720ml bottle).  Silky smooth with green apple and floral notes, it was one of the best sakes I’ve drank in recent memory.

After watching Chef Cory assembling the bento boxes behind the bar, I couldn’t wait to see what they contained.

The bento box was divided into four sections and came with soup, which for us was a terrific pumpkin miso soup.

I can’t recall Wendy’s description of everything in the bento box but it all was delicious.  Like the decor of the restaurant, the presentation of the food was relatively simple.  No embellishment needed — the flavors speak for themselves.

On the top left there was a creamy and savory custard-like dish served in a mini pumpkin.  On the top right was delicately seasoned fish (perhaps mackerel?), and a juicy whelk, which I was thrilled to eat because I haven’t yet found a restaurant in the U.S. that serves these tasty mollusks.

There was more fish in the lower right section including monkfish liver, described by Wendy as “foie gras of the sea.”  It was delightfully thick and soft with a slightly salty and nutty flavor.  The sardine rice on the lower left side was perfect for cleansing the palate between bites.

Thrilled by the bento box, I couldn’t wait to try the sushi.  First up: salmon belly.

As Wendy placed the salmon sushi on our table I noticed what she didn’t give us — soy sauce and wasabi.  Chef Cory had already brushed soy sauce on the sushi and placed a touch of fresh wasabi on the rice.  Both were unlike what you normally get at sushi restaurants.  The soy sauce came from Chef Cory’s family’s shoyu brewery in Japan, also named Naoe.  The wasabi was real, not made from powder.  With each piece of sushi Chef Cory finely grated the root to create the familiar green stuff.

Wendy instructed us that the best way to enjoy the sushi was to pick it up with our hands, using a hot towel to clean our fingers between bites.  Though hesitant at first to give up my chopsticks, I found I enjoyed this approach as a way to get closer to the food.

But back to the salmon.  Taking a bite of it was like discovering how sushi is supposed to taste.  It was the most creamy and flavorful piece of salmon I’ve ever eaten, and pretty much ruined me for most other sushi restaurants.  Thank goodness I had a second piece to enjoy!  Though I could have easily gone for another round of salmon I was excited to see what Chef Cory would prepare for us next.

With each round of sushi we became even more enamored with NAOE.  The shira ebi (baby white shrimp) looked like it had been braided together over the rice.  It was soft and almost gelatinous in texture, with a delicate salty flavor.  The unagi (eel) was moist and tender, in a sweet sauce made by Chef Cory.

The sushi courses came to a close with one of my favorites, uni (sea urchin).  As with everything else at NAOE, the uni was exceptionally fresh and flavorful.  It was light and rich at the same time, and seemed to melt in my mouth.

The meal ended with three desserts.  First was sliced cantaloupe and Asian pear, which Chef Cory served with an unexpectedly tasty light sauce made from sweetened rice vinegar and pistachio oil.  Next came mochi, a jelly-like sweet treat made with glutinous rice, which Chef Cory prepared in front of us.  Our final dessert was a piece of bright orange-red mamey sapote which tasted like fruity and creamy pumpkin pie.  I was so intrigued by this fruit that I drove to Homestead the next day to buy a couple (more on mamey and other exotic fruits coming soon).

Time flies when you’re enjoying great food — my meal at NAOE lasted nearly three hours, though I didn’t realize this until it was time to leave.  On the way out I thanked Chef Cory and Wendy for an incredible and memorable meal, while already planning my next visit.

NAOE is located on eastbound Sunny Isles Boulevard across from the St. Tropez condominiums.  Seating times are Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30pm, 8:30pm and 11:30pm.  Reservations are required and can be made online at OpenTable.com.  As the menu is prepared specially each day, dietary restrictions or requests should be cleared seven days in advance.

For more information visit naoemiami.com.

Miami's Best Brunches

You can’t beat brunch.  A great brunch is the most sumptuous meal of the week and it’s the best excuse to have all of your favorite foods at one time.

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, just think how important brunch must be!

Looking to plan your Sunday brunch?  Here are my favorite spots in Miami:

Acqua at Four Seasons Miami
An elegant setting to enjoy brunch favorites with a Mediterranean flair.  With extensive cheese, carving, Asian food stations and more, there’s truly something for any taste.  If you’re not in the mood for a Mimosa or Bloody Mary get a mojito — all are unlimited.  Request a table by the window for nice views of Brickell and the bay.
$70 per person.  Located in the Four Seasons Miami, 1435 Brickell Avenue, Brickell. (305) 381-3190

Area 31
Chef John Critchley’s brunch is a gourmet buffet featuring caviar, paté, cold cuts and cooked dishes like roast chicken breast and steak frites.  While sipping on unlimited Mimosas or Bellinis you can enjoy live music.
$50 per person.  Located in the EPIC Hotel, 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Downtown Miami.  (305) 424-5234

Whether it’s breakfast or lunch, Balans has it all.  You can’t go wrong with one of the four kinds of eggs benedict or the enormous breakfast burrito, though you may be tempted by the lobster club wrap or the chili beef salad.  The à la carte menu ranges from around $8 to $15.  To get your day started there’s a full menu of cocktails for $11 each.  Just be sure to arrive early otherwise you could have a long wait (especially at the Miami Beach location).
Both Saturday & Sunday.  Two locations: 901 South Miami Avenue, Brickell and 1022 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach.  (305) 534-9191

Biltmore Hotel
It doesn’t get any more lavish than Sunday Champagne brunch at the Biltmore Hotel.  The array of selections include carving, omelet, sushi and tapas stations, plus a wall of desserts.
$75 per person.  Located in Fontana Restaurant at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables.  (305) 913-3202

Bizcaya at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove
The Ritz-Carlton always gets brunch right.  Here you’ll enjoy all the traditional favorites plus made-to-order sushi and sashimi and grilled-to-order fresh fish — all in a gorgeous setting that includes a cascading waterfall.  And of course, you’ll be able to take in the view with free-flowing Champagne.
$52 per person, $25 for kids 4 to 12 years old.  Located in the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove, 3300 Southwest 27th Avenue, Coconut Grove.  (305) 644-4680

Cioppino at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne
A buffet so big you’ll be full just looking at it.  Go easy on the pasta, salads and grilled meats so you can save room for caviar (three different types), raw oysters and sushi.  Of course there are unlimited Bloody Marys and Champagne cocktails (Mimosas, Bellinis and a few more), and an entire room just for dessert.
$72 for adults, $36 for children under 12.  Located in the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Drive, Key Biscayne.  (305) 365-4286

The à la carte menu features a variety of frittatas and egg dishes that start at $12.  Or try the buttermilk pancakes that are topped with caramelized apples and spiced candied walnuts.  Plus you get to enjoy complimentary Mimosas or Bloody Marys with your meal.  Bonus: brunch gets you free entrance to Club 50’s Sunday Refresher party where you can groove to a live DJ and enjoy light bites until 5pm (it’s normally $30).
Located in the Viceroy Hotel, 485 Brickell Avenue, Brickell. (305) 503-0373

Rusty Pelican
Go for the great view of downtown and Brickell, stay for the enormous fresh seafood spread.  If you’re not in the mood for peel and eat shrimp, raw oysters or steamed crab, there’s always the assortment of cold salads and ham or beef at the carving station.  Enjoy the view with unlimited Champagne, Mimosas or orange juice.
$33.95 per person, $13.95 for kids 5 to 10 years old, under 5 free.  3201 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne.  (305) 361-3818

The Setai
Craving Asian cuisine?  Check out Sunday brunch at the Setai.  In addition to eggs, pancakes and traditional brunch breads, there’s a wide assortment of Indian, Chinese, Thai and Malaysian dishes.
$67 per person, $34 for kids 5 to 12 years old.  2001 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach.  (305) 520-6400

Escape the craziness of South Beach at this cozy brunch.  The buffet is set up on the restaurant’s garden patio and features a carving station, pasta, fresh local fish, breakfast favorites like waffles and pancakes and an elaborate display of homemade desserts.
$29 per person which includes juice and coffee.  210 23rd Street, Miami Beach.  (305) 672-0778

Tre Italian Bistro
A great value and a convenient spot for people who live in downtown.  A la carte items are $12 and come with a complimentary Mimosa, Bloody Mary, sangria, orange juice or cappuccino (each additional drink is $3).
270 East Flagler Street, Downtown Miami.  (305) 373-3303

Tropical Chinese Restaurant
It’s a bit of a drive from downtown and Miami Beach but it’s the best dim sum in the area.  A word of advice: don’t get too much off of the baked and fried items cart so you can load up on delicious steamed dumplings.  Dishes range between $3 and $7 so your bill can be as small or as big as your appetite.
Both Saturday & Sunday.  7991 Southwest 40th Street, Miami.  (305) 262-7576

8 oz Burger Bar
I could eat 8 oz’s juicy burgers any time of the day (my favorite is the Niman Ranch lamb), but they’re even better with Bloody Marys that you can customize at the Bloody Mary bar.  Unlimited Bloody Marys cost $20.
1080 Alton Road, Miami Beach.  (305) 397-8246

Have a favorite brunch spot that’s not on the list?  Send an email to tips@amateurgastronomer.com.

RA Sushi in South Miami Celebrates First Anniversary

Bring your appetite and your craziest hat to RA Sushi in South Miami this Thursday evening — the hip sushi lounge and restaurant will be celebrating its first anniversary with an Alice in Wonderland-themed party!

RA sushiThe “Mad Hatter’s Sake-Tea-Ni Party” will feature themed food and cocktails, flavored hookahs, dance beats by DJ Johnny The Boy and drag queen Daisy Deadpetals reigning as the Queen of Hearts.  There will also be a crazy hat contest with the winner taking home a $100 RA Sushi gift certificate.

RA sushiHead sushi chef Kenny Li and RA mixologists worked together to create a menu fit for the wacky celebration.  The “Eat Me” list includes the Wonderland Roll (crab mix, shrimp and cucumber topped with colorful crunchy tempura bits and sweet eel sauce; $7), Smokin’ Caterpillar Roll (freshwater eel, kani kama and cucumber topped with avocado and sweet eel sauce; $10), and the Cheshire Roll (crab mix, cucumber and shrimp tempura topped with seared tuna and avocado; $11).

The “Drink Me” list includes The White Rabbit (Ketel One Vodka, Hakutsuru Sake and Nigori Sake), Mad Hatter’s Long Island Iced Tea (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, Blue Curacao and sour mix), Blushing Alice (lemonade, Skyy Raspberry, raspberry liqueur and a splash of lemon-lime soda), Queen of Hearts Punch (cold sake, flavored liqueurs and tropical juices), and the Wonderland Mojito (white rum, blueberry puree, triple sec, lemon-lime soda and fresh blueberries), all available for $6.  There will also be complimentary iced tea.

Two dollars from the purchase of each roll or drink will be donated to The Wellness Community of Greater Miami.

The Mad Hatter’s Sake-Tea-Ni Party is Thursday, August 20th from 7pm to close at RA Sushi in South Miami.

Mia at Biscayne Grand Opening

After months of anticipation, downtown Miami’s new restaurant, lounge and nightclub is finally open!

Mia at BiscayneMia at Biscayne was filled Friday night with diners and downtowners getting their first taste of what’s sure to become a hot spot.

Located at the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and Flagler Street, Mia will breathe new life into downtown, especially at night and on the weekends.

Whether it’s lunch, dinner, drinks or dancing, Mia at Biscayne has it all.

MiaMiaThe space boasts four main areas: a main dining room that can be transformed into a dance floor, a second dining room with a sushi bar, an upstairs lounge area that overlooks the main room with private tables for food and bottle service, and an outdoor area with couches.  Inside on both floors, large flat screen TVs show music videos.

MiaMiaAt the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef Gerdy Rodriguez.  No stranger to the South Florida food scene, Chef Rodriguez was formerly the executive chef at The Regent Bal Harbour and chef de cuisine at Café Sambal at the Mandarin Oriental.  His menu is a mix of Spain, Latin America and Japan.  There is everything from sushi and cebiche to tapas and parrillada (a mixed grill of skirt steak, quail, chorizo, chicken, lamb and chimichurri).

The extensive cocktail menu is creative as well.  I tried the Thaibasil, a refreshing and slightly sweet mix of vodka, sake, sour mix, basil syrup and Thai basil leaves.  It’s a drink I will definitely be ordering again.  Though there aren’t many wines by the glass, there is a pretty good selection of wines by the bottle, all reasonably priced.  Bottles of Champagne and liquor are also fairly priced.

Mia at Biscayne opens at 11am every day and closes at 2am Sunday through Wednesday and 5am Thursday through Saturday.  With hours like these, Mia is a great place to begin or end a night out.

Click here for my more recent article on Mia at Biscayne’s VIP Grand Opening

Champagne Brunch Buffet at the Wynn

You can’t visit Las Vegas without checking out at least one buffet.  My pick: the weekend Champagne brunch buffet at the Wynn.

For me, buffets can be dangerous — no matter what I tell myself beforehand I always eat way too much and leave uncomfortably full.  I never seem to learn that my eyes are always bigger than my stomach.  But with 16 live action cooking stations and a wide variety of dishes I just had to try a little bit of everything, right?

The Wynn buffet has all the traditional brunch fixings.  There’s a fresh fruit station, salad station, breakfast pastries station, and omelet station alongside all the usual hot breakfast foods.  I skipped all these so I could fill up my plate elsewhere.  There is a seafood station with three different kinds of ceviche and an assortment of sushi rolls (I filled up on spicy tuna hand rolls).  There is a dim sum section with steamed pork buns, dumplings and egg rolls.

Among the many options for the -unch part of the buffet are pasta, enchiladas, pizza, salmon, game hen and a delicious lamb risotto (my favorite).  Another highlight is the carving station, which features a large slab of meat normally prepared as bacon that is instead covered in spices and roasted.  It has a great taste and a soft, slightly chewy texture.  It’s a decadent treat for anyone who likes bacon.

At the Wynn buffet you’ll definitely want to save room for dessert.  There’s a separate room just for sweets.  My first stop was the ice cream bar, where I got a scoop of chocolate and coffee (I couldn’t pick just one).  Then I moved on to the cakes and pies.  The pecan pie and bread pudding were yummy and I really liked the Oreo and chocolate mousse cake, though it was so rich I could only take two bites.  I wanted to take some cookies to go but decided not to.

For an extra $7 you can get a glass of Champagne.  Bonus: unlimited refills.  When I went they were pouring Freixenet Brut Nature, a crisp and dry Cava that went well with the mix of flavors on my plate.  During my two hour grazing session I easily drank an entire bottle, thanks to our enthusiastic server Kevin.  When our glasses were half full there was Kevin, ready to fill them up.  When we were finally ready to leave he even brought us to-go cups.

The Buffet at the Wynn is open for lunch, breakfast and dinner.  The weekend brunch costs $30 without Champagne.  If you go, get there early.  I arrived around 9:30am and had no problem getting a table but two hours later there was a very long line.

For more information visit www.wynnlasvegas.com.

Dining at the Fontainebleau: Blade Sushi Bar

This article is part of a series on dining and nightlife at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

If you prefer Asian fare, there are a couple of dining options at the Fontainebleau.

blade sushi barBlade Sushi Bar is located on the ground floor of the Chateau.  You can access it from the pool area (where there’s also outdoor seating), or by walking down a staircase near the entrance to LIV.  The dimly lit lounge is a great spot to cozy up to a date or have drinks and a bite to eat with friends before heading to the nightclub.

Besides the seating at the bar and sushi bar, the tables are low to the ground (about knee-level when you’re sitting down), which can make eating sushi difficult.  You’ll have to do a lot of leaning over the table so you don’t drip soy sauce on your lap.

If you’re looking for a nice glass of sake, prepare to spend a lot.  The sake list is pretty limited and a single glass costs between $20 and $30.  I’d recommend sticking to standard cocktails.

Blade’s menu features upscale Japanese fare and sushi that’s caught daily.  It’s fairly more expensive than most sushi restaurants in Miami Beach so you may not want to go there on an empty stomach.

Whatever you do, stay away from the seared toro sashimi.  I ordered this and couldn’t eat more than a couple of bites.  I don’t know if the chef sliced the fish wrong or if it wasn’t actually toro, but I bit into the fish and it felt like I was biting into gristle.  I didn’t know it was possible for fish to have this kind of texture.  It was so unpleasant that it made me nauseated and I couldn’t eat any more of the dish.  Toro, the fatty part of the tuna, has a great texture that melts in your mouth if it’s fresh and of high quality.  If this dish can’t be prepared properly it shouldn’t be on the menu.

blade sushi barBlade does get bonus points for its cool menus, which automatically light up when you open them so you can actually read them in the dark.  It seems like a no-brainer idea that more dimly lit restaurants should use.

For upscale Chinese fare, Hakkasan will be opening in mid to late February.  It’s the U.S. debut of Alan Yau’s London restaurant and Britain’s only Michelin-rated Chinese restaurant.  I’m really looking forward to Hakkasan and have high hopes for the restaurant.  I had a delicious meal at Yau’s other restaurant in London, Yauatcha.  I highly recommend it if you’re visiting there.

For more information on Blade Sushi Bar click here.

For more information on Hakkasan click here.