Spherical ice, teppanyaki, and sushi as good as Nobu…
After a long, foodless flight on Virgin America from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, dinner sounded great. Actually, it sounded necessary. We were starved.
We arrived in spitting rain at the B Ocean Hotel, where we were staying directly across the street from Lauderdale’s main beach, just before dinner. After stowing our stuff in our eighth floor ocean-view room—every room in the gracefully curved hotel has an ocean view—a quick shower and a change into tropical mufti we scooted downstairs. Using pure, honed instinct, we located the bar.
Bellied up for a preprandial pop, we learned about something called “spherical ice” from proud restaurant manager Kaine, who said that few bars outside Japan possessed the technology to make it. He placed an implement the approximate size of a blender in front of us, pulled off the top, put a chunk of ice inside and replaced the top. It was, he said, a “copper inductive heat mold” that produced a large round ice cube using the ambient heat in the metal to make ice so compressed it melted far more slowly than your average ice cube. In a couple of minutes, he removed the top and extracted a perfectly round piece of ice about the size of a racquetball and plopped it into a Sazerac cocktail to show us how it worked. Which was well.
The arcane marvels of physics aside, we went for a more traditional Sapphire martini and a glass of Jordan chardonnay. We were so hungry and the food aromas so enticing that we took a few polite sips and took a table in the adjacent restaurant.
It is called SAIA, which is code for “South A1A,” the beachfront boulevard that fronts the hotel, and it came to our gustatory rescue just in time. The cuisine is billed as sushi and teppanyaki but is really Japanese fusion and highly unusual in the environs of South Florida. For instance, there’s “Japanese fried plantains.” Our server Nate cut to the chase and called it “Japanese tapas.”
The menu was a page of six starters and 16 main courses. Another page presented a variety of sushi rolls and sushi and sashimi dishes. The restaurant serves family style, meaning meant to share and arriving in no particular order.
Among the appetizers, the green bean salad with black bean vinaigrette was outstanding, shared with our drinks. Next was hamachi jalapeno that was so good it reminded us of a similar dish served at the famed Nobu restaurants. Just as good was rice cracker tuna, seared tuna with tahini and avocado aioli. Tempura shrimp with broccoli, asparagus, sweet potato and sake soy was exactly what it should be, crisp and succulent.
Though we passed on one of the restaurant’s most popular fusion dishes called Sharing Porterhouse with chili and teriyaki dipping sauces, we couldn’t push away from the table without trying one of the sushi rolls. The crunchy tuna roll was the perfect dessert.
As it turned out, friendly but shy SAIA chef Subin Chankesorn was grateful that we appreciated his food but uncomfortable with it being compared to that of his idol, Nobu Matsuhisa. The Thai-born Chankesorn, previously at the renowned Delano in Miami’s South Beach, nonetheless turns out terrific food of the sort that can’t be had anywhere else in Fort Lauderdale.
If you’re heading to Lauderdale for spring break or business, be sure to put SAIA on your list. Open Table rated it the top Asian restaurant in Broward County.
Virgin America has three non-stop flights daily from Los Angeles (LAX) at 10:15 AM, 3:50 PM and 10:10 PM with fares starting as low as $160 each way but escalating depending on date and day of the week
B Ocean Hotel, 999 Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, Florida, www.boceanfortlauderdale.com, 954-564-1000.