Zuma, Izakaya Japanese, Miami

I visited Zuma in London a few times when I lived there.  Not frequently because prices were high and portions tiny.  I would end up tallying the beans and working out the price per bean.   Inevitably the value balance would tip into a zone where I just couldn’t enjoy the food any more.  A pity because it is very good food.My father met us in Miami for New Year’s and he treated a bunch of us to dinner at Zuma.  We showed up 45 minutes late for our 6:30 reservation (oooops!) and were punished by being seated at what is probably the worst table in the place, a dark corner table in between two doors across from the check in desk.  It was so dark – the waitress handed us a small flashlight so that we could see what was on the menu.

Miami style is pretty much the opposite of Berlin.  Whilst extensive tattoos and earlobe plugs (to stretch the ear lobes – ya, my thoughts exactly – why, would anyone want to stretch their ear lobes?) are de rigueur there it’s all about diamonds here.  Big diamonds.  The size of a small quail’s egg.  Ok, ok, the size of a quail yolk – which is still large.  On tanned manicured fingers.  Everyone has implants (even the men), long hair, short skirts, impossibly high shoes pose no problem because the wearers arrive by car or even better – yacht.  I keep hearing whispers of Latin America being the next big thing and looking around Zuma in Miami, I no longer find it to be such a far-fetched idea.  The only non-South Americans were the servers and us.

Wagyu beef is sold at $26 an ounce with the minimum order of 6 ounces.   That’s $156 for 170 grams.  (A packet of butter, by the way, is 250g.)  I tried to dissuade my father from ordering it to no avail only to be told that they were out of Wagyu that night (I guess if those ladies are wearing $150,000 diamond rings, they can probably afford a $200 steak.)  My father spots the lobster tempura and orders that instead.  Actually, I don’t think that lobster is suited to tempura but the presentation is arresting.

Most cold dishes at Zuma come in large stone or ceramic plates brimming with crushed ice.  The long sashimi sharing platter looks impressive, my mind is saying “Weeeeeeeeeeee – Wow!!” When I manage to focus on the actual sashimi,  I see that it’s all smoke and mirrors.  The artfully arranged wasabi, flowers and shiso leaves make everything look abundant.  However, all thoughts of stinginess dissolve the moment I bring one of those tasty morsels to my mouth.  Sashimi as it should be.  Firm, chilled from the ice – the salmon and tuna have right angles if you can believe such a thing.  Everyone should experience sashimi like that, not just Latin American oligarchs. Read more of this post

Dinings, Sushi & Japanese Tapas, London

My sister and I were reading on Avlaki beach in Athens the other day when she looked up and said, “I’m trying to figure out if I’m a fox or a hedgehog?” ” Heh? What’s that now?” “Well,” she continued “the ancient Greek poet Archilochus said ‘the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing’ Isaiah Berlin (his real name, not making it up) expanded on the idea in an essay.”

“Well I’m definitely a fox!” I declared.  I’d already penciled my character into this column when I had read Sasasunakku’s recipe for Toffee & Pear Spice Cake which referred to Sarah Wilson’s blog post on ‘scanners’.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in my choice of reading material, the magazines I’ve brought along on this trip include: Apartamento, Bon Appétit, Oh Comely and the FT Magazines.  The books I have read this summer are King Abdullah’s, Our Last Best ChanceThe Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh and on to Michael Caine’s, An Elephant in Hollywood.  (There’s a point to all this, I promise.)

I was reading that Michael Caine is an avid gardener who loves the British countryside. But he can’t stand the long damp winters. Solution: he has a sprawling country home in Britain and winters with his family in Miami. Ping! Went the light bulb over my head, that would be perfect!  That way, I could opt out of 6 months of snow and sorrows in Berlin and the lack of dim sum, sushi and good cheap eats and love it instead for what it does have, turning a blind eye to what it doesn’t do for me.  (Hmmm, I’ve just realised this is probably what French men think as they build up their pyramid of wife, mistress & alternative sexpot – managing to love the first two simultaneously!)

Here is how those first 3 paragraphs relate to Dinings.  When in Berlin, Dinings (followed by Yauatcha and Barrafina) is probably the restaurant I miss the most.  And nothing, nothing, nothing even comes close to it.  To the point that I find sashimi in Berlin so lackluster that I don’t bother.  (Yes I know about Sasaya in Prenzlauerberg and yes, the people who work there are indeed ‘really Japanese’ and the quality is good but it’s too traditional for my taste.)
I love Dinings because:

1. They make stuff I can’t. I will never get the quality of fish they have or be able to prepare it as well as they do.
2. It’s simple stuff and that is the hardest food of all to pull off because you can’t masque imperfections
3. It’s a most plain, un-embellished place. The restaurant is in a basement on a residential street behind Edgeware road. There is nothing on the walls, the seating is wooden, the tables are small, and the ceiling is low. One side has a small window where you can see people’s feet as they walk by. And it doesn’t matter at all because the food is so captivating.
4. This one is kind of a sub-point to 3. It’s not a reverential place; you don’t go there to genuflect at the altar fine dining. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to how I feel when I eat at home, except I’ve got no washing up to do.
5. They have flavor combinations that I love, relying a lot on sour whether through lime, lemon, yuzu or even vinegar and mostly doing away with perennial (and much too salty) soy and the neon wasabi. Read more of this post

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