Unexpectedly, last night, I had one of the most extraordinary meals in recent memory. Two days before Christmas, in Miami, Florida, I had hoped for little more than a heap of stone crabs and a pitcher of mojitos. At the behest of close friends, Alan and Claudia Omsky, who live a speedy 20 minutes from the Epic Hotel where Zuma is housed, we zoomed to a meal of a lifetime. The atmosphere was electrifying, overlooking the water and a smart new Philippe Starck apartment complex. Inside, the vast open kitchen looking much like a linear park of ingredients, chefs and whirling activity (plus one chef texting under his cutting board), fine-tuned by a feng shui consultant, signaled an evening of contemporary Japanese delights. If creativity was a deadly sin, then it looked like we were headed for trouble. And sinful it was. Scrumptious, too. And I experienced a few real “firsts.” My sister-in-law, who lived in Japan for years, once told me that real sushi should melt on your tongue. Eureka, it finally happened. Squares of fatty toro, accompanied by shaved-at-the-table Himalayan salt, actually did “lay on my tongue” like a magic carpet which then gently floated away. In the casually elegant, on-trend, style of Japanese izakaya dining, the meal was one continuous progression of courses, perhaps 15 in all, choreographed by über general manager, Stephen Haigh; executed by master chef Bjoern Weissgerber, and delivered by waiter Luis Arrascaeta (a Basque name.) The three performers in this culinary operetta helped us, and hundreds of other diners (how do they do it!?), navigate the pleasures of exquisitely presented Japanese cooking. The kitchen is set up into three areas — the sushi station (designed for serving sushi and sashimi at the perfect temperature); the “robata” wood-grill for cooking seafood, poultry and beef, and the main kitchen, fueled by sheer creativity (and fire.)
Thanks to the largess of our hosts, some of our dishes were strewn with fresh white truffles, or flecks of edible gold (yes!), or dabbed with salmon caviar. There were extraordinary morsels of wagyu beef and miso marinated black cod wrapped in hoba leaf. To die for. But it was the robata vegetable preparations — squares of grilled eggplant topped with aka dashi miso, like the fatty toro it, too, laid upon my tongue until it floated away; charred fresh artichokes, sweet corn with shiso butter, and spicy fried tofu — that really got our attention. Dessert, including a dulcet chawan-mushi (they are usually savory), yuzu sorbet, and a warm chocolate cake that flowed like lava — and jewels of fresh fruit, arrived looking like a huge Christmas gift.
Wish you could have been there. Zuma, a five-restaurant chain, with locations in London (where it began), Istanbul, Hong Kong, Dubai, and Miami. was created by maestro Rainer Becker, who spent years in Japan learning the complexities, and the subtleties, of this ancient cuisine, gone modern.
Here’s a radically simple homage to chef Bjoern Weissgerber. Merry Christmas.
Honeydew-Kiwi Sorbet with Chartreuse
The color? Jade green with tiny black dots. The flavor? Intriguing and herbal from an unexpected jolt of green Chartreuse. Sake would also be nice.
If you can find a beautifully ripe Galia melon, use that instead of the honeydew. The result? A refreshing green and red ending to your Christmas meal.
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups chopped ripe honeydew or Galia melon
1-1/2 cups chopped peeled kiwis
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
6 tablespoons green Chartreuse or sake
thin slices of ripe watermelon
handful of edible flower petals
In a small saucepan, boil 1/2 cup water with the sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Combine the melon, kiwi, lime juice and a pinch of salt in a food processor; process until smooth. Combine the fruit puree and sugar syrup in a large bowl, cover and chill well. Freeze in an ice cream maker, add 3 tablespoons of the Chartreuse or sake halfway through freezing. Serve scoops on watermelon slices and sprinkle with flower petals. Drizzle with the remaining Chartreuse. Serves 6