If one block epitomizes the transformation of Sunset Harbour from tow-truck haven into Miami Beach’s best restaurant neighborhood, it’s the square bounded by Bay Road and West Avenue and 17th and 18th streets.
Beach veterans will remember getting their oil changed and dents hammered out there at Giant Motors, not that long ago. Newcomers quizzically shake their heads at that notion and dig into more sashimi at Sushi Garage, the year-old little brother of the Lincoln Road penthouse spot Juvia.
When partners Jonas Millan and chef Sunny Oh first set foot into the garage, they saw a car being serviced on a lift in the very space that would become Sushi Garage’s chic-minimalistic dining room. Now 200 aluminum fish mobiles, commissioned art, dangle colorfully from the ceiling over the sturdy, comfortable tables seating about 100. Behind a sleek raw bar, a panel of experts slices ultra-fresh fish.
Millan and Oh, at the helm of Juvia as well, see Sushi Garage as a more casual space suitable for multiple weekly visits by locals. Unlike the sophisticated fusion fare at Juvia, the food here is quite traditional Japanese, with Chef Sunny’s creative tweaks here and there.
The sesame leaf taco, served with either toro (tuna belly) or Japanese scallop (much cheaper), is a must-order. Our two large scallop tacos featured tender, savory meat mixed with sushi rice, masago and creamy aioli, folded into broad perilla leaves to make the delicate tacos.
Garage ceviche, made with wild fluke, substitutes Japanese ingredients for the traditional Peruvian ones. Instead of leche de tigre there’s homemade dashi stock. Rather than corn there’s edamame. Crispy shallots add texture, cilantro some green.
New among the menu’s list of tempuras are oysters. Three fat Kumamotos from Washington state’s Taylor Bay are flash fried in classic tempura style and arranged atop savory brown seaweed noodles on their shells. The oysters, juicy and light, are served with a cocktail sauce in which wasabi stands in for horseradish.
A salad made with mild watercress and sweet, delicate charred hearts of Hawaiian palm is nicely unified by a honey-wasabi aioli dressing. This salad is really for one, but you can easily share the baby field green salad, a lively mesclun mix with yellow pea shoots and a lovely emulsified creamy ginger dressing.
A menu section is devoted to stone pot fried rice, traditionally Korean but increasingly showing up on Japanese menus. For the base vegetable version, sushi rice is used, and it’s cooked in the stone pot with onion, baby carrot, baby zucchini and shiitakes; the vegetables provide a constant welcome crunch as you make your way through the huge serving. You can add chicken, tenderloin or shrimp, as well.
A favorite Japanese breakfast is salmon shioyaki, a simple salted and grilled salmon filet served skin-on with a bowl of rice. At dinner, it comes off as perfectly cooked salmon, but you really could do this at home.
Now, the jumbo white prawn teriyaki is all that. It gets its joyousness from a zesty homemade classic teriyaki sauce that sizzles all the way to the table and keeps going. On top are a bed of caramelized onions and bean sprouts and five gigantic prawns, tender and full of flavor.
Need a side dish? Go with excellent shishito peppers or eggplant caviar, a bowl of riced roasted eggplant tarted up with sesame oil.
All soups at Sushi Garage start with homemade dashi, a bonito-based stock that imparts a rich umami flavor. The wagyu nikku udon is an entree soup, the lushly rich udon noodles bobbing around with thin slices of Australian wagyu beef (go slow, there isn’t much of it). There’s a six-minute egg dropped in as well as baby bok choy, blanched spinach and shiitake. It’s a comical sight watching your dining companion try to eat the outsize pieces of bok choy with a spoon, but this is a terrific soup.
You thought we’d never get to the sushi, right? Those seeking adventure should try truffle shiitake nigiri, warm slices of nicely salty roasted shiitake on top of warm sushi rice, drizzled with truffle oil.
Much of the sushi is in the category of classics done right. The shrimp tempura avocado roll is an old favorite from Sushi 101, black tiger shrimp with sushi rice and seaweed. The flavor surprise is a little kick from Japanese soy-marinated peppercorn.
Those who not-so-fondly recall the green tea fried ice cream approach to Japanese dessert fare will be delighted with pastry chef Gregory Gourreau’s creations here. Don’t miss the chocolate saduchi crepe cake, a diminutive but dense finger of alternating layers of French crepe and chocolate, with puckery sudachi citrus sorbet as a perfect counterpoint.
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If You Go
Place: Sushi Garage
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2 (excellent)
Address: 1784 West Ave., Miami Beach
Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 12:45 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Prices: $6-$36 starters, $18-$34 entrees, $4-$8 desserts
FYI: AMEX, Discover, MasterCard, Visa; full bar with specialty cocktails; noise level moderate; reservations suggested; street parking or within walking distance of Sunset Harbour parking garage.
What The Stars Mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)