Chef Carlos Zheng brings Nikkei cuisine, the food of the Japanese diaspora in Peru, to his new South of Fifth spot, Sakura 736. Zheng hails from Peru where he mastered Peruvian techniques and later studied under the great Japanese master sushi chef Noboru Sanada. The restaurant is named for the Sakura Maru, a ship that brought Japanese immigrants to Peru in the nineteenth century in pursuit of prosperity on Peruvian soil. That intercultural mingling eventually resulted in this intriguing cuisine.
The former Red Ginger space retains its polished temple-like feel with bamboo marble flooring, hand-carved wood panels, coral walls, and a glowing onyx bar. Semi-circular booths offer a backdrop while a tightly-packed sushi bar showcases maki machinations.
Be prepared to eat
Nikkei-style Japanese-Peruvian cuisine. The menu comprises a high-end sushi program, binchotan charcoal robata grill, and omakase (chef’s choice) menu. Prices are on par for South Beach with small plates averaging $12 and larger mains in the $20-$30 range.
Dive in with small plates of wild mushroom tobanyaki, shishito peppers, hamachi crispy rice (here seasoned with an aji sweet truffle soy) and a quinoa salad.
Aji amarillo, the tangy Peruvian pepper with subtle, flavor-packed heat, brightens many small, typically Japanese dishes. Such is the case with the edamame seasoned with aji amarillo sea salt and the namesake Sakura Ceviche, with salmon marinated in a passion fruit aji amarillo reduction, topped with crispy red and white quinoa, and served with a salad of mixed tomatoes, avocado, and green tosaka.
Fresh fish, raw or citrus-marinated, is the heart of Nikkei cuisine. It’s offered here in many variations from the Tiradito Classico bathed in leche le tigre to the seafood-topped Kaisen sushi made with torched mozzarella, shiso and crispy shallots.
The robata grill gets going with chicken dressed with aji amarillo, octopus dusted with aji panca and steak in an anticucho sauce. And the spicy tuna roll gets an exotic touch with its bed of saffron-infused tempura flakes.
Larger composed dishes include the Paiche, an ancient Amazonian river fish that is firm-fleshed with a delicate flavor comparable to Chilean sea bass. Here it’s served with a seasoned tempura crust, bok choy and oyster mushrooms sauteed in sake and butter. The Forbidden Rice comes nestled in the banana leaf where it is steamed and served in a classic Peruvian iron pot, mixed with fresh calamari, octopus, and veggies.
Desserts could use a little more love but so far the classic Peruvian suspiro with it caramel-like custard base, which is then crowned with a light meringue, will suffice for a sweet ending.
And the cocktail list?
Worth a gander. Christian Rolan presides over crafted creations such as the Sassy Lady, made with gin, kiwi, lime, and aquafaba, and the Seppuku, which is crafted from mezcal, watermelon puree, lime, and Serrano with a black salt rim.
South of Fifth deserves a legitimate Asian restaurant, and with this team in place, it looks like it finally may have one.