The best way to experience Soho Bay is to treat it like the neighborhood sushi place that this corner of South Beach could use.
Order some pieces and a roll or two, nurse a glass of cold-crisp gewürztraminer, and admire the Instagram-worthy sunset over Biscayne Bay.
But Soho Bay, the first U.S. import of a successful Brazilian chainlet of Japanese restaurants, aspires to be more than a neighborhood sushi joint with stunning views. So unless you treat it as such, you’re liable to wind up with underwhelming entrees at overwhelming prices. Better to stick with the small and the raw.
Chef Ricky Sauri, who honed his familiarity with Asian ingredients in the kitchens of Nobu and Khong River House, is doing his part to protect Florida waters by serving invasive lionfish as a cold starter. The tiradito-like setup puts the delicate white fish in a starring role, complementing its sweetness with pressed cucumber, and stretching its potential with black salt and Fresno chiles.
From a curt selection of sushi rolls, the one without fish stands out the most: the Forest roll’s warm mushrooms, asparagus and beetroot furikake lived up to its name, full of earth and comfort and creativity.
A fall-apart Crab & Kimchi roll had none of the tang expected from fermented cabbage, and despite being advertised as smoked, the crab just tasted mayo-logged. I asked for this to come out first — a fair request, considering the other dishes were all hot and/or entrees. It arrived last, just before the check.
Skewered vegetables and proteins coming off Soho Bay’s robata grill qualify for the safe, small-plate zone. They all get a lift from three dipping sauces — the winner in my book a creamy miso-mustard — although the juicy chicken and just-charred, not-slimy okra don’t need any help.
Consider finishing your dinner at this point. Linger, perhaps, over dessert or a properly balanced cocktail made with pisco and lavender foam. Watch the red river of taillights streak across the MacArthur Causeway.
Japanese cuisine is all about nuance and subtlety, but you’ll find none of that in Soho Bay’s composed plates and noodle-soup-rice bowl entrees.
“Brown” is the best description I can muster for a mushroom-walnut tofu dish. “Skimpy” fits the seafood bowl, which for $40 disappoints with three shrimp, rice and that flat-tasting kimchi.
A $37 hunk of braised beef cheek allegedly in a Japanese curry tasted like nothing but a barely reheated pot roast. It comes with an overcooked version of a Scotch egg, but without the sausage wrapping.
Mac & Uni is like a stoner’s interpretation of the Momofuku cookbook. The “macaroni” is broken udon noodles, clumped with cooked uni, something called uni cheese and crumbles of rendered Chinese sausage. Roasted seaweed and a cherry tomato (what?) garnish the plate. An umami-packed guilty pleasure? Sure, for a bite. But a few pieces of gorgeously fresh, untouched sea urchin roe atop a pile of simply cooked, hand-pulled noodles would be much more worth the $37.
Servers, bartenders and floor staff all are kind, informed and well-intentioned. On my visits, they presided over a dead-empty dining room. I felt bad, until my checks were presented with a blank tip line and without explanation that 18 percent gratuity had already been added; a most deplorable act of restaurant trickery.
Soho Bay could find solid footing as an anchor to the hot-and-getting-hotter Alton Road-West Avenue corridor, but it needs to lower its Zuma prices and ambitions. Go for the sushi and unbelievable view.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow: @EvanBenn.