There aren’t a lot of places where you can enjoy a spicy tuna roll while puffing on apple-flavored tobacco. But now, at the newly opened Sawa Restaurant and Lounge in Coral Gables, you can have your hookah and hamachi all in one stylish setting.
Located on the garden level of the posh Village of Merrick Park mall, Sawa works for a post-shopping lunch or late-night dinner of mezzes and maki rolls (it’s open until 2am on weekends). At night the place transforms into a low-key lounge where locals partake in cocktails like the Passion Mojito (Bacardi Limon, fresh mint and passion fruit juice) and “shisha,” or water pipes, loaded with flavored tobacco.
Ambience: There’s a handsome indoor dining room with a dark wood bar and neo-Victorian chandeliers but for now, the place to sit is outdoors where umbrella-shaded tables overlook the mall’s courtyard and fountains.
The grub: A cross-cultural mashup of Mediterranean, sushi and Japanese tapas. Prices are reasonable – salads are $5-$13, kebabs $14-$20 and main $14-$26. Specialty sushi rolls average about $12. Owner Ramzi Zahr is Lebanese, so expect plenty of Middle Eastern staples like falafel, hummus and baba ganoush in addition to crowd-pleasers like beef kebabs. Executive chef Jouvens Jean, who cooked at Atrio and Solea, mostly plays it straight with the multiethnic menu – no chickpeas in your maki – but there are a few creative flourishes like truffle oil-spiked tahini. Starters include a dip platter with tzatziki, Ottoman eggplant and Sparta taramosalata (whipped caviar spread). Sushi rolls include a tempura-fried maki and the usual assortment of rainbow combos, spicy tuna and cucumber-wrapped crabstick rolls. There are also pork gyoza dumplings and a salad with miso ginger dressing. Mains include a herb-dusted lamb rack with a jalapeo mint sauce and a fat plank of seared sea bass in a garlic caper tomato sauce. The dessert menu stars a mellow coconut panna cotta with passion fruit sauce and a worth-every-calorie dulce de leche banana spring roll with vanilla ice cream.
Verdict: Sushi and falafel are an odd combo, but the lush outdoor setting makes the concept work somehow.