By Victoria Pesce Elliott
RA Sushi, a splashy newbie in South Miami (with a sister site in Pembroke Pines), is part of a growing national chain owned by Rich Howland and Scott Kilpatrick in partnership with Benihana. It strives to take Japanese food to the uninitiated by means of moderate prices, loud music, cute servers, a Disney-esque setting and a fun vibe fueled by lots of alcohol. (The generous happy hour is a hot ticket for twenty-somethings attracted by such signature cocktails as the Screaming Ninja, Grape Escape and Tokyo Tower, a particularly cloying concoction of plum wine, peach schnapps, vodka and 7-Up.)
Servers are fresh-faced and well-meaning if almost uniformly uninformed about the food they’re serving. On one visit, our Kevin Jonas look-alike confessed he’d never actually eaten raw fish, but vowed to try it soon.
Wines are mostly of the supermarket variety, but well priced and somewhat varied. Despite the name, the menu is aimed at the raw-averse, with the majority of dishes in the cooked and creamy category. Deep frying is the method of choice, with lots of signature rolls incorporating tempura. Classic starters such as mild miso soup and snappy edamame are satisfying, but greasy and thick-skinned spinach gyoza should have had a lighter hand. Salads, including a grilled chicken with macadamias and cashews, are generally recommendable with their crisp greens and tender toppings. One exception: a tuna and avocado with more rice-noodle filler than flavor. A light, crisp and nearly greaseless lobster spring roll would have been better without the wad of cream cheese that’s a popular garnish here. Fortunately, the kitchen is happy to customize orders, serving sauces on the side or leaving out offending ingredients.
Still, most dishes we tried sounded a lot better than they tasted. A RAckin shrimp brings a handful of puny crustaceans dusted with too much cayenne and served over wilted greens with a forgettable ginger sauce. Actual sushi seems fresh enough and deftly handled, if unambitious, with most offerings of the crab, salmon, tuna and yellowtail variety. Rolls, on the other hand are out-there. An inside-out shrimp roll is exceptionally light and bright with a kicky Asian pesto sauce. The over-the-top Viva Las Vegas had a few too many ingredients (we’d lose the fried lotus root topping and spinach tempura flakes), but was still tasty. And the Monkey surely does not need cashews, sweet eel sauce, roasted red peppers, cream cheese, marinated artichokes, mango and smoked salmon. Cooked dishes, including a salmon teriyaki with a sweet and salty glaze and a black-pepper filet medallion, are satisfying if a bit clumsy. Wasabi mashed potatoes, an idea I thought had died a decade ago, are more buttery than biting and quite good alongside the filet.
Desserts go for the wow factor with such offerings as coconut crème brulée and fried banana with Kahlua and caramel served on huge platters with squiggles of colorful sauces and sprinklings of pretty powders. A tasteless cinnamon ice cream tempura — coated with thin slabs of yellow cake, then dunked and fried in tempura batter — was barraged with chocolate and raspberry sauces and sneeze-inducing quantities of powdered sugar and cocoa.
For all its faults, I say hurrah for a fun new spot that strives to be the P.F. Changs of Japanese food.
RA Sushi, 5829 SW 73rd St., South Miami; Shops at Pembroke Gardens, 201 SW 145th Ter., Pembroke Pines; 305-341-0092, 954-342-5454, rasushi.com; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily; until midnight Thurs-Sat; appetizers $3-$9, rolls $9-$13, entrees $20-$22, sides $2-$3, desserts $3-$6.50. Lunch special combos $6.75-$13
FYI: Full bar; outside bottles of wine not permitted. Metered street parking and city garage
$1 per hour, valet $8. (Free parking in Pembroke Pines.) Happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays; bar open
until 1 a.m. Lounge offers happy-hour prices on sushi and drinks 8 p.m.-midnight Sunday. AX, DN, DS,
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