By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Serving up modern takes on an ancient cuisine and making a great addition to the ripening Design District scene is Domo Japones.
It's housed in what was Miami's first post office, and inside are an artsy print of a young, nude Naomi Campbell, provocative collages and paintings and photos by local artists. Owner Amir Ben-Zion has partnered in such ventures as The Townhouse, Miss Yip and Bond Street Sushi Lounge on South Beach and New York with great success.
The staff sport tattoos, piercings and/or tall and lanky good looks, and they do seem to know a bit about the menu. Drinks, on the other hand, are trickier: Our waiters didn't know the difference between a chardonnay and a pinot grigio.
Maybe the most attractive thing about Domo is it's simple but eclectic appetizer menu, which puts out a range of expertly prepared delicacies from black edamame with sweet soy sauce and yuzu to miso-glazed eggplant three ways (chili, sweet and sesame).
The miso broth successfully merges earth and sea with dots of silken tofu, strands of briny wakame and divinely funky Nameko mushrooms. Veal cheek gyoza in a feathery wrapping and a tantalizing pomegranate-based vinegar sauce is another winner, while the oily panko-breaded sweetbreads and bacon are a rare disappointment. Try instead the crunchy, cigarette-sized spring roll sticks stuffed with black tiger shrimp. These harumaki, or Japanese style spring rolls, are served with a mouth-puckering sweet citrus ponzu sauce.
Sashimi is also uniformly appealing with its subdued saucing and high quality plate companions. A Usu-Zukuri -- meaning super thinly sliced -- white fish is expertly topped with tiny shards of jalepeño, chunky sea salt and a blood orange sauce. Similarly treated yellowtail jalapeño is a subtle sensation. Touches like that make this more than just another sushi joint trying to make a buck, and thanks for that go in part to chef de cuisine Timon Balloo, who cooked at Azul, Chef Allen and La Broche, and sushi chef Naohiro "Nao" Higuchi formerly of Nobu at Atlantis, Paradise Island and Sushisamba.
You're in murkier waters when it comes to the more creative rolls. Some may like their raw salmon with pesto sauce and sundried tomato but I don't. Still, a surprisingly tasty pineapple, shrimp and prosciutto combo does somersaults on the tongue, and an interesting barbecued eel almost works with the shower of coconut, avocado and sweet balsamic soy.
Bistro dishes can also run hot and cold. While I savored a stewy (if overly salty) rendition of filet mignon sliced and served in a rich mushroom and potato studded sansho pepper sauce, a towering platter of slimy but somehow dry cod in dishwatery broth had me politely picking bits off to the side of my plate. Yet, I drool just remembering the perfect ramen bowl with its shredded bits of roast pork and fatty pork belly and a runny egg on top.
Desserts, too, extend just beyond the ordinary. A bit of sea salt kicks up that aged rock star of a molten chocolate cake. And though the flower tea was not available on my visits, an array of fruity sorbets made a good sweet finish for a meal that really deserves a sincere thank you, or domo in Japones, which is Spanish for Japanese.
Don't you just love Miami?
Domo Japones, 4000 NE Second Ave., Design District; 305-573-5474; dinner only; 5:30 p.m.-midnight, Tues-Wed, 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Thurs-Sat; appetizers $9-$12, entrees $17-$29, individual sashimi pieces $3-$7, sides $3-$6, desserts $5-$7.
FYI: Full bar; corkage $25; prix-fixe menu available until 7 p.m.; metered street parking available; valet $10. Reservations accepted and available at www.opentable.com. AX, MC, Primecard, VS.
Tuna with edamame puree.