The big review: Miyagi **1/2

 

Homestead's Miyagi offers tasty Japanese fare and a BYOB policy. That's how we like to roll.

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Chef Rangel Suarez shows off lobster and miyagi rolls. Photo: Nuri Vallbona
 

By Victoria Pesce Elliott

It's the hit of Homestead and proof that the area has more to offer than tacos and NASCAR races. Miyagi, named for a coastal Japanese city and the inspiring teacher in Karate Kid, is the kind of place any neighborhood would be glad to call its own.

Owner-manager Alex Diaz and his chef-partner Rangel Suarez set the super-friendly tone. An eager staff of young servers and uncharacteristically large portions of reasonably priced Japanese and hybrid cuisine help fuel Miyagi's popularity.

The setting is handsome in an urban-chic way. Dramatic red walls are set off by an expanse of black concrete flooring and sandy, slate-like walls. The best seats in the house are at the horseshoe-shaped booths that face the lively sushi bar.

On any given evening, neighborhood fans -- regulars all, it seems from the hugs and air kisses flying at the door -- line up for seats.

The encyclopedic menu with literally hundreds of selections includes everything from chicken katsu and noodle dishes to unagi and fried rice plus dozens of rolls, super-light tempura, dumplings and teriyaki as well as ceviches and soups.

It is easy to pick some real winners (and losers) among the many choices.

The best are the multitude of rolls, including the artistically crafted riceless variety. The firecracker roll with fresh raw tuna, avocado and asparagus is wrapped pinwheel style in see-through sheets of cucumber and soaked in a kimchee sauce. The Monty is layered with thin slabs of hamachi, coated with cream cheese and given a delightful snappiness from a topping of tiny orange masago.

Tuna tataki, gently seared and served with sweet onions and a lively ponzu sauce, is worthwhile and, like most dishes here, large enough for a table to share.

The lobster roll (made with fried lobster, not steamed as the menu says) is a tasty indulgence with its lettuce, asparagus, tempura flakes and spicy mayo.

Most fall into the fusion category, incorporating deep-fried ingredients, cream cheese, sweet sauce and/or mayonnaise. Consider the candy-like Captain Crunch roll, an over-the-top concoction of salmon, scallion and cream cheese that's breaded, deep-fried and smothered in thick eel sauce. Not my cup of green tea, but there are plenty of other choices.

The ethereally light-battered tempura vegetables and shrimp are exquisite. Less successfully fried, an overcooked and bready chicken liver teriyaki falls flat. Also disappointing is the soggy soft-shell crab and flabby, rough-cut octopus salad.

With no wine list and only the most generic selections from the likes of Woodbridge, Cavit and Mondavi, it's hard to find anything drinkable beyond beer and so-so sake. Owner Diaz says upgrades and a printed list are imminent. For now, take advantage of a cheap BYOB policy that allows bottles for a mere $10 corkage fee.

The lively atmosphere can get maddeningly loud on weekends. Kids are welcome, but don't count on fellow diners to exercise good judgment. A number of parents on a recent Saturday seemed to think their little ones actually wanted to be out at 10 p.m., but the tearful shrieking suggested otherwise.

Desserts are as over-the-top as the main menu. A cold, chewy slab of brownie is tempuraed and smothered in chocolate and whipped cream, and the "crunchy coconut'' consists of a deep-fried banana roll swimming in condensed milk.

This is not, by any means, your typical Japanese restaurant with finely wrought jewels of food ceremoniously delivered to your table. In true American fashion, the dishes are big, bold and high in calories. And Homestead is eating it up.

Miyagi Sushi Bar & Grill, 650 NE 22nd Terr., stes.102 and 104, Homestead. 305-248-3333; miyagisushibar.com; Hours: 11:30 a.m-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-10:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m. Fri.- Sat., 5-10 p.m. Sun.; Prices: Appetizers: $4-$10, rolls $4-$15, entrees $10-$15, sides $8, desserts $4-$8, lunch specials $8.95.

FYI: Free self-parking. Reservations accepted. Beer, wine, sake; corkage $10. AX, DS, MC, VS. Delivery available.

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