From the moment you walk in, it's clear that Moonchine Asian Bistro is up to far more than pan-Asian eats. High-backed banquettes, jet-black walls, and soft red lighting all give rise to a clubby vibe; after 9 p.m., Moonchine turns into a full-on lounge with the help of dance DJs, bottle service, and even the occasional poetry performance or high-stakes geography bee. Miami New Times hailed Moonchine as "the gem of the Mimo District," advising guests to "arrive around 6 p.m., have a few rolls, and then head to the music lounge to warm up the dancing shoes."
Indoors and in the huge garden area, bartenders keep spirits high by mixing specialty cocktails and recommending bottles of sake from an extensive list. Which isn't to say that food's an afterthought?indeed, chefs have a lot on their plates, so to speak, juggling Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Korean culinary traditions. House-made kimchi mingles with creative sushi rolls, classic Thai and Indochinese dishes anchor one large corner of the menu, and there's even an almost-traditional bistro section: mussels, duck, and a "thai burger," each given light Asian accents of their own.
French entrepreneur Siben N’Ser founded the first Planet Sushi in Paris in 1998. Its combination of sculptural cuisine and sleek, modern interior design quickly caught on. Within a few years, he had built sister restaurants in Miami Beach; Ibiza, Spain; and in a handful of towns across France. At the Miami location, purple lights lend a nightclub vibe to the dining room, where guests can watch the chefs work via several flat-screen TVs. Creative maki such as the crab- and asparagus-filled crunch salmon roll radiate color from plates. Starters such as tuna-avocado tartare brim with French influences, and desserts such as lemon sorbet celebrate Florida’s famous citrus. Chefs also shape whimsical specialty dishes such as the Planet Sandwich, which stuffs spicy tuna, American cheese, and avocado between triangular slices of “bread” made from rice.
Guests seeking an extra-romantic atmosphere can toast glasses of sake in a private room or head to the patio to reshape tuna maki into hearts beneath the stars. Alternatively, a fleet of scooters delivers most of the menu to homes and offices.
Tony Chan's Water Club's menu bridges the gustatory gap between China and Japan with a menu that includes both Hong Kong–style Cantonese cuisine and fresh sushi. Earning their food a Zagat rating of "very good to excellent," the chefs accessorize stir-fried orders of chicken, seafood, and vegetables with many different sauces, lending spicy, savory, or tangy flavors to the entrees. At the counter, they carefully arrange orders of nigiri and specialty sushi rolls, which can include premium fillings of shrimp tempura, jalapeños, and parmesan cheese.
The spacious dining room tempts diners with two distinct views: floor-to-ceiling windows gaze directly out onto the waterfront, while a similar wall of windows enables diners to peer into the kitchen. Behind the glass, watched chefs stay calm as they wok-fry entrees and hand-write inspiring quotations on grains of rice.
Sushi Leno’s chefs merge Japanese and Chilean dishes to satisfy cravings for empanadas and sashimi in one stop. After visitors enter the 75-seat restaurant and take a peek behind the sushi bar, the diverse menu diverts their attention to pasta dishes and Chilean-inspired sandwiches such as the chacarero, with steak, steamed green beans, and an avocado spread. With dishes that cater to a wide range of tastes, Sushi Leno can whip up a memorable meal after a long day of disposing grass clippings down a neighbor’s chimney.
At Siam Oishi, Bangkok native Poompaka "Pio" Komolvasri plates sushi, japanese noodles, and traditional Thai cuisine using skills she honed at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami. Handmade dishes imported from Thailand enhance her already artful presentation of sushi, which range from hand rolls to larger 10-piece maki.
Zuma Miami: A User's Guide
Contemporary Japanese Food | Izakaya-Style Dining | Sushi Counter | Specially Brewed Sake | 350+ Wines
Cold dish: scallop tartare
Grilled dish: beef skewers
Sushi: spicy-yellowtail roll
Drink: Biwa No Choju sake, which is made especially for the restaurant with water from Lake Biwa
Where to Sit: Grab a spot at the counter to watch master chefs practice the complex arts of rolling sushi and searing meat over the open flame of the robata grill. Alternatively, diners who arrive via boat (the restaurant is one of the few in the area with boat access and a bayside entrance) can enjoy river views while keeping an eye on their vessel from Zuma's terrace.
Inside Tip: The Miami New Times urges diners not to overlook the spicy beef tenderloin, which it ranked as one of the best dishes of 2012. It calls the dish "so tender that you question the validity of beef tasting this sublime."
Izakaya: a Japanese style of dining where dishes are brought to the table in a consistent, casual fashion designed to encourage sharing.
Shōchū: an alcohol native to Japan; depending on the region where it's made, it can be distilled from everything from sweet potatoes to barley to brown sugar. This gives each variety a distinct flavor, much like scotch.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: Treat yourself to some last-minute primping at Exhale spa, which, like Zuma, is located in the Epic Hotel.
After: Enjoy an after-dinner cocktail at Avenue D Downtown (8 S. Miami Avenue), a 1920s-themed bar with live jazz music.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This
Like Zuma, Naoe (661 Brickell Key Drive) has been named one of the best Japanese restaurants in Miami. It also has an impressive sake selection—the chef comes from a family of sake brewers in Japan, and he imports their blend directly to the restaurant.