"It took them five years before they would let me handle the fish," says sushi chef Jo Clark about his extensive training. He began his culinary journey at 13 years old and spent a decade in an apprenticeship at the Japanese restaurant Yama. There, he honed an ability to prep rice and sauces, wield a knife, and select sushi-grade fish while shadowing chefs from different regions of Japan. In his spare time, Jo enjoys paddle-surfing and once skillfully maneuvered alongside a lively school of sharks.
At the restaurant, however, he deftly manages cuts of salmon, flounder, hamachi yellowtail, and shellfish to craft more than 40 inventive sushi rolls. He toys with the traditions of sushi, wrapping some rolls with thin slices of European cucumber and creating a sashimi pizza on a tortilla crust. The aromas of ginger, eggplant, and garlic wander from pots of Thai-style dishes in the kitchen and out into dining rooms. Though each location has distinct decor, diners mingle among elements such as exposed-brick bars, hardwood floors, and hanging Japanese paper lanterns in the exciting bright colors of a furious traffic cop viewed through a kaleidoscope.
The blue-and-white banquettes, bright-white drapery, and faux shuttered windows fall right in line with Taverna Opa’s Greek theme, but it is the food, cocktails, and entertainment that really bring the eatery to life. At the restaurant, rated good to very good across the board by Zagat, smoky aromas waft from a wood-fire grill and swirl through the air as servers cart around dishes of lamb chops, gyros, and traditional Greek meze that earned accolades from Gayot.
Greek tunes and live DJ beats keep the atmosphere festive, as do dancing staffers who break out into a Zorba dance throughout the night. A belly dancer also weaves between tables, mesmerizing diners with her abdominal precision and occasionally tossing napkins to alert management that someone fell happily asleep in their moussaka.
A man seizes a bottle of liquor by its neck, lifts it off its grooved feet, and hurls it into the air. Eyes forward, he catches it behind his back with his left hand as his right pours the first ingredient in a mixed drink. Off The Hookah's flair bartenders juggle flaming concoctions and fix classic cocktails inside a 14,000-square-foot restaurant with Moroccan décor and cushy beds and couches. After high-fiving the two pharaoh statues stationed by the door, guests can dig into tapas, sushi, and artfully arranged Mediterranean cuisine. Outdoor seating wraps around the entire main hall, providing plush couches from which to exhale hookah fumes and watch mariners tying up their boats or saddling their sharks at the marina. On the weekends, DJs spin Mediterranean, Latin, and American records, while belly dancers undulate around indoor and outdoor areas.
Although Cafe Toscano's cuisine remains firmly rooted in Old World tradition, its ambience embraces the aesthetic of a contemporary caf?. Imported cookies and pastries bring authentic Italian flavors to the brightly lit display cases, but the cooks also recreate homestyle staples by making pastas in-house and accompanying them with meatballs, sweet italian sausage, and eggplant parmigiana. Sleek, black chairs and low-slung white booths evoke a modern air, but the walls also include several murals of traditional Italian scenes, including a cobblestone street, a barrel-filled wine cellar, and an uncannily realistic host asking how many people are in your party.
To craft their gourmet pies, the cooks at Pizza Allora rely on a fundamental process: hand toss the dough into a thin crust, layer it with a signature sauce and fine mozzarella cheese, then cook it to crispy perfection. From there, diners can go the simple route and accept that simple, three-step pie as is, or make things a bit more complex by selecting from the lineup of more than 25 toppings or by completing a Rubik’s Cube before each bite. Pizza Allora’s traditional and gourmet pies aren’t the menu’s only tenants, though—the cooks offer up other Italian specialties, including deli sandwiches and pastas.
Chef Fritz Cassel constantly imagines up creative dishes to complement his eclectic, ever-changing menus. Servers transport his small plates and inventive gastro-pub dishes—such as mussels, gourmet sandwiches, and cheesy grits—to tables already supplied with complimentary baskets of housemade potato chips. Beneath a lofted ceiling lit by artistic pendant lamps and chandeliers, bartenders pour craft beers and mixed drinks as well as concoct potent adult milkshakes that pair perfectly with a copy of the latest _ Hardy Men_ mystery novel.