"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.
Aleyda Cardona's first restaurant was a truck. Originally intending to sell tacos and burritos across the city with her family, she had to change her plans after the engine began leaking oil on the first day. Instead, she stayed put for the next year as customers sought out her time-tested recipes, finally earning enough to purchase a new truck, and she eventually found permanent restaurant locations.
In addition to sizzling fajitas and homemade salsa, cooks also prepare innovative, Latin–inspired meals, such as a Texas–style steak dusted with garlic and cumin and grilled orders of shrimp and lobster in spicy tomato sauce. Every entree draws on hand-selected proteins, low-fat cooking oils, and produce that is delivered fresh daily, much like the restaurant's air supply.
Potent margaritas based on the family's secret recipe keep meals lively as diners converse amid turquoise walls and a dining room that mimics the feel of an outdoor patio. Leafy plants and piñatas dangle from the room's streetlamps, and backlit stained-glass windows adorn the walls alongside framed pictures.
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.
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.
Orchids are, in general, delicate and colorful flowers, concepts appreciated by Japanese and Thai chefs. Orchids of Siam brings the two schools of cuisine together under the flower's banner, serving colorful curries, stir-fried medleys with noodles, and, of course, sushi. The chefs draw flavors from all over the map, though, in their quest to create memorable dishes, infusing shrimp tempura sushi with the flavors of roasted garlic or enriching pad thai with eight ounces of fresh lobster.