Saki-to-Me

Are Palm Beach nightcrawlers getting a raw deal?

Our waiter, however, is adorable, an Asian-American boy so delicately beautiful that he looks female, shiny black tresses pulled into a ponytail. He's as nice as the drink is rotten, and I'm almost willing to forgive everything based on the pure, polished sweetness and good looks of the staff here. Ueno and Lacata must be doing something right. As it turns out, it's not the sushi. A first bite of yellowtail sashimi ($12) leaves a bitter aftertaste; neither is the whitefish (grouper tonight, $9) at its freshest. They're plumb out of toro, luckily, since I would have resented dropping a bundle on lousy tuna belly. Our rolls, a Caterpillar ($10) made with eel, avocado, cream cheese, crab, and cucumber, is creamy-rich the way we Americans like it, prettily presented, completely forgettable. Kansu Salmon Crystal roll ($10), wrapped in cucumber instead of rice, tastes just like all the other maki rolls you've ever eaten.

To be fair, Ueno's specialty is pan-Asian fusion, and there's a whole menu of his concoctions — Tuna Four Seasons, Lobster Dynamite, Grilled Black Cod Miso — that we don't get to. Somehow, in spite of the insipid sushi and the calculated razzle-dazzle, we find ourselves, as we saunter out, reluctantly admitting we dug the place. The pillows were so comfortable. The eye candy so delicious. The service had been terrific and the music broadcast at decent volume. The lounge, around 10:30, was beginning to fill up with semi-interesting types. We would return.

But not tonight. Instead, we drive straight back to West Palm, hitting Sushi Jo and Sake Jo on Belvedere Road by 11 p.m. Owner Joe Clark has punched through the wall into a former yoga studio and expanded what used to be a tiny, noisy sushi bar into a bigger, noisy sake club with a DJ and the potential for live music. It's stuffed to the gills, as usual, with the best and brightest our little burg has to offer. I love the vibe at Sushi Jo — its casual chic, the clientele of old, young, rich, very rich, and extra-superrich dressed up and dressed down; holding birthday parties and first meetings for blind Internet dates; the boomer dudes angling to hook up; the pert young babes who won't give the boomer dudes the time of night. But what I love best about Jo is the food. Expansion, thank God, hasn't dumbed down Jo's delectable comestibles. There's now a Sushi Jo in Boynton Beach too and one scheduled to open in Palm Beach Gardens next to Spoto's, plus a couple at local hotels. The Sushi Jo on Belvedere Road along with Hotel Biba across the street is the very epicenter of hip in Palm Beach County, a condensed zone of cool that's unstudied, unself-referential, miraculously devoid of cynicism, spectacularly fun.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Sushi Jo

319 Belvedere Road, Ste. 12
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: West Palm Beach

Details

Sushi Jo and Sake Jo 319 Belvedere Rd., West Palm Beach. Lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. till 2 p.m. Dinner Monday through Sunday 5 till 11 p.m., till 2 a.m. Wednesday. Call 561-868-7393.
Saki Room 401 W. Atlantic Ave., No. R9, Delray Beach. Lunch Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. Dinner nightly 5:30 till 10:30. Lounge is open for sushi and drinks 5:30 p.m. till 2 a.m. Call 886-884-SAKI.

We take our cue from the blackboard specials and eat tiny sunomono river crabs crowded into a bowl with skinny slices of cucumber. They look like fat spiders, flash fried. Crunch down on their brittle shells and they release subtle flavors of clean, free-flowing waters. We drink a bottle of Mu sake ($45), beautifully balanced and delicately flavored, kept chilled in an ice bucket and poured into lovely, tulip-shaped shot glasses filled with exquisite miniature cucumber balls. And slices of sashimi and sushi: marlin, kampachi, Japanese snapper, suzuki (Japanese sea bass), Japanese kobe beef. Every piece of fish is spanking fresh, so silky it dissolves on the tongue, with a gentle, refreshing, lingering, almost indescribable sweetness. The flavors are novel, unique, unexpected. Char-grilled slices of kobe set on fingers of vinegared rice are memory jolts — that's what beef tastes like! This is sushi and sashimi with intentional, focused grace, tasting just the way the stuff is intended to. That thick, sticky salmon, the iron-flavored tuna served in other venues, is just the simulacrum of a simulacrum. Hang up your flat screens, concoct your sakitinis, stuff your rooms full of sex kittens. You want cutting edge? Look to your sushi chef's knife — that's where the glitter lies.

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