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Nu-Sushi's tuna heaven ($8.95) also tests the limits of cultural taste boundaries. The thin layers of ruby-hued tuna, avocado, and sharp, grassy green onion are enriched with natto, a type of fermented soybean that's known for its distinctly pungent aroma. I've tried to eat natto on a few occasions, and each time, I've failed miserably. Maybe it's the slightly off-color smell or the slimy, stringy filament called neba that coats the beans, but every time my lips touch natto, it's like my stomach is being sent into warp drive: She just can't take much more of this, Captain.
I can appreciate those highly authentic and adventurous dishes at Nu-Sushi. But ending my meal on something closer to home — maybe a hand roll of sweet stone crab ($4.95), the succulent flesh livened by a spicy mayonnaise and scallion — is a reward in itself. When you think about it, that's a pairing not all that different from the mustardy sauce Floridians have been dunking the prized claw meat in for decades.
A few dozen miles north in Boynton Beach sits Sushi Simon, another strip-mall eatery that's received a bit of praise for its ultra-fresh fish. I stopped in on a weeknight to test it out and found the 2-year-old spot full of hard-core sashimi fans looking for a fix.
1312 N. University Drive
Coral Springs, FL 33071
Region: Coral Springs
Sushi Simon, 1614 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday noon to 10 p.m. Call 561-731-1819.
Unlike Nu-Sushi, stepping in to Sushi Simon makes you instantly forget that you're dining in a strip mall. The restaurant is romantic and spacious, with high-backed wooden chairs padded with ornate pillows. The effect is so comforting that we practically sank into our table as we sat down to peruse the menu of mostly sushi, sashimi, and specialty rolls.
A small folded menu details the specials for the night, and what they lack in number they make up for in appeal. There was wild-caught salmon ($6), slivers of deep mahogany rich with flavor; and local mutton snapper ($5), which, according to our knowledgeable waitress, was hauled off the boat just an hour before we sat down. Bluefin o-toro, one of the most coveted cuts around, topped off the specials menu at $20 for a generous order of six bite-sized pieces.
You'll notice a startling eye for detail in everything at Sushi Simon, beginning with warm orange and red walls adorned with abstract art and translating to the plating itself. Even typical orders of miso soup ($4) are served in mismatched porcelain bowls so beautiful that you'll want to keep them on the table after you've finished. A daily special of Crazy Lucy soup ($6.50) was basically a large order of that miso broth made elegant with the addition of cilantro, tomato, and a few supple shrimp dumplings. I'm not sure if it was the subtle upgrades or the brilliant, hand-painted bowl it came in, but the ordinarily earthy flavors of miso tasted amazingly sharp and clean.
Our waitress knew the menu inside and out. So when we asked about a special called Boston fluke Morimoto ($20), she said, "That's my favorite!" In it, thin-sliced fluke sashimi, fleshy and vibrant, was seared on the plate with a hand torch and topped with spicy mayo, cilantro, and ponzu, a robust combination of smoky and savory that played out beautifully. Similarly themed Nobu snapper ($22) featured some of that fresh-off-the-boat fish arranged into a circle with wispy strings of beet and a mound of black tobiko-flecked spicy tuna tartare in the center. Everything tasted so good, one of my guests decided to sample a vibrant purple orchid garnish, popping the whole thing in his mouth before we could debate whether it was edible. "It didn't have much flavor at all," he said afterward. I'll stick with the snapper, thanks.
Sushi Simon doesn't have much in the way of hot food, so if you're not craving raw fish, you probably won't leave satisfied. Still, a bowl of edamame ($6.50) salty and juicy in their shells can sate a fix for something more substantial. The place has a decent wine list with crisp whites and sakes, plus big ol' 22-ounce cans of Sapporo and a small list of specialty cocktails like lichee martinis replete with the white-fleshed fruit floating inside. A three-page list of wittily named rolls like the Very Sexy roll and the South Beach roll are mostly variations on common rolls you can get just about anywhere and all rather pricey. I avoided them in favor of something rarer: an order of the o-toro. That stuff melts on your tongue like a thin, oceanic mint. The chef even threw in a ball of fresh-grated wasabi, not that powdered stuff you usually get elsewhere. At $20 a pop, it's a far cry from the cheap sushi joints running up and down the road from Sushi Simon. But it sure beats the hell out of a California roll.