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Restaurant Reviews

Buddhaful Dining

We will start, you and I, at the top of this page and the top of Tsunami, a six-month-old Asian fusion restaurant at CityPlace in West Palm Beach. To our left, we see the gracefully curving stairway that took us up to this fifth tier, known as the "mezzanine bar," and of course we can't help but notice, on the deep-red wall running along those stairs, a six-foot-tall Burmese Buddha coated in gold leaf. There are clusters of Palm Beach professionals up here, stirring their watermelon or mango or Asian-pear martinis while, like us, taking in the bird's-eye view of this stunning, semicircular, $3 million space.

Gaping and ogling downward: three loge levels of seating, each limited in size and thus emanating intimacy (plus a minisection with just one table -- presumably the corporate box). All the way below, we see the main dining room, with tall, richly upholstered chairs and floor-to-lofty-ceiling windows opening up on the Kravitz Center for the Performing Arts -- fitting for so theatrical a restaurant design. Glancing to the left of the main room, we note a busy sushi bar but from up here can't see the cozy and colorful downstairs lounge, also circular, with bright backlit bar, cube-shaped ottomans, and tables facing banquettes that run the circumference of the space. Those who come to Tsunami mostly for the drinks and social scene, as well as those too susceptible to nosebleeds to attempt the mezzanine bar, sip their sake here as a DJ spins music he calls "lounge house" -- a ratcheted-down version of hip-hop.

When the house is full, there are some 140 diners and it seems almost as many staff members to take care of them; there are knowledgeable and well-trained waiters, bus people, and sushi chefs (all dressed in black), affable hostesses (clad in long silk gowns), and a whole lotta cooks in the kitchen, including executive sous chef Christopher Turner, sous chef Eduardo Ruberté, executive sushi chef Scott Khong, and like the powerful foam atop a tsunami, executive chef Brian Kenny, who spent four years as executive sous chef at Norman's. Traces of the renowned Van Aken's wizardry with New World tastes and textures are evident in Kenny's cooking, but the cuisine more closely echoes Echo, another shiny sushi/Asian Palm Beach gem.

Tsunami offers plenty of Buddha but no bread. Instead, a better predinner treat is edamame, a small bowl of soy beans in their green pods, served with a sprinkling of sea salt and a wedge of lemon. Keep the lightness going by choosing from a wide array of top-shelf sushi, including 15 varieties of sashimi; specialty plates like toro tartare spiked with pickled leeks, grilled pineapple, chili pepper, and sesame oil; and specialty rolls such as Bahama conch with wasabi mayo or a butter-poached Maine lobster and caviar shiso roll.

The main menu starts with a soup and four salads, the latter featuring mostly Asian garnishings: greens topped with beef negamaki and grilled scallions; greens with mango, pickled cucumber, and wasabi-brown mustard vinaigrette; and a salad of watercress and endives with candied walnuts and May-tag blue cheese, which doesn't sound very Eastern but does contain black oriental vinaigrette and Asian pear. The sole soup was superlative, a velvety pumpkin-curry, sweet and piquantly seasoned, with jumbo lump crab salad anchored in the bowl's center.

A well-crisped spring roll filled with a tsunami of contrasting tastes (goat cheese, broccoli rabe, pickled daikon, and HOT strips of tasso ham) was likewise delicious enough to warrant a $12 charge -- plus, the well-heeled clientele here can afford it. How well-heeled? Let's just say I was probably the only one in the room whose shoes had a first name of "Thom."

A softer summer roll also enticed with an intriguing interior of shiitake mushrooms and green tea-infused noodles, with banana blossom slaw and spicy peanut salsa splashed on the plate. A heartier appetizer is based on braised pork ribs, the meat shredded off the bones, simmered in savory barbecue sauce, and stuffed into a fluffy saffron pancake topped with caramelized pears, braised greens, and a clumpy, clumsy nest of sweet potatoes.

Entrées were equally compelling. A whole fried yellowtail snapper with golden panko crust sealing in juicy white flakes of filet (taken off the bone) was prudently paired with aromatic red rice, but a star anise butter sauce was applied too parsimoniously to provide much flavor. Chive-flecked sabayon sauce accompanying two wok-seared disks of beef tenderloin was lacking in portion and potency as well, though the meat was prime and properly cooked. Roasted potatoes and purple Chinese eggplant comprised sensible sides. On the other end of the spectrum, a plentiful pool of powerful, fermented black-bean sauce almost knocked the chargrilled big-eye tuna off my plate. I didn't care for the fermented flavor, but the two tender wedges of fish were softly raw inside and teamed with a terrific torta layered with sweet potato, plantain, and bacon. A "green papaya-wonton salad" that was supposed to come with the tuna turned out to be sauce-soaked strips of fried wontons tossed with ribbons of that fruit.

The showstopper was a special of jumbo, pearly, and meltingly delicate seared sea scallops, skewered on a stick of lemon grass and supported by scrumptious accompaniments: porcini and brown honshimeji mushrooms, snippets of scallion and white asparagus, little globes of sweet potatoes, smoky bits of bacon, crunchy peanuts, and citrus butter sauce. A glass of Stonestreet Chardonnay from Sonoma matched the multitudinous flavors quite well. Premium and ultrapremium sakes are available as well.

The final wave comes via desserts of the composed variety: clever, colorful doodads, dots, and drizzles on big white plates. Didn't try the tropical fruit-filled wontons with kiwi-lime sauce and candied kumquat ice cream, but it was certainly pretty to look at going by. Did sample a dense, short square of dark chocolate cake capped with a tall square of creamy chocolate macadamia-nut mousse with fantastic coffee-bean ice cream on the side. In fact, the alluringly flavored ice creams (mint chocolate chunk, tangerine, a rich custardy vanilla) and sorbets (lychee, passion fruit) are so good you might consider ending your meal with just a scoop or two.

I'm sure you'll agree that when you walk into Tsunami, the effect hits you like a giant wave, and by the time you leave, it has made a big splash. Oh, sorry, I left you up at the mezzanine bar, didn't I?

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Lee Klein

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