S3 Hires New Sushi Chef: Songphan Rawangphan

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What once was reserved for the brave has become a staple meal out for everyday diners and the diet-crazed. Sushi has become many Americans' dish of choice, and we just can't seem to get enough -- hey, that's certainly not a bad thing for the country that is the second most obese in the Western Hemisphere.

From the takeout Japanese joint to high-end hot spots: Restaurants all over the place are now featuring sushi like you wouldn't believe.

S3, the Restaurant People's (owners of YOLO, Tarpon Bend, and Vibe) recently oceanfront concept recently brought on a new sushi chef, Songphan Rawangphan. He plans to bring some fresh ideas to the new restaurant.

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Rawangphan jumped onboard about a month ago after leaving the just-closed China Grill off of 17th Street Causeway. When the spot shut its doors, the Restaurant People -- Tim Petrillo and Peter Boulukos -- asked Rawangphan to come to S3.

The Thai native wants to bring a new style of sushi to the restaurant.

"I'm trying to do something a bit fancier and a bit more colorful," said Rawangphan. "I like making dishes you eat from the eye. You see it before you taste it. I want people to be happy when they taste my food."

It's more of a fusion approach. Like Thai cuisine, Rawangphan likes to focus on intense yet well-balanced flavors. He mixes traditional Japanese techniques and ingredients with many Thai elements, like tropical fruits, Thai hot sauces, and eventually something with a curry sauce.

"I like traditional Japanese sushi, but it's so plain," he said. "It's just fish, scallion, and soy sauce. I use the traditional way, but with different flavors. I think my style is well-suited for American palates."

While he's offering his own specials right now, like the crunchy red snapper roll with cranberries, avocado, almond, and his own spicy mayo in a soy paper wrap or the Oshi style (pressed) tuna tower, Rawangphan plans to revise more than half the sushi menu in the next couple of months.

After graduating from Siam University with degrees in finance and accounting, he took a chance at running a computer business in an area just south of Bangkok. Ultimately, the business did not work out, but it put him on the path of moving to the U.S. With that, he decided he wanted to go into cooking.

Rawangphan left Thailand to head to the U.S. in the mid-1990s. He first settled in Long Beach, California -- just before the massive Northridge earthquake in 1994 that killed 57 people and injured more than 8,500 more -- not exactly the most fortuitous time to move to California. Soon after, he picked up and moved to South Florida with his old housemate.

He started cooking Thai food at Sushi Siam in South Beach before moving on to sushi.

"I wanted to try something else and learn more," said Rawangphan. "Sushi chef Yozo Natsui, who now owns Blue Fin Sushi, taught me about sushi."

He worked at sushi joints around South Beach before joining the company that owns China Grill about 15 years ago -- his first position with them was at the Delano Hotel for four years.

Now he's hoping to please the clientele at S3.

"I like people to feel happy when they eat my food," he said. "I want them to say 'Wow.' So far the feedback has been good. The first night we put the tuna tower on the menu, we sold 50 of them. People have been really happy."

S3 is located at 505 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-523-7873, or visit s3restaurant.com.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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