What attracted me to
2-year-old Soba Sushi Lounge in Mizner Park is that its menu is unlike those at your average sushi joint. On it, you'll find rainbow rolls, sashimi, and sushi platters; gyoza, miso soup, agedashi tofu, and ginger/miso-drenched salads. But you'll also find quail's eggs topped with caviar, Russian-style veal dumplings, ceviche, and octopus anticuchos. Sure, some of the Euro/Russo/Asian/South American dishes served by owner Eddie Kotlyarov sound a little strange (uni tartare, for example, sounds like a bad way to ruin one of the most original flavors in the world). But like my colleague at Westword, Jason Sheehan, I'm willing to give fusion a chance -- especially when a place offers something different from the ubiquitous tuna/salmon/escolar menu proffered at sushi joints across South Florida.
Unfortunately, Soba Sushi Lounge is reason enough to lay off fusion for good.
A meal there on a recent weekend night proved as much. We started with a cold soba salad, which I anticipated to be composed of noodles lightly dressed in sesame vinaigrette and tossed with cucumber and cherry tomato. What we received instead was a plate of field greens doused in a mayo-thick dressing and topped with a sad, cold glob of buckwheat noodles. There's nothing like taking a bite of crisp lettuce and also tasting something soggy, soft, and wet. It reminded my of one of those Halloween party games where you stick your hands in a box filled with cold spaghetti. Only the box is your mouth.
The odd fusion seemed to creep into every dish we tried. Shiitake soup merged the musty Japanese mushroom with a creamy, Western-style broth. The result was bland and pasty, like something you'd use to hang wallpaper. The restaurant's signature maki is the "tri roll," six pieces of outsized tuna roll topped with either shrimp, lobster, or snow crab and baked. The mayo and lobster mixture on top of the roll wasn't just broiled; the whole roll was so baked that the rice was almost too hot to eat. It wasn't sushi -- it was a casserole gone wrong. A plate of gyoza came soaking in its steaming liquid; they fell apart once picked up.
I asked our waiter about the caviar-topped quail eggs, which the menu suggested came with expensive osetra caviar at market price. "With osetra, it would be about $100," he said. "I'd suggest red or black tobiko, which would make it about $12. You wouldn't be able to really taste the osetra anyway." He was right on that count. Nothing was discernible apart from the too-thick splurt of spicy mayonnaise on top of each halved quail egg. The little gobs of tobiko could've been sand for all I knew.
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I'm all for creativity in a menu. Heck, I'd love to see more Asian restaurants that break free of the same dishes you can find on every corner of every street in every neighborhood. But after an hour of being beaten down by Soba's bad fusion, I was ready to bolt for the nearest sushi bar and order the most typical sushi boat on the menu. I'd even eat those dried-out, precooked shrimp sushi served alongside those artlessly thick slices of tuna and salmon. Just keep away from the fusion.