"Where did you get this?" we wanted to know.
"Oh, that's Max's friend, Tommy," somebody ventured. "He's just opened up a restaurant somewhere."
Nobody could remember the name of the new restaurant. Nobody could tell me where it was. It was a full two months before I finally learned that the place was Kaiyo (3026 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-776-2802), and that the mysterious "Tom" was Tom Kruse, who works with his mother, Amy, and sister, Christie, to produce a menu of Thai and Japanese specialties every bit as memorable as my first bite of their sashimi salad.
That salad ($7.95), served in a martini glass, is a great way to kick off dinner in this petite, pretty space, with its sea-green walls (Kaiyo means "ocean" in Japanese), modern Asian-inspired paintings, and simple tables. Tom works the sushi bar; his mother and a Thai chef handle the kitchen, and Christie holds down the front of the house. All three of them, Christie says, have been kicking around the restaurant and sushi industry for years, in one venue or another (Christie was a manager at Mark's Las Olas). This is the first time they've run their own restaurant: Business is already hopping enough that they're talking happily about adding staff.
Some recommendations: Thai stuffed fried shrimp ($5.95) is the Asian version of soul food -- stick-to-your-ribs scrumptious. Rolls run the gamut from the ever-present spider and rainbow rolls ($8.50 and $7.95) to a roll the family calls "Tom's nameless mango roll," an assortment of fish, tempura flakes, mango, oranges, and kimchee sauce; it's chic, spicy-sweet, unexpected. The Pad Thai is first-class ($8.95), and crispy duck with a choice of sauces ($14.95) -- from chili sauce to fresh ginger -- is a delicious bargain. A story goes that Tom once created a Spam roll for a friend as a prank: only problem was, he did it with such finesse that the friend polished it off, licking his fingers and declaring it one helluva fine piece of work. Try it at your own risk. But bring your own Spam.