Thursday, August 2, 2012

Zen Sai

There's a new kid in town, and its name is Zen Sai! I have always had an affinity with Japanese Cuisine and even transformed a room in my house into a sushi room; complete with an Asian theme and all. Imagine my excitement when I was invited to preview the entire menu at a new Izakaya opening in the Essex House Hotel in South Beach. The restaurant, appropriately named Zen Sai, (which means hors d'oeuvre in Japanese), is located at 1001 Collins Avenue.

From the moment I walked in, I was enthralled by the outdoor dining area. Featuring a small pool in the center, the endearing oasis is surrounded by candle lit tables and chairs, providing a romantic, tranquil setting. Inside, Zen Sai's cozy ambiance is perfect for a nice drink after work while sharing some small plates with friends.

Full selection of their sushi rolls
Selection of Japanese Beers
I was very impressed with all the dishes that were served for us to sample. From the delicious sushi rolls, to the robata-grilled items, the food was superb. And it doesn't end there. Zen Sai also features a vast selection of fine sakes, and specialty sake cocktails that are phenomenal.  For beer connoiseurs, they also offer Japanese beers. I especially enjoyed the way the staff described each ingredient in the cocktails, and offered suggestions for pairings with the food. They were very knowledgeable and made you feel at home. Impeccable service, great food and awesome drinks...I see the beginning of a beautiful thing.

Sake Selections
Since I was able to sample the entire food and cocktail menu. I'll give you a visual tour of some of the items and let you know which were my favorite along the way. A warning before you the time you finish this post, you will be extremely hungry! I'll start with the drinks. Of the sakes, the one I sampled before I moved on to the cocktails was the Haiku, a semi-dry sake with flavors of gardenia, lavender and apple. It was not too sweet and I find it would pair very well with the rock shrimp from their menu.

Lychee Martini Sample
Selection of Cocktails
Because I personally prefer cocktails, I decided to concentrate on their Signature Cocktails by sampling them all. (Don't judge me.)  My two favorite were the Lychee Martini and the Kimono. The Lychee Martini was made with Kumosabe Nigori sake, Finlandia vodka, house-infused lychee syrup, simple syrup and lemon juice. It was the best! The cocktail is sweet, fragrant and comes with a lychee inside. The Kimono was just as outstanding and refreshing. It was also made with Kumosabe Nigori sake, and then a splash of Grey Goose Vodka, yuzu juice, watermelon juice, basil, agave nectar, lemon juice and a watermelon slice.

Now on to the best part (I am the "Food"aholic after all). May the food porn marathon begin:

Shishito Peppers
Fried Bok Choy
Shishito Peppers with Ginger Soy Sauce (Left) - Fun fact! 1 in 10 are spicy. Fried Bok Choy with soy sauce and toasted garlic (Right) -They tasted like potato chips! I can eat these while sitting in front of the T.V. Definite favorite!

Squid Jerky
Squid Jerky with Garlic aioli (Left) - Have to chew these a bit. Edamame with Sea Salt and Ginger Soy Sauce (Right) - Not too salty.

Asian Green Salad
Octopus Salad
Asian Green Salad with Miso soy mustard vinaigrette (Left) - Loved the walnuts and the dressing. Octopus Salad (Right) - The yuzu juice brought out the flavors of all the ingredients and gave it a kick.

Spicy Rock Shrimp
Yellowtail Jalapeno
Spicy Rock Shrimp with Serrano aioli and Japanese Worcestershire (Left) - These were sweet and left your mouth on fire. Another favorite! Yellowtail Jalapeno with Citrus jalapeno soy sauce (Right) - They were flavorful, meaty and also had a kick.

Pork Belly
Ribeye with Yakitori Sauce (Left) - Well seasoned and juicy. Pork Belly with black bean sauce (Right) - Outrageously good! A favorite all the way, it also comes as a slider.

Black Cod
Black Cod with sweet yuzu miso sauce. (Left) - Amazing taste! Tender, flaky fish blew me away. Salmon with Yakitori Sauce (Right) -The Yakitori glaze gave the salmon a sweet, enticing allure.

Bacon Wrapped Scallops
Bacon Wrapped Scallops
(Left)- Great combination of smoky bacon with mildly sweet scallop. Shrimp (Right) - They were marinated in cilantro and garlic and then grilled.

Six different sushi rolls
Prosciutto Roll
Zen Sai Rolls: (Left)- My two favorites were the Spicy Tuna and the BBQ Eel. There is also a Boston Roll which is vegetarian. Prosciutto Roll (Right)  - The taste of the prosciutto and goat cheese went well with the truffle oil and balsamic vinegar.

A return visit to Zen Sai is a definite must. It is truly a great place to relax and enjoy the Miami Beach vibe. For more information, you can visit Zen Sai online at

Zen Sai on Urbanspoon

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