Zuma, which opened its London restaurant in 2002, followed by outposts in Hong Kong andDubai; three months ago, it unveiled a downtown Miami branch in the Epic Hotel. These days, enough patrons pack Zuma’s Zen-like environs to make it crackle with energy. A spacious and stylish sake lounge up front pours more than 40 types of the libation, including Biwa no Choju, brewed exclusively for Zuma “from the waters of Lake Biwa in theShiga prefecture.” I’m not sure where that is, but the sake tastes good.
The bar area leads to a lovely, lofty dining room composed of glass, stainless steel, granite, stone, and raw Indonesian wood tables — a multitextured, taupe-toned palette. One wall of floor-to-soaring-ceiling windows offers a vista of the Miami River (the fish-eye view of the Brickell Avenue drawbridge opening is as interesting a visual as one can hope to glimpse from a restaurant seat). On the opposite side, a thoroughly exposed kitchen blends into the space and serves as a main focal point — especially when sparkler-like flares from the robata grill alight. The sushi bar is tucked toward the rear, next to a glowing wall of backlit orange-colored glass. Other ambient conditions were less favorable — the music was too club-like and the room so chilled as to feel refrigerated — but this is nonetheless an ideal arena in which to meditate upon executive chefRainer Becker‘s exquisite cuisine.
Zuma is “inspired by the informal Japanese dining style called izakaya,” according to its website. This implies all sorts of traditions, but in Japanese-American restaurants, izakaya has come to mean simply the serving of small plates of food as they issue from the kitchen. Sounds like it could lead to a haphazard meal, but Becker (who trained inJapan) or his sous chef reassembles each order into a sensible progression (larger plates following smaller ones and so forth), and the waitstaff seamlessly shuffles old plates off the table and new plates onto it. The team operates like LeBron‘s Miami Heat will — each worker seeming to know instinctively what the others are doing and thus what each needs to do to keep the flow constant. It is very NBA Zen.