Nestled in the lobby of the EPIC Hotel & Residences in Downtown Miami is Zuma, offering a dining experience that has thrived in some of the world’s most exclusive cities before arriving in Miami. From London to Hong Kong, Istanbul and Dubai, Zuma’s sophisticated twist on the traditional Japanese Izayaka style of informal eating and drinking now graces the heart of one of South Florida’s most vibrant metropolitan areas.
Within its modern walls I was destined to find the flavors I only knew existed from watching the country’s most esteemed chefs on reality shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef America. Even so, Chef and Restaurateur Rainer Becker promised me ingenuity beyond the dishes: “I’ve based a very dedicated team in Miami, where creativity extends to our cocktails, our bar, our sake sommelier, our wine list and, of course, our service,” he says.
I had also heard of Zuma’s large celebrity following including the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga, Victoria & David Beckham, Beyoncé and Jay Z, just to name a few. Knowing this, I was eager for my Zuma experience. The Zuma concept is for sharing — patrons order a selection of many different dishes and collectively dig in to each. Without hesitation, I invited my mom, Maria Elena, as my guest of honor. She has a gift to enjoy food as it arrives, never too indulged, and rarely able to refuse an adventurous bite — as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Our table boasted stunning views of the bay and the boardwalk that borders the neighborhood that continually inspires me. I was immediately drawn to the open kitchen, seduced by the sight of fresh vegetables in all colors, shapes and sizes. This included the oblong Japanese eggplant in beautiful shades of purple, the kind I had only ever seen in New York City’s Greenmarket, one of my favorite places in the world.
I later learned there are three kitchens at Zuma: The main kitchen serving various kinds of dishes; the Robata Grill serving Robatayaki Cuisine; and the Sushi & Sashimi Counter. The Robata Grill, Zuma’s Japanese open-fire barbecue, is inspired by the age-old cooking style of northern Japanese fishermen; it cooks the meat, fish and vegetables at different heights allowing the chef the control to retain flavor without overheating or drying the produce.
But first, I must attest to Zuma’s team of service professionals knowing their clients as well as they know their food. Taking care of us was Jessie Gomez, a man as international as the Zuma name. He suggested we start with a signature cocktail, crafted by mixologist James Shearer, who has been with Zuma for 8 years. Cocktail specialties are inevitably the Rubabu, the South East Asian Cooler and the non-alcoholic Nori-san, a bestseller worldwide.
Rather than offering individual starters and courses, Zuma’s dishes are designed for sharing and brought to the table steadily and continuously. The Daikoku tasting menu offers a selection of premium, seasonal signature dishes, served in plates designed specifically for each — Zuma-style.
First to arrive were succulent skewers of corn on the cob, steamed, blanched, coated with shiso butter and grilled to perfection, followed by the ultimate beef tataki featuring pickled daikon and fresh truffle dressing. The yellowtail sashimi was delicately marinated in green chili relish, ponzu and pickled garlic. The perfectly cooked and crunchy rock shrimp with lime and chili mayonnaise were kicked up a notch with a squeeze of fresh limejuice, as per our server’s suggestion.
The maki rolls were next, with yellowtail, serrano pepper and wasabi mayo coming together beautifully, on and off the plate. We enjoyed the maki and the rest of the meal with Becker’s own Biwa no Choju sake, which is brewed exclusively for Zuma from the Japanese waters of Lake Biwa in the Shiga prefecture.
As the lights got dimmer and the conversations around us grew pleasantly louder, my eyes wondered off to my neighbors: “They’re going to love the beef tataki…the scallops look flawless…is the chef really making wasabi at their table?”
Before I could ogle the next neighbor’s plate, I was presented with the ultimate palate pleaser. To say the least, I woke up the next morning craving this dish that was dubbed “addictive” by the food runner who brought it to the table, and rightly so. I’ll give this dish the homage it deserves, starting with its Japanese name: kinoko no kama meshi. This rice hot pot with wild mushrooms, Japanese vegetables and truffle is served inside of a wooden hangiri pot. The server gently stirs the rice before awarding you with a serving of this flawless signature dish.
The baby zucchini skewers came next, followed by the miso marinated black cod wrapped in hoba leaf, which I’m told has been one of the most popular dishes in the Miami location.
With or without room, there would be dessert: the delightfully tart sorbet garnished with fresh Asian fruit was brought along with the chawan mushi with exotic fruit, both presented as amazingly as they tasted. Alas, the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
For more information or to reserve your Zuma experience, stop in at 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, call 305.577.0277 or visit ZumaRestaurant.com.