There’s a pretty deeply-felt notion among Miamians that Fort Lauderdale lacks in the glamor and style that is prevalent in much of Dade County, which can translate into the idea that dining out in much of Broward consists of Guy Fieri’s treasured trilogy of diners, drive-ins, and dives. Food trends that have finally trickled down to Miami from the great food capitals of the world have to get in line behind other food trends that have yet to make it to Fort Lauderdale. Mixologists? Just be happy the bartender has a bottle of Bombay Sapphire for your G&T. On a recent trip to Fort Lauderdale Beach, however, I discovered that Miami’s condescending attitude towards Fort Lauderdale no longer applies. Miami’s neighbor to the north is outgrowing its old greasy spoon and dive bar image, and at very few places is it more prevalent than at SAIA, one of the most elegant Asian restaurants I’ve been to in South Florida, and a real surprise for any Miami food snob.
SAIA is situated on the ground floor of Fort Luaderdale Beach’s newest hotel addition, B Ocean, and is literally just steps away from the sand and surf. The hotel lobby is trendy, modern, yet still elegant with nothing that would be considered superfluous or over-the-top. Upon entering SAIA, one can see that the same design aesthetic and restraint is also present in the restaurant: white walls, dark wood floors and tables, half-mirrored light fixtures resembling bubbles, and a white marble illuminated sushi bar facing a textured wall that gives the impression of fish scales, all offering a minimalist maritime theme that pays tribute to Chef Subin’s specialty, seafood. An evening at SAIA is a sharing experience, like tapas or mezze, and while the menu represents a wide array of ingredients and styles, it is evident to the connoisseur that Chef Subin’s expertise lies in his treatment of all manner of sea creature.
We began our experience with two signature cocktails, The Bipolar Cocktail and a Hand-Shaken Ginger Lime Daiquiri. The daiquiri was pleasantly refreshing in both its simple balance of flavors and in the fact that it was a real daiquiri and not an alcoholic slurpee, while The Bipolar presented a surprising mix of Bombay Sapphire, absinthe, lemon, lychee, lemongrass, and egg white that made for an almost shockingly well-balanced drink, considering the contrasting elements that were involved. The bartender definitely got the message across that SAIA was not afraid to challenge itself with innovation, and this was repeatedly emphasized throughout my visit, especially in their Tropical Roll containing seared scallops, mushrooms, shiso leaf, cucumber, spicy miso, and topped with alternating slices of salmon sashimi and mango. The richness of the salmon was paired with the meatiness of the mushroom of which the texture complimented that of the scallop, whose sweetness was echoed beautifully with the slices of mango, leading me to believe that each element was carefully selected in this unforgettable sushi roll.
Unique seafood presentations continued to impress, such as Tamari Scallops nestled inside minced crab meat, wrapped with thin slices of big eye tuna sashimi, topped with masago, and gently adhering to whole shiso leaves with just a dollop of wasabi aioli - a veritable rose bud of seafood. Rice Cracker Tuna offered a unique East-West rendition of tuna tataki, where the tuna is coated in crumbled rice crackers, briefly fried so as to cook just the exterior, and served on a bed of dressed baby greens with avocado puree, tahini, and chili-spiked picked ginger batons. For those who are more partial to food coming from dry land, SAIA offers several options, including Mongolian Barbeque Lamb Lollipops, a poetic description for diminutive lamb chops served with a sweet soy dipping sauce meant to be eaten with your fingers, like a lollipop. Vegetarian options include an addictive green bean salad dressed with a black soy vinaigrette, Thai chili flakes, and fried garlic chips. Dessert options portray creative, Asian-inflected classics, such as a lemongrass and mango crème brûlée. While we partook in a well-made red bean mochi ice cream with mango sauce, we regretted not heading our waiter’s suggestion of the banana tempura, which looked like a dessert celebration at the table next to us.
Besides the elegant ambiance and spectacular cuisine, what is most remarkable at SAIA is the warm, attentive, and knowledgeable staff that seems to be more than just content at working there, but proud of being a part of it. Say what you will, but that’s one thing that’s hard to find in Miami. Each table was visited by Chef Subin, himself, as well as the restaurant manager, and our waiter ensured that every need was met, including offering us a platter from which to choose fresh silverwear. Fort Lauderdale Beach is growing up, and instead of emulating its neighbor to the south, it has taken clues from South Beach and has possibly surpassed it, as is evident at SAIA. SAIA B Ocean Fort Lauderdale 999 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304 954.302.5252 www.SAIAsushi.com