Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Su Shin Izakaya - Coral Gables

Su Shin
"HELLO HOW ARE YOU?!?!" Invariably, this is the greeting you will receive when you walk through the doors of Su Shin Izakaya - usually at a decibel level that will make you jump, even when you're fully expecting it. It's the owner's Americanized variation on the Japanese tradition of welcoming customers with a shout of "Irashaimase!"

Su Shin's menu is something of a mix of Americanized and traditional, too. Yes, you'll find your California rolls and salmon and cream cheese "JB rolls"[1] here. But if you're looking for something more authentic, don't let this dissuade you. The real draw here is not these inexplicably ubiquitous standards, but rather the extensive selection of "izakaya" dishes.

An izakaya is, as I understand it, sort of the Japanese equivalent of a pub: a place to drink beer or sake, often in copious amounts, and which serves food, often in smaller tapas-size portions, to accompany those libations. Hiro's Yakko-San in North Miami Beach is an izakaya style of restaurant which, as I've noted before, always requires explanation to first-time visitors that it is not a sushi restaurant: no nigiri, no maki (though there is sashimi). Su Shin, though, goes both ways, offering both the typical panopoly of sushi and sashimi, teriyaki and tempura, as well more varied fare, both on the regular menu and on a blackboard that stretches across one long wall of the restaurant, typically featuring roughly a dozen or more daily specials of both raw and cooked dishes.

Since I work in Coral Gables, Su Shin is typically a lunch stop for me, when it is typically busy. There are a half-dozen lunch specials featuring miscellaneous permutations of the usual suspects for $8.75, as well as a mysterious additional list, written only in Japanese. During several visits we've asked about or randomly pointed at some of these, but have yet to encounter anything tremendously exotic. Rather, one of my favorite mystery lunch items is buried away in the "Makimono" (cut rolls) section of the menu, under the name "Porque Mt. Fuji" with the description "Not a roll, let us surprise you." Needless to say, as soon as I noticed this I had to try it.

(SPOILER ALERT!) Let me give away the surprise. The Porque Mt. Fuji is a bowl of warm steamed white rice, interspersed with hunks of grilled salmon, ikura (salmon roe), cubes of avocado, kaiware (daikon sprouts), julienned shreds of tamago (omelette) and nori (dried seaweed). It's a great combination of flavors and textures, though much more like a donburi than a maki, which makes me wonder as to its menu placement.

Though I'm not usually much of a fan of the "designer" makizushi, there are a couple at Su Shin that I like: the "Sunshine Roll," with salmon skin, avocado, cucumber, masago and seaweed powder, is a nice composition, as is the "Freshman Roll" with unagi (grilled eel), tamago, cucumber and sesame seeds. They've also recently added a long list of temaki, or hand rolls, seemingly the trend du jour, including some unusual options like natto, or the "China dog" with spicy raw beef (hopefully beef!).[2] Generally speaking, their fish for sushi is of acceptable quality but nothing exceptional.

Rather, the most interesting stuff can be found in the rest of the menu or on the board. I've had some great blackboard specials including ankimo (monkfish liver, also known as the "foie gras of the seas"), aoyagi sashimi (orange clam, offering a variety of different textures from the different parts of the muscle), mame aji (adorable little sardines about as long as your thumb, fried and eaten whole), saba miso (the mackerel cooked in a rich, almost sticky miso sauce), beef tendon stewed with burdock root, and many others.

The rest of the menu is worth exploring too, especially at dinner time when an expanded selection is available, with over 100 items to choose from. Of those, I've had a tremendously satisfying kimchi ramen, a big bowl (more like a trough) of broth stained orange-red with kochukaru chile powder leaching off from the kimchi, along with a generous helping of nicely chewy ramen noodles, slices of tender roasted pork, hard boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and sheets of nori. It is also the only place I know of in Miami where you can get okonomiyaki, an arguably perverse Japanese concoction which is sort of like a savory grilled pancake, studded with cabbage, green onions and seafood, and topped with generous squiggles of Kewpie mayonnaise, batons of bright red pickled ginger, and katsuobushi flakes seemingly dancing in the heat. It takes a while to prepare, and is perhaps best consumed with copious quantities of beer, but - as mentioned above - that is entirely appropriate for an izakaya.

The atmosphere during dinnertime is more relaxed and quietly convivial than the more hectic lunch hour. While the lunch crowd is primarily Gables worker bees, the nighttime, at least on a weekday when I was last there, brings a primarily Asian group who are happy to throw down a beer or three while enjoying a few dishes and joking with the chef and the owner. It's worth a visit either day or night. And if you go during lunch, the owner will give you a subtle reminder, shouting as you leave, "SEE YOU FOR DINNER!!!"

Su Shin Izakaya
159 Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Su-Shin Izakaya on Urbanspoon

[1]Does anyone know the progeny of this particular item, and why it's ubiquitously called a "JB" roll, at least in South Florida? I've always half-jokingly assumed that meant "Jew Boy" roll (I'm allowed to say that, I am one); after all, the other moniker often used is "Bagel Roll."

[2]It's actually a take-off on beef yukhoe or youkke, a Korean item that's like a spicy beef tartare.


  1. I was always curious about the origin of the JB roll, both the recipe and the nomenclature. The abbreviated form of the name seems to be largely confined to Florida as far as I can tell. In other parts of the Southeastern US the full form of the name, Japanese Bagel Roll, seems prevalent on menus. Further up into the Northeast, the preferred name is Philadelphia roll for the same basic combination of ingredients.

    The recipe itself is obviously a fusion derived from the bagel topping of cream cheese and lox. I think figuring out where the combination was first invented would be nearly impossible at this point though. My first experience with cream cheese as a sushi ingredient was in the late 90s at Sushi of Gari in NY but I doubt that was the original point of creation although the combination was far less common at the time.

  2. I suppose "Jewish Bagel" is less offensive than "Jew Boy" - but isn't "Jewish Bagel" redundant? Are there shiksa bagels too?

  3. Please contact me. We would like to have you on "The Juice" on Plum TV as one of our featured bloggers.

  4. As an outsider to the JB domain within US soil, I was first told the the JB meant 'Japanese Bagel' which makes perfect sense. It's a Japanese version of a bagel and lox.
    Have I been told wrong?
    Still, it would be much more interesting and fun to guess it's origins if it were a BJ roll.
    This also goes hand in hand with the yat-ca-mein origins. Another strange 'ethnic-combo' dish. I'm still in wonder (despite Mike's story) as to how it actually originated. These is no documentation to my awareness. We can only speculate.

  5. I suppose "Japanese Bagel" is the most plausible (and least offensive) - as for a name anyway, as for the food item itself I'll just refrain from passing judgment.

    As for yat-ca-mein a/k/a yakamein a/k/a yat ka mein, I found a couple good reads which I'll link to when I do my post on Cobaya Gras.

  6. it's called a JB roll in charlottesville, va too.