You don’t generally think of something creative and sophisticated, let alone tasty, originating in Russia.
The former Soviet Union is home to a highly-regarded Japanese restaurant chain called TANUKI that now has 60 or more outlets. And as you check out the images below….you can detect a not surprising heavy hand in the design.
Well, just what is a Tanuki anyway? REAL?….MYTH?
It turns out, much to my surprise, that a Tanuki is an actual animal that resides only in Japan (outside of a couple zoos around the world). The Japanese refer to it as a “Racoon-dog,” and it’s significant in their folklore, representing ancient supernatural powers. The creature is said to be mischievous, a master of disguise and trickery.
Well, I’m pleased to announce that the furry little scamp has established a beachhead, its first and only United States outpost, in Miami Beach. And I couldn’t be happier. Joanne and I dine at Tanuki when we are in Miami as often as we dine at Joe’s Stone Crab. And that’s a lot.
Now Tanuki is not a pure Japanese play. It’s pan-Asian, with dishes faithfully crafted and replicated not only from Japan, but China, Thailand and a few other outliers.
That’s fine with me because it’s a target-rich environment for new ideas and dishes at CHINO LATINO.
As you might expect, the menu is heavily weighted with the Japanese icons…. maki (sushi rolls)…NIGIRI (raw fish on rice)…and SASHIMI (just slices of raw fish) – all, and I mean ALL – pristinely fresh, beautifully plated and wonderful to eat. Joanne even gagged down the unagi (eel), all the while threatening divorce court or worse (hatchet murder) if I ever tried to coax her into that again.
But she suddenly became polite, contrite and adorable as we both wolfed down steamer basket after steamer basket of stuffed hot steamed dumplings – our two favorites being the chicken and truffle shumai and the Peking Duck (see, I told you this wasn’t a pure Japanese play).
As you probably know from previous postings, I am a sucker for Bao Buns…soft and pillowy, hot and steamy. Tanuki reached back into its democratic bag of tricks and out came three different and incredible iterations of this dish. One is Southern Fried Chicken. Next came Korean Barbecue Pork Belly. And finally, Chinese Peking Duck – all around $15 for a pair.
Once again, shamelessly off the Japanese culinary grid, Tanuki offers tacos – Mexican tacos (well, sorta) – packed with Wagyu Beef and Pork Belly, for $14.
It’s now time to tell you: I LIKE THIS STUFF. I JUST DON’T GIVE A DAMN THAT IT’S NOT ALL JAPANESE. I’M AMUSED BY THE VARIETY.
So with that in mind, we happily followed the menu to…Italy and a smoked salmon pizza with avocado, sesame oil, jalapenos and truffle oil ($18).
We didn’t order them but the main courses served at the tables around us looked good – large portions, artfully plated, especially the Braised Wagyu Short Rib and the Miso Glazed Salmon. I can only imagine that the Peking Duck ($48) was good as well. However, it was not carved tableside. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the theatrics of the chef carving up the duck right in front of you are integral to the dish. On the other hand, they’d probably double its price were they to serve it in the traditional manner.
Dessert could have been straight out of Japanese central casting, save for Tanuki’s ode to Miami Beach: Key Lime Pie, served in a little fat glass. Check it out.
A flight of ice-cold, creamy and colorful Mochi arrived, only to be “Trumped” (sorry)…by a wink and a nod to the healthy, antioxidant Japanese Macha Lava Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream (yum!!)
If you are in Miami Beach, do go.
BTW, request tables #11, 12, 13, or 14 – all four-top window tables.