Japanese Sensation Zuma Arrives in Miami
By Lee Brian Schrager
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Zuma chef and co-owner/founder Rainer Becker; the open-view robata grill; the bar/lounge space at Zuma serves an array of Japanese-inspired cocktails and over 40 varieties of sake.
Last spring’s debut of Zuma—notorious for being the most hard-to-land dinner reservation in London for eight years running—is the latest feather in downtown Miami’s cap. After wild success in Knightsbridge—followed by Hong Kong, Istanbul and Dubai—Germanborn chef, co-owner and founder Rainer Becker chose the Epic Hotel to house his first US outpost, a beautiful bayfront space awash in elegant, natural hues and finishes. Here, he deliciously implements what the Japanese call izakaya— informal, family-style dining centered on course after course of (sometimes reluctantly) shared dishes. Between the sushi bar and open-fire barbecue robata grill, sumptuous plate possibilities range from otoro (fatty tuna) sashimi and a prawn-tempura roll with pickled gobo and wasabi mentaiko (spicy pollack eggs) sauce to the popular yellowfin tuna tataki and Kurobuta pork-belly skewers with yuzu-mustard miso. They’re all executed to the level of perfection expected from a restaurant whose original UK location relegates would-be diners to a four-week wait. “Miami is an energetic, vibrant, multicultural place,” says Becker, who explains that his training chefs and managers spend at least nine months in London absorbing what he calls “the Zuma ethos.” “I love the sun, design, water and culture of this city. It’s magical.”
OD: You’re a German chef and Zuma features a Japanese menu. How does that work?
Rainer Becker: And I opened with an Indian partner! I speak Japanese, but not as well as I used to because I don’t practice day to day. The critics first thought this was an odd combination, but they didn’t realize I spent six years in Tokyo.
Is this restaurant different from Zuma outposts abroad?
No, it’s the same. All the signature items from London are here. And when we can’t get something, it just means the chefs will have to experiment.
FROM LEFT: Hatcho miso-marinated lamb chops with pickled onions and myoga; miso marinated black cod wrapped in a hoba leaf; sliced seared tuna with chili, daikon and ponzu sauce
Nobu Matsuhisa is someone you greatly admire. Do you know him?
I have known Nobu for many, many years, from Japan. I consider him a mentor, and his success in London really opened the doors for Zuma. His style is not authentic Japanese, and we use spices in a similar way. His success made me feel confident that maybe I would have the same success.
Photographs by greg clark