07/31/2012 11:51 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2012

Zen Sai At Essex House Brings Tapas-Style Dining To Japanese Fare (PHOTOS)

Sushi is a dining standard, but the brand new Zen Sai at the historic Essex House in South Beach takes it up a notch.

The hotel’s bar and lounge has been converted into the intimate, candlelit Japanese dining spot. Rather than hoarding a plate of sushi to oneself, couples or groups can explore the menu tapas-style and share plates of rolls, rice and noodles, or dishes from the robata grill.

And if you’re going to have Japanese food, have all the cuisine has to offer! Chef Mike Hiraga, former executive chef at Bond St. Lounge, prepared a menu that goes beyond sushi and delves into Japanese dining. Some favorites include lightly fried garbanzo spring rolls, with a delicious curry cream sauce for dipping. The yellowtail jalapeno was perfectly sized and a good kick of spice. Pork belly sliders were sandwiched between two steamed baos, dripping with black bean sauce.

For fried rice fans, the yakimeshi adds glamour to what could be a plain dish by adding in slices of sea scallops, shrimp and bacon. Finally, for a meatier sushi, feast on the prosciutto sushi rolls. Even better, none of the dishes are more than $18, so curious taste buds won’t punish your wallet.

For drinks to pair with dishes, the restaurant offers 14 sakes and five specialty sakes, including a sparkling version. Asian beers are also on the menu, and signature cocktails recommended by bartenders are the Kimono, Zing Martini and Cucumber Basil Martini.

The restaurant takes reservations online, but with only about 60 seats, call early to grab a table. Dinner hours are 4 p.m. to midnight every day of the week.

Zen Sai at Essex House

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