I am here with my husband at a high top table facing Duval Street, and no one knows that I am here except for all the people that I have my back turned to. The place is full, to the point that we get seated at this very high top table away from the majority of the crowd, but I can still feel the pulse of the room behind me. Which makes sense because I’m here during the dinner rush and clearly the word has gotten out that there is a new sushi restaurant in town.
It’s kind of like the way high schoolers are drawn to the new kid and then she better be cool or else everyone will lose interest very quickly and go make friends elsewhere. That’s kind of how our industry scene works down here. Plus there’s the fact that the new kid still has to compete with the town’s forever favorite sushi spot.
Yet everyone here tonight is so enamored with the intimate viewing of the made-to-order sushi that when I turn to look at them their eyes don’t shift, their heads don’t swivel, they would never even notice that anyone else is here. The crowd looks like they are not going anywhere for a while.e. They are here to hang out. There is a definite cool vibe happening.
I’m at Sushi Song, the hip new joint that recently opened up in the old Denny’s location at the corner of Duval and Trumanman on Tuesday, April 23. Actually, it is so modern day hip that it transports me right back to my college days in West Palm Beach when the likes of Rocco’s Tacos was getting its start and heading in the direction of take-off. Now, the independently owned taco chain can be found in major airports. Sushi Song has that otherworldly vibe to it — like it is not quite from here. There is dance music playing from a DJ setup spread in the far corner. Black and red walls provide an edgy backdrop, the staff is dressed in casual camouflage and the menu includes everything from ramen to fried rice and teriyaki and, of course, a fairy tale list of signature sushi rolls.
The Sobe roll, for example, takes tuna, avocado, masago (aka smelt roe) and scallion and twists it up in warm packed rice before topping it with another serving of tuna and special garlic truffle soy sauce. The Japan Hot roll combines rolled shrimp tempura, cucumber and jalapeño, which is then finished with thin slices of tuna, a sprinkling of black tobiko and a drizzle of house-made special sauce. “People like the Maine Lobster Volcano roll,” Chef Wijai Icgtsuwan, aka Song, tells me. “I had a customer once tell me that it was the best volcano roll he had ever had — even in Japan!” In the lobster volcano roll, chunks of sweet Maine lobster are mixed with spicy mayo and dried onions before being baked in the oven for 15-20 minutes. It is a rich dish worth sharing with a loved one.
Sushi Song opened its first location ten years ago in Fort Lauderdale and has since then built a small South Florida enterprise that has grown to include a total of two spots in Fort Lauderdale, one each in Hollywood, Wilton Manors, Deerfield Beach and Miami Beach and now one in Key West. Each outlet follows the same rules: they are all open late, until 4 a.m. every night, and rumor has it that Key West might even start hosting karaoke at some point.
“I think this will work in Key West — everyone closes early here and we will still be open. And I think this will work because this is where I love to take my family,” Song says, with obvious admiration for the island. “But like a lot of people we like to come here and watch the sunset, and then as soon as we go home and get ready for dinner places are starting to close!”
The food here is unapologetically fuss free — that is to say, there is no hour-long preparation because the quality of the meal depends on the minutes right before it is served instead of the hours leading up to it. Ingredients are brought in daily. No braising or simmering is necessary. It’s just meticulous dicing, slicing and assembling with a quality pantry.
There is, however, a faint scent of char from lightly torched rice lingering in the air. The smoky fragrance wafts around our heads, creating an intoxicating aroma that melts ever so tenderly into our first bite as its chased away by the heat of the VooDoo roll — a racy combination of tuna, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, Japanese yellowtail, jalapeño, sriracha and the elusive special sauce.
“You can’t go wrong with simple and good,” Song explains. “Nothing needs to cook for eight to ten hours because it is all fresh. I try to do stand-up sushi — sushi of a higher end.“
Sushi Song is a place for the graveyard shifters to go, the 2 a.m. partiers and those whose flights were delayed until way past their bed time but who need some sustenance right now because the hunger is real. It’s also just a great place to go for date night or girls’ night out.
“What do you want people to know?” I ask Song.
“That we are open late,” he says. “Until 4 a.m.”
Sushi Song serves a full menu seven days a week from 5 p.m. until 4 a.m. You can follow them on Facebook via the handle @sushisongkeyest or visit their website at www.sushisong.com. Along with modern Japanese cuisine, it also offers beer, wine and sake. You can find Song at the restaurant every day until he leaves Key West to open Sushi Song #8. in another city. ¦