Having really enjoyed Morimoto at the Shelborne Wyndham Grand, we were bummed to see it shutter last September. Thankfully, its replacement has made that loss a very distant memory. Chefs Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, no strangers to Miami, have made their way back to the Magic City to open The Sarsaparilla Club in the Iron Chef’s former space. An American dim sum concept, it’s the first of two restaurants the couple plans to open in the 305. If our recent experience at The Sarsaparilla Club was any indication, the duo is already 1 for 1.
For those who aren’t familiar with dim sum, it’s basically cart-to-table cuisine. You pick and choose small bites brought to the table on rolling carts. It’s a pretty interactive experience and allows you to pace yourself. While this type of cuisine is par for the course at your local Chinese restaurant, you won’t find many (if any) places that serve up modern American fare in dim sum form. That’s what The Sarsaparilla Club is doing — and it works.
Two tips: come hungry and don’t feel the need to order everything that comes by immediately. You can expect cart after cart to roll by your table with goodies that include heirloom tomatoes, drunken deviled eggs, beet and short rib dumplings, and other deliciousness. We ate with our eyes and ended up with a full table pretty quickly, which made it difficult to eat around. Order just a few small bites at a time, and you’ll be good.
Of the small bites, you have to get the pork belly bacon steamed buns, the corn 4 ways, and the aforementioned beet and short rib dumplings to start. The second we bit into each one of these delights, fireworks happened. The buns served as home to some beautiful, crispy pork belly and a fish sauce caramel that shot this entry to the top of our Best Buns list. The corn 4 ways — grilled sweet corn, cornbread crumbles, cornbread butter and lemon popcorn — hit the texture trifecta, er, four-fecta to make it another evening favorite. The beet and short rib dumpling is worth ordering just for the sight alone; the beet is primarily in the dough, so it looks red and cool. It tastes pretty damn good, too.
Honorable mention goes to the heirloom tomatoes: a tomato ricotta sorbet ball served on top of a tomato cream. Super flavorful with a full-bodied tomato taste. Definitely get it if you love tomatoes (we do), although it might be too much for non-tomato enthusiasts. Don’t fill up on dim sum. though. You need room for the regular dinner menu.
If nothing else, get the chicken dishes. The shrimp and bacon stuffed wings and the fried chicken are the things that dreams are made of. The former may sound a little strange at first, but the combination makes for an ultimately unforgettable dish. Think of a wing repurposed and stuffed with other proteins then breaded and fried. Dude, just get it — trust us.
As for the fried chicken, this isn’t your grandma’s recipe … it’s way better. Green curry fried chicken makes for saltier meat, which we prefer over sweeter bird. There’s a good hit of lime, too, that adds some nice tang to the overall dish. Not in the mood for poultry? The rock shrimp laksa with its plump crustacean is plentiful, both in portion size and flavor.
Despite our stomachs telling us we were full, we pushed on with dessert. What sold us: the fritters, which our neighbors ordered. One look over at their plate of pure decadence, and we had to have it. These golden, delicious soft balls of ricotta and bourbon salted caramel did not disappoint. They do take a little while to come out since they’re hot from the kitchen, but the wait was worth it.
We’re suckers for panna cotta, and The Sarsaparilla Club’s strawberry buttermilk take on it is a fruity masterpiece. It emits strawberries in every which way: color, taste, appearance and smell. That was a weird sentence, but you’ll understand once you try it. The citrus blackberry pavlova is another highlight; the meringue, the lemon cream, the citrus — it all blends together so well. Everything was so good that we almost teared up when the dessert cart rolled away.
With that said, The Sarsaparilla Club is one club you shouldn’t hesitate to join. Membership includes amazing food, strong drinks and ROLLING CARTS. Sign up and enjoy the many benefits. But seriously, check this place out. This homecoming for Chefs McInnis and Booth is nothing short of awesome.