At the corner of Sunrise Boulevard and A1A in Fort Lauderdale there is an oceanfront restaurant that offers a selection of Southeast Asian specialties created by Chef Subin Chankesorn. SAIA (pronounced saya) specializes in Asian inspired cuisine with a global flair and serves dishes family-style: food comes continually to the table and it is placed in the center for all diners to share.
It was a breezy evening and the gentle swaying of the palm trees visible through the windows of the restaurant had the odd effect of increasing the appetite. The food came to the table at the same time and it was hard to decide which dish to try first, they all looked so appealing and delicious.
The first dish we tackled was the Tamari Scallop - wrapped scallops and minced crabmeat enveloped by paper-thin bigeye tuna and masago (fish roe) and served with aïoli. These little packets of goodness brought nothing but pleasure to the mouth: the tuna tasted like if it was caught that same morning and the scallop inside soft and velvety. The aïoli was a touch of genius as it enhanced the overall delicate flavorings of this dish.
The Miso Scallops were crusted in lime and sea salt, sitting on a slice of Japanese yam, bathed in a honey-miso sauce and topped with slivers of scallion. This combination of flavors worked like a charm, each bite, popped in the mouth in one go, had a cumulative effect on the palate that was intensely pleasing.
For carnivores, The Mongolian Barbeque Lamb Lollipops were simply mouth-watering good: I was keeping this dish close to me as I really did not want to share. There was no need to worry though, as my dining companion, Mr. R., would have liked the lamb to be a little more falling-of-the-bone consistency. More for me then.
This roll consisted of spicy tuna, tempura flake, kiware sprout and avocado. The roll was then topped with white tuna, cucumber and red tabiko, which is flying fish roe. These were enjoyable and the crunch added by the cucumber made this roll live up to its name.
Shrimp tempura, avocado, snow crab, topped with a slice of spicy tuna. Again, these rolls did not fail to satisfy, the presentation of the wasabi on the side of the plate was very nice.
Chef Subin surprised us with an Tuna "Cocktail", a special dish not usually on the menu. Made with ahi tuna with Japanese yam and a sesame Caesar dressing, the taste was hard to describe, the closest being a martini glass of tuna pieces floating in the flavor of the ocean; it was quite a treat.
The dessert was something thoroughly different - Tamako Spring Rolls. Imagine a spring roll filled with Japanese omelet, sweet red bean paste, cream cheese and coconut flakes. In the middle of the plate, a mound of coconut ice cream, topped with a strawberry and all sitting atop a creamy green tea sauce. This was probably one of the most unusual desserts I have ever encountered; the balance of sweet/salty ingredients was just perfect. Mr. R. could not stop singing its praises.
Tell me about your restaurant
SAIA is a great place to come in South Florida for sushi. It combines my passion and the training I have with a talented service staff and a great location.
How did you come up with the menu? Who/what was your inspiration?
My mother was my first culinary mentor and inspired a lot of the menu. She taught me how to balance and compliment flavors ensuring that all the ingredients came together to make a perfect blend. I cooked for my family in Thailand and that has inspired the shared plate service at SAIA. My other inspirations are my experiences I have from my travels.
What is your favorite dish on the menu and why? What is the most popular dish with your guests?
My favorite dish on the menu is the Hamachi Jalapeño. It has flavors of Thai chili, ponzu uzu and cilantro, which are some of my favorites. Our most popular dish is the Fire Dragon Roll, which features shrimp tempura, avocado, snow crab and spicy tuna with a masago topping.
Why this particular cuisine and this particular location?
I am from Thailand and my family heritage is important to me, so it made sense for me to feature a Southeast Asian menu. I chose this location because I like the area and I love a challenge, Fort Lauderdale has many well-established restaurants and creating a new one was an exciting opportunity for me.
What is your opinion of the food scene is South Florida? The future?
The food scene has a lot of healthy competition, which creates constant movement. This is great for both chefs and diners: chefs constantly get the opportunity to grow and expand their culinary knowledge and diners are always offered new and exciting dishes.
What did your Mother cook for you when you were a child that you still remember fondly today?
My mother’s Thai Panang Curry Beef. It was the first spicy food that I had. She taught me how to cook it when I was 10 years old and I used my love of that dish to inspire my culinary career.
You are from Thailand and have travelled vastly, how did you end up here? What do you like most about this city?
When I decided that I wanted to move on from the cruise industry, I realized that I had made many connections in the Miami area because the cruise line's headquarters were there. I had made friends and really enjoyed the social life the area had to offer.
At SAIA, the total dining experience is enhanced by the cool background music, gracious service, modern decor and the creative cocktails infused with premium spirits. SAIA promises that " In just one visit, you will know why SAIA is more than just dining - it is an experience that inspires the senses."
999 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
Located at B Ocean Hotel Fort Lauderdale at the corner of Sunrise Boulevard and A1A.
By Contributor Writer and Photographer Brenda Benoit