It’s come a long way over the past couple of decades, but Fort Lauderdale Beach is still most widely known for its absurd spring-break antics from its heyday. Perms, short shorts, copious amounts of cheap booze: The beach was once a veritable frat house on steroids.
In the late ’80s, that all started to change as the powers that be sought to discourage the rowdy riffraff and encourage better-behaved (and more lucrative) tourists. The strip is now interspersed with highend resorts and eateries.
Even so, a fragment of the “glory days” still hangs on in the historic intersection of Las Olas Boulevard and A1A, with the ever-present Elbo Room and other bars clinging to cheap drinks and catering to tourists and local beach bums looking to get rowdy.
Tsukuro owner A.J. Yaari, who is the proprietor of many of the strip’s bars and restaurants — Spazio, Sangrias, Rock Bar, St. Barts Coffee Co., and the infamous watering hole Dirty Blondes — has experienced the transitions firsthand; he started working on the beach making six bucks an hour at the tail end of the spring-break days.
“When the college students stopped coming, the business owners looked at it like a failure,” says Yaari. “I saw an opportunity to start a business.”
After befriending the owner of one of the many T-shirt shops in the area, Yaari got his chance to become an entrepreneur. He bought the shop, which put him on the path to owning a large swath of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
A few years later, he teamed up with another local retailer, Lior Avidor, to break into the restaurant industry, purchasing Cafe Del Mar, and together they dove headfirst into hospitality.
Their newest concept, Tsukuro, however, is in stark contrast to the collegiate and touristy feel of the immediate vicinity. A geometric glass façade set with sleek wooden outdoor tables covered by angular red umbrellas and bright pops of orange and blue sits between a souvenir shop and Sangrias Cafe.
This new spot is utterly modern and cosmopolitan.
The inside follows the same lines. The space is flanked by textured walls illuminated by soft blue and fuchsia lights. Stacked seating with bold red booths and cool gray chair fills the middle of the space. A tile-lined sushi bar, displaying a wide array of spiny sea creatures, is the centerpiece.
Seafood is the main draw here; there’s something for ever palate (and every budget).
For beginners, there’s a wide selection of standard rolls: J.B., California, spicy tuna, rainbow. But it’s the rarer selections that are the real treat. On the Japanese end, briny sea urchin, buttery toro, and swollen ikura (salmon roe) are fresh and rare finds in southeast Florida.
Raw bar options are also included, with traditional choices ranging from East, West, and Gulf coast oysters to Prince Edward Island Mussels and Alaskan King Crab legs. Each is available à la carte and on chef-selected “plates and plateaus.”
High-end caviar rounds out the menu; Russian osetra, Siberian sturgeon, and kaluga are offered by the half-ounce or in a sampler of all three.
“On Fort Lauderdale Beach, you have to satisfy a large array of people,” says Yaari. “On one hand, you want to be beautiful and upscale for people who live just across the bridge. But you have everyone: European tourists, cruise ship passengers, regular tourists. You have to cater to everyone.”
Everything else on the menu is Asian fusion. Served tapas style, each dish (from the entrées to the small plates) emerges from the kitchen as soon as it’s prepared.
Crispy whole fish is served in the Thai preparation. A chef’s selection of fish is fried and served atop a bed of Swiss chard. It’s garnished with Thai basil, bird chilies, scallion, and cilantro. Kataifi shrimp is one of the more popular cooked dishes. Skewered shrimp is wrapped in shredded phyllo dough, fried, and served with dollops of curry cream, hot oil, and spicy cucumber slaw.
Flaky (and slightly greasy) on the outside, the oxtail spring rolls are filled with slow-braised oxtail. It’s served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce and a side of Asian slaw.
Baby back ribs are inspired by Korean barbecue. Fall-off-the-bone meat is slathered with dense saccharine sauce. On the overly decadent side, this one is accompanied by a light Asian pear slaw.
But the ubiquitous Brussels sprouts are the showstoppers. The little rounds are served perfectly crisp with a sweet and savory Mongolian sauce.
With upscale decor and some high-end dishes, Tsukuro is a prime example of the changes that have occurred on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
“I think it’s great what happened,” says Yaari. “All the people who were here in the spring-break days are married and coming back with their families. Fort Lauderdale is the same lady in a different dress.”
By Sara Ventiera | New Times Broward
Published Tue., Sep. 23 2014