Apart from the notorious mob financier Meyer Lansky living out his twilight years as one of its residents, Hallandale has quietly become one of the more sought-after neighbourhoods close to Miami.
Small wonder then that chef Rainer Becker chose this spot for launching the first Floridian episode of his Japanese culinary empire (there’s now a second in Las Olas) which also includes ROKA and ZUMA in London.
Becker’s style is inspired by the zakaya-style of Japanese service which brings sharing dishes continuously to the table throughout the meal. That said, this is light years away from the simple pub concept of the original, introducing fine dining and a beachside setting to the proceedings. ETARU also adds robata-syle cooking to the kitchen, which is a type of flat communal barbecue used by northern Japanese fishermen. Transpose fishermen for skilled chefs in an open plan kitchen and you wouldn’t notice the difference.
ETARU is adjacent to the Hyde Resort and Residences, a group better known for its glamorous nightclubs in LA, Vegas and Miami Beach. In other words, high-end living set smack on a prime stretch of Florida beachfront.
It’s Friday night and the place is awash with those in the know looking to kick off the weekend in style. We get a table out on the terrace overlooking nothing but deep blue ocean and the occasional pelican out looking for a tasty evening snack. I watch nature’s tableau for a few minutes, sipping a chilled Prosecco and contemplating life in general before, in true zakaya tradition, the food begins arriving.
We’re taking the tasting menu with wine and sake pairing and leaving it up to GM Nigel to come up with the goods. Pretty soon an army of servers begins laying down plates of appetizers; two sets of maki rolls (rolled sushi) one filled with crispy prawn, avocado and soy sauce, the other, softshell crab, cucumber and kimchi.
Then a sushi platter laden with delicate morsels of mixed fresh sushi, a tiny knob of wasabi regally adorning each top like a crown.
Nigel appears armed with a bottle of sake. “Ever had sake before?” he asks genially with a knowing glint in his eye. “Well, there’s sake and there’s sake, if you know what I mean. If it is made from at least 50% washed rice then it’s on a different level to any you’ve tasted before. Let me pour you this as an example.”
And he does. And it is. This was a drink to savour, like very good single malt. 50% washed or nothing for me from now on.
As another army of servers clears away the plates, another platter materialises carrying sashimi. This is an extraordinary collection of raw fish; semi-fatty tuna, yellowtail, salmon, oysters with ponzu tapioca and US prawns with wasabi ponzu. Yellowtail tartar and chilli dressing providing the dips.
This is all going rather well. Even more so now as Nigel tops up the washed sake.
Seeing we’ve made a dent in the sashimi platter, two tempura bowls arrive; one with Japanese crispy fried chicken with a deliciously spicy yuzu kosho mayo, and the other full of Tiger prawns with a tempura side sauce.
The server army pauses as we take a breather with a palate-cleansing salad. Avocado with green beans, asparagus, spinach, cucumber and a chilli lime dressing.
By now darkness has fallen and the music changes to a more upbeat techno vibe as the vocal levels rise and the sake pours.
The mains arrive with a flourish; some spectacular lamb cutlets armed with Korean spices, a whole Greek branzino fish with yuzu shiso pesto and fresh lemon and a couple of farm-fresh vegetable sides; broccolini with ginger and moromi miso dressing and asparagus with sweet soy sauce and sesame.
This is a culinary performance fit for an emperor and as an encore, yet another platter is borne triumphantly on the shoulders of one of our servers; an astonishing dessert platter seemingly full of anything the chef could find that relates in some way to fruit or ice cream.
It is all quite extraordinary.
ETARU Hallandale Beach is a triumph. An oceanfront location that is simply perfect with a quality menu that is surprisingly affordable given the stellar location.
Tell me more about ETARU Hallandale Beach
ETARU Hallandale Beach 111 S Surf Rd, Hallandale Beach, FL 33009
Tasting menu $95 pp plus $40pp for sake and wine pairings.