Here in South Florida, and really Florida in general, modern urban development has become dependent on the “village”. This concept of a pre-planned town center containing a smattering of shops, restaurants and maybe a theater or concert venue. In theory this sounds like a great idea, until you see identical copies sprout up in every town, the concept starts to grow stagnant, with all the personality of a spaghetti western set.
The problem with these villages is that the spontaneity that the great town centers all share from years and years of growth and change is lost. Every so often though, a restaurant rises above its pre-fab surroundings to deliver a truly interesting and delicious experience. The people behind Sushi Samba opened up Sugarcane Raw Bar, installed a menu that plucks the best dishes from Asia, the Caribbean and Mediterranean Europe, and seem to have broken the mold of lackluster eats that most villages offer.
Chef Timon Balloo (I’m going to take the high road here and avoid any Disney references), of Chinese and Trinidadian descent, showcases his wealth of experience and deep love for food in Sugarcane’s globetrotting menu. This was immediately clear in my cocktail, the Leche de Tigre, with coconut milk, yuzu, Kappa Pisco, simple syrup and cilantro. A mango purée and prosecco concoction joined the yuzu party with an added splash of Domaine de Canton, a French ginger liquor, fortified with eaux de vie and cognac.
The menu at Sugarcane has a lot to absorb, with eight sections of tempting dishes to choose from. I homed in on the Crudo area and sprang for the scallop with apple, black truffle, lime and jalapeño as well as the akaushi beef carpaccio, sprinkled with pickled mushrooms and truffle ponzu. The dishes were a perfect compliment to each other, the scallop dish providing a shock of acidity, while the carpaccio brought things down to earth with grassy flavors in the beef and mushrooms.
My wife chose a winner of her own, a roasted kale and peach salad with fourme d’ambert cheese, walnuts and fennel. I’m not usually one to jump for kale dishes, but Chef Balloo has this dish locked with perfect seasoning and a satisfying crunch that had me inhaling the crispy greens like shrimp chips.
We sampled simple goat cheese croquettes with membrillo marmalade. Fried cheese with fruit spread is a no brainer and these little orbs served as a nice segue to the heavier dishes that followed.
I’m talking about this masterpiece, the name of which made it an insta-order for me…duck & waffle, uh yes please. The fluffy waffle gets topped with duck leg confit and is then draped with startlingly bright fried duck egg. A mustard maple sauce added a sweet component to offset the richness of the duck and egg combo. Once pieced, the yolk creates a slurry with the syrup that is quickly absorbed into the waffle below, allowing the flavors to be enjoyed in perfect balance.
The bone marrow was another unanimous choice for my wife and I. A hearty veal cheek marmalade crowned each of the substantial leg bones. Another winner, this delivered a tongue coating flavor that satisfied our craving for meat.
In between dishes, we happily noshed on a bowl of fried pig ears with BBQ spice. An unexpected favorite of my wife, these were packed up and brought home to continue the snacking session later that evening.
I can always tell when I’ve found a great place, because my wife will suggest dessert, even after a procession of dishes like this. Of the half-dozen sweets on offer, the lemon pot de creme was the most enticing with its blueberry compote and brûléed peak.
The menu is so chock full of foodie buzzwords it can be difficult to cull down your choices. A few we had to pass on included pan seared foie gras, crispy pork belly, wagyu sliders with quail egg, five spice & honey spare ribs, rabbit paella, beef tongue carpaccio and that’s only a few. Sugarcane thoroughly impressed, more with impeccable execution than trendy ingredients. The Samba group landed a great talent in Chef Balloo, who has elevated my opinion of what can be accomplished in the manufactured “village” setting.