SAWA: Where the Mid-East Meets the Far East 

The Twin Tracks At Sawa Offer a Wide Range of Flavors  

It has been twelve years since SAWA opened its doors, and put its tables out in the great courtyard of the Shops at Merrick Park. By now you’d think that it’s two-track menu – half Lebanese, half Japanese – would have gotten old. But the menu remains oddly fascinating, a place where sushi meets baba ganoush. 

This is not fusion food. Never the twain shall meet on this menu, with each side of the culinary divide between Tokyo and Beirut well defined. It’s just that you can have both here, along with a few outlier entrees, like their sea bass on a bed of asparagus or their seared duck with blueberry sauce. 

But let’s start with the basics. Like all good restaurants plying the Eastern Mediterranean, SAWA makes its own hummus. The best way to partake is with their Tour de Hummus sampler ($15.99), with its three variations – classic, beet and cilantro – served with warm pita and slices of carrot and cucumber. Staying within that Eastern Med taste spectrum is their lamb, available as a traditional kebob ($29.99). We tried instead the lollipop lamb chops, listed under the ‘meat tapas’ section of the menu, grilled with a jalapeño mint demi-glace ($17.99). Tasty enough to turn you from vegetarian to carnivore. 

Sawa Sushi Boat
The Sushi Boat
Sawa Salmon Tartare
Salmon Tartare
Lollipop Lamb Chops

On the Japanese side of the menu, SAWA delivers the art of the roll with a range of muscular variations. We ordered the “Presidential Boat” ($33.99) which features any classic roll, along with four pieces of sushi, four pieces of sashimi and a seaweed salad. We asked for the rainbow roll, with salmon, tuna, yellow tail, and avocado, a rich mix of crunch with silky fish and creamy avocado. In a similar vein, their salmon tartare ($15.99) that mingles salmon atop avocado with spicy kimchee and cilantro aioli is light and refreshing. 

What intrigued us, however, were the entrée selections that sidestepped the parallel tracks of Japanese and Lebanese cuisine. “The excitement comes when we can create something unexpected,” says owner Ramzi Zahr, and these dishes are certainly that. The pan-seared Chilean sea bass, on a bed of al dente asparagus and portobello mushrooms, certainly seems out of place. But who cares?  It was beautifully plated and simply delicious.

The Hummus Sampler
Chilean Sea Bass
Crispy Octopus
Roast Duck

The duck gastrique ($34.99), meanwhile, comes from somewhere on the Paris/Osaka border, with flavorful pan-seared duck breast accompanied by crispy Brussel sprouts. Outstanding. And speaking of crispy, the “crispy octopus” from the Seafood Tapas part of the menu ($19.99) is perfect for those who fear the sometimes-glutinous texture of the tentacles. This variation has a woody taste and a nice crunch. 

Enhancing the food at SAWA is the setting, outside in the open courtyard of the Shops with their lofty columns of Royal Palms and central fountain. We also like SAWA’s philosophy of sharing. Most dishes are meant to be sampled by all at the table. SAWA, in fact, means “togetherness” in Arabic and “harmony” in Japanese. Entertainment is also a part of the SAWA formula. On weekend nights starting at 8 pm, diners are beguiled by a belly dancer, who capers from table to table. The most recent iteration was a dancer festooned with a veil of lights. 

Wawa Restaurant Belly dancer

And then there is their 3rd parallel menu – for dogs. Their courtyard canine selections include tapas, entrees, and even desserts for your pooch. We will save that for another issue. In the meantime, end your meal with one of the lovely desserts for humans. Nothing beats their homemade baclava ($6.99), the traditional Middle East- ern pastry of phyllo dough, walnuts, honey, and pistachios – except maybe their unexpected coconut panna cotta ($8.99). 

SAWA Restaurant

360 San Lorenzo Ave
(305) 447-6555

*Photos by Rodolfo Benitez