Dining scene: From ricotta spinach gnocchi to sushi pizza

Azuma Japanese Sake Bar

4460 N. Federal Highway, Lighthouse Point, 954-532-1763, AzumaJapaneseSakeBar.com

Co-owner Masa Funahashi, who has owned 11 restaurants in South Florida since 1984, mostly recently Kansai west of Boca Raton, has debuted his next venture in the former Heart Rock Sushi Lounge.

"I've always wanted to introduce izakaya style dining in my next restaurant," says Funahashi, a Japanese native. "Izakaya dining offers small plates from which to sample, so you don't get filled up on one dish. The plates are meant for sharing among friends."


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Izakaya dishes range in price from $4.95 to $18.95. They include garlic edamame ($5.95), crispy Japanese squid with green chili ($8.95), noodle dishes ($7.95-$13.95), a handful of entrées ($15.95-$29.95) and about 25 specialty rolls ($10.95-$24.95). The rolls include Sushi Pizza with spicy tuna, rice tempura and spicy sauce ($14.95) and the Mafia with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, veggies and cream cheese ($15.95). Funahashi has retained a small Thai section by request.

Lunch and dinner are served daily, except Sunday lunch, amid a spacious, sleek ambiance of beige walls matching a plethora of booths and banquettes, contrasted by a black industrial ceiling. The bar on one side and the sushi bar on the other are topped by a leather-finish granite. Alfresco dining is planned for the fall.

Azul

Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami, 305-913-8358, MandarinOriental.com/Miami/fine-dining/Azul

The resort's signature restaurant, which earned a prestigious Forbes Travel Guide five-star rating for 2013 with its splendid view of the Miami skyline, recently introduced the dishes of William Crandall, who was promoted to chef de cuisine in January after serving as sous chef for three years.

"The new menu showcases the very best of French and Asian flavors, found in our offering of classic dishes that are modernized with worldly spices, local ingredients and innovative technique," says Crandall, who grew up in a small Illinois farm town and sharpened his skills at NoMI in Chicago under Michelin-starred chef Andrew Zimmerman.

Crandall infuses a rustic touch, leaning on cheeses, creams and yogurts, manager Joshua Willen says.

Highlights include steak tartare topped with quail egg ($24) and truffled salmon with beurre rouge and lentils ($44). A campfire aroma wafts over before the applewood-smoked lettuce salad with pickled vegetables and sheep's cheese ($16) even arrives, with smoke rising through a hole in a glass cover before the server lifts it off. The duo of pork tenderloin and Kurobuta belly with pumpernickel crumbs, braised cabbage, and beet and carrot purees ($47) is a take on Crandall's mother's roasted pork.

New desserts and cocktails abound as well, such as the gin Ginger Smash ($20).

Nick's New Haven-Style Pizzeria & Bar

2444 N. University Drive, Coral Springs, 954-800-7603, NicksPizzeriaBar.com

This pizzeria known for its thin-crust Neapolitan pizza popular in New Haven, Conn., particularly its white clam version, has unveiled its second South Florida location in Royal University Plaza, a successor to its 3-year-old Boca Raton sibling.

"Coral Springs is a family community that we think will appreciate Nick's quality and attention to detail," co-owner Nick Laudano says.

Favorites are the Hummel Bros. hot dogs (two for $9), ricotta spinach gnocchi in pink sauce ($16), linguine and clams ($18) and grilled skirt steak with mushroom risotto and broccoli rabe ($18.95). East Haven-based Foxon Park sodas crafted since 1922 are available in 10 flavors, such as white birch ($2.50).

Lunch and dinner are served daily in a dining room that is a nostalgic mix of New Haven and New York City. Covered patio seating is available. Laudano designed and then nicknamed his coal-fired brick ovens "the dragons" because they spit fire.

A grand opening party will feature free appetizers and cocktails at 6 p.m. July 17. A "Family Fun Day" will offer free pizza, a balloon artist, a photo booth and DJ from 1 to 3 p.m. July 19.

Aladdin's Eatery

21200 St. Andrews Blvd., Suite 2, Boca Raton, 561-419-9466, AladdinsEatery.com

This 20-year-old national Lebanese-American chain, based in Ohio, has debuted its first Florida outpost in the remodeled Boca Village Square, anchored by Publix Greenwise Market.

The extensive menu, which includes smoothies and raw juice blends, lists more than 90 items free of trans fats, sulfates and preservatives with plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian choices. Highlights are hummus ($6.50), tabouli ($6.65), falafel with tahini yogurt dressing ($6.75), mujadara with lentils, brown rice, salata and onions ($10.50) and beef kafta ($14.10). Nearly 20 salads range from $2.75 to $12.50, and pita dominates the menu with categories of pita pitzas ($7.40-$7.75), salad pockets ($7.40-$7.70) and rolled pitas, such as shish kabob ($7.75)."I think the people in that area are very smart and care about their health, eating habits and nutrition, so we thought we'd be a good fit," says Fady Chamoun, president and CEO. "I lot of people know us from up north."

Chamoun, a native of Lebanon, is planning about five more South Florida locations in the next couple of years.

Lunch and dinner are served daily amid a warm atmosphere of subtle Middle Eastern flair with yellow, black and dark-red striped walls, a wine display behind counter seating, and a centerpiece bakery case. The sidewalk provides alfresco seating.

Email news to susan@editorguru.com or send to John Tanasychuk, Sun Sentinel, 500 E. Broward Blvd., Suite 900, 9th floor, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33394.