Where thereâ??s a WA, thereâ??s a wow

One of the best new restaurants in Orlando is worth the hunt


Every so often, a restaurant in this city makes a conscious decision to hone and challenge the palates of its patrons, and more often than not, the restaurant closes its doors due to lack of response. Some are too 'ethnicâ?�; others too 'contemporary.â?� So as I took in the soothing tranquility and minimalist elegance of the Japanese-fusion restaurant WA, I couldn't help but feel a pang of foreboding when I saw the dearth of diners in this beautiful chocolate- and copper-hued space. Not to mention the fact that the complex in which WA is housed ' the Promenade at Universal Plaza ' is devoid of tenants, and signage for the restaurant is negligible. Once occupants fill the vacancies, business will boom; at least, that's the hope. For now, they'll rely on word of mouth; many of those mouths spreading the word have joyfully indulged in creatively prepared dishes and some of the freshest sushi you'll find anywhere.

Before biting into anything, a selection of chopsticks was graciously presented, and we spent no time breaking them in with an amuse-bouche of chi-ai toro awash in ponzu and sesame oil. The mineral, almost iron-like taste of the seldom-found tuna belly cut made a bold statement, and we carried that through to the spicy tuna bowl ($10). The yuzu pepper and five spice blend in the marinade was like a punch to the face at first, but the flavors readily balanced, making it one of our fave dishes of the evening. Juicy-hot chicken kara age ($5) amounted to upscale McNuggets laced with hot mustard sauce; you're better off selecting from, arguably, the best sushi you'll find in the city. We marveled after every sensational bite of kanpachi, flounder, mackerel, escolar, masago and, in the case of sweet shrimp, a good cranium suck. Most notable was buttery otoro, the prized cut from any bluefin and the undeniable star of the plate. WA's redoubtable itamae (sushi chef), Yutaka Kude, imports fish from Japan, Hawaii and California, most of it on a daily basis to ensure the highest quality.

The regular menu is a hodgepodge of teriyaki and tempuras, but creativity appear on the special menu; chef Adam Daniel's Gallic-inspired dishes will bring an immediate smile to your face. Crispy-skin pork belly ($14) with sesame coleslaw, sultanas and butter sauce epitomizes wa (harmony) with sweet, salty, sour and smoky notes playing in a square of melt-in-your-mouth magic. Truffle fries ($7) are thinly sliced crisps that go well with any of the dishes, but we particularly enjoyed them with the bacon-and-date-stuffed quail ($16). The bird is anointed with a heavenly truffled chocolate cream and served with a round of foie gras and a fried quail egg. It was our favorite dish of the night, even after sampling seared shrimp and scallops ($14), nuzzling a cake of grits and speckled with spicy capicola, and pan-seared New York strip ($14), sliced and stuffed with monkfish liver and wrapped in haricots verts. The monkfish liver was an odd substitute for good ol'-fashioned goose liver, as it neutralized, and slightly overpowered, any essence of beef, but I appreciated the stab at innovation nonetheless.

For fans of rice wine, an exceptional sake list is available; a list just as exceptional is offered to fans of dessert. Kabocha pumpkin custard ($6) over a swath of caramel pumpkin cream was simply divine. Seattle's Best goes into making a cup of refreshing coffee jelly ($6); bread pudding ($6) with mint and crème anglaise is a surprisingly light ending. WA's dedication to excellence, unlike its signage, is as clear as day ' let's hope word gets out, because a gem like this
deserves to go noticed.


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