A pleasant stroll up Ponce de Leon, from Miracle Mile, brings you to POC American Fusion Buffet & Sushi. The ten-day old restaurant celebrated its grand opening Tuesday evening; a triumph that was more than four years in the making. The festivities began with a ceremonial blessing of the restaurant, complete with dancers, a roving dragon, and cabbage trampled on the floor. Mayor Don Slesnick was on hand, and the noise of pounding drums attracted his friends from the consulate upstairs. The gathering of the Gables’ leaders came as a pleasant surprise to general manager Anibal Vega, who graciously welcomed guests and proudly spoke about the brand new establishment.
Owner Will Lin, who beamed as he shook the hands of his guests, should be excited about the energy and liveliness of the grand opening. With nearly every seat taken in the house, the staff performed well on the first of what will hopefully be many busy nights. They were accommodating, polite, and attentive. The buffet runners replenished food quickly, efficiently, and unobtrusively.
There are two seating areas in addition to the bar consisting of linen-covered tables and booths around the perimeter. The large, plush booths are tall enough to provide privacy. And despite the packed house, noise was not an issue. The decor is subtle, with a palate of neutral colors covering the walls and floor. And the lighting is just right. It’s bright where it needs to be: the buffet.
The buffet begins with Executive Sushi Chef Kevin Z’s carefully crafted sushi. Chef Z took a moment to sit down and discuss his approach. He says, “It begins with the rice. I only use top short grain rice.” Asked about his purveyor, he didn’t respond. “If I tell you, our competitors will find out,” he plainly stated. His ingredients are fresh. His fish is wild, delivered daily, seven days per week, to ensure quality.
Original rolls include the Coral Gables roll, cream cheese, crab meat, mango, and orange. His Manhattan roll, inspired by his time working at Nobu in New York City, includes tuna, yellow tail snapper, salmon, and cream cheese. “And, of course, everything is made in house. Spicy mayo… dressings.”
Executive Chef Johnny Hong Kong, who was nicknamed by chef and restaurateur David Burke, spoke about his origins in the kitchen beginning at age fifteen. His background includes learning French, Italian, Chinese, and Kosher cuisine, working at Balthazar and The Oak Room in New York, and opening a number of David Burke’s restaurants. He said that the concept for POC began more than four years ago. “I began writing things down… a lot of my own recipes,” he says. One of his original recipes includes the beef carpaccio flavored with grain of paradise pepper from Africa and tataki spice.
Executive Chef Johnny HK & Executive Sushi Chef Kevin Z.
The buffet transitions to the raw bar, featuring king crab legs and a carving station including prime rib and leg of lamb. The offerings vary between lunch and dinner, but Chef Johnny promises that the consistency of the quality and taste of food remains the same. There is a cold bar with a number of traditional and Asian-influenced salads, and a hot bar with items such as veal osso bucco (which melts in your mouth) and lobster fried rice. The chef says the secret to his incredible fried rice is to “…prepare it like a song. Cooking is like a dance.”
The menu is expansive and has a little something for everyone. It might have been a concept four years in the making, but the evolution of POC is ongoing. Chef Johnny hasn’t stopped perfecting his recipes, and Annibal Vega aimed to please by soliciting guest feedback. Here’s to hoping Chef Johnny’s cheesecake in a waffle cone passes the tests and hits the buffet sooner rather than later!
POC is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for dinner from Monday through Friday 5 to 10 p.m.
POC American Fusion Buffet & Sushi
2121 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables