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AIZIA**

3660 South Ocean Drive, Westin Diplomat  Hotel, Hollywood, 954-602 8347

 Waterside dining with flavorful fare, sophisticated presentation in a dramatic setting.

   

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by Jana Soeldner Danger
 
 
             Aizia, the upscale Asian restaurant formerly in the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, has a new location, a new chef, and a new menu.
            Dramatic presentation is an important part of the dining experience orchestrated by Executive Chef Mauricio Gutierrez, who formerly served as Aizia’s sous chef after helping to develop and open Rivals, a more casual Diplomat eatery.
            Gutierrez studied culinary arts in London, and then returned to his native Colombia to become a commercial pilot. His passion for food lured him back to the restaurant business and the opening of a steak house.  In 2001, he moved to Florida and joined the Diplomat.
            Gutierrez believes the appearance of food is an important aspect of the dining experience. “Eating involves all your senses,” he says. “I like to combine different aromas, and use dramatic elements like fire and smoke for presentation. People like the visual part, but it’s taste that’s the main goal.”
            Aizia moved from the main beachfront hotel to The Landings, a part of the Diplomat complex, but on the west side of A1A. It occupies the former site of Nikki Marina, a Penrod-managed sister to Nikki in South Beach; the Hollywood location apparently became a casualty of the recession.
            The indoor space has been redecorated with smoky charcoals and muted blacks, and illumined with softly dramatic, glowing amber and orange lighting. The long, curved bar at the front of the large room remains, and it continues to be a gathering place for young professionals.  The Nikki beds along the far wall meant for reclined dining have been swapped for tables with privacy curtains, so seating there can be intimate. In the main section of the dining room, hard-surface black tables topped with fat pillar candles are nicely spaced, and although the area is large, lighting and décor give it a cozy feel.
            The sprawling outdoor patio is a beautiful setting for alfresco dining. Tables on staggered elevations have views of the Intracoastal Watereway and passing boats, as well as a tall fountain that lends the soothing sounds of flowing water. A circular canopied bar on the main level remains virtually unchanged from the restaurant’s previous incarnation.
            Aizia’s menu is varied and interesting, and presentations are often theatrical. Everything except desserts is made on the premises (and even desserts are prepared at the main hotel just across A1A). A third of the menu is devoted to sushi, nigiri, and sashimi. Vegetarians will find a variety of selections designed to please them.
          The wine list is balanced, but wine is served in cheap banquet ware with lipped edges. Better glassware would be a positive addition to what is an otherwise sophisticated dining experience.
          Beverages also include a selection of sakis and teas, as well as the expected list of flavored martinis.
 
Appetizers
 
            A meal begins when your server delivers a plate of wontons to munch while you study the menu. Toro tartare ($26) is both unusual and quite delicious: Crispy chips made from earthy shitake mushrooms are served with caviar and accented with cool crème fraîche   Arriving on a platter of steaming dry ice, the dish is dramatically presented and provides a wonderful combination of tastes and textures.
            Lava seafood ($16) is a fiery combination of calamari, shrimp, and scallops presented on a scallop shell sitting on a bed of rock salt smoking like a miniature volcano. The seafood is very fresh, and while the spiciness has bite, it is mild enough so it is not overpowering.
            Beef satay ($14) comes to the table sizzling on a grill from which you can snatch it immediately or allow it to cook to further doneness. A spicy chili glaze accents the tender, tasty beef, which takes a dusky flavor from being rubbed with kona coffee.
            A duck spring roll ($14) has a crispy wrapper, but could use more filling. Mandarin soy mustard and hoisin sauces are nice accompaniments to the rich flavor of the duck meat.
            Other starters include crab-stuffed shrimp ($14); schezwan seared scallops ($18); duck soup with shaved foie gras ($12); mango carpaccio ($12);  curried carrot and apple ($8) and mushroom miso ($6) soups.
 
Entrees
 
            Pork bellies are one of life’s under-appreciated pleasures. The ones at Aizia ($26) are cooked sous-vide, at a very low temperature under pressure, so the meat retains its juices,after it is baked it emerges wonderfully crispy on the outside and succulently moist on the inside. The accompanying sour apples, bitter bok choy, and sweet candied ginger are well juxtaposed foils for the rich taste of the meat.   Chef Guiterrez also prepares his short ribs and roast duck using the same method.
            A Schezwan-style New York steak ($36) is a thick, succulent cut of meat precisely cooked to order.  An infusion of ginger adds depth, and the accompanying stir-fried vegetables are nicely crisp-tender. Tempura-coated onion rings offer further crunch.
            Among the other entrees are pad thai ($18); crispy eggplant and tofu ($16); chicken curry ($26);  crispy whole snapper ($34); seared halibut ($28); and grilled wild salmon ($28).
 
Desserts
 
            Passion fruit is a tart, cool addition to the sweetness of a classic crème brulee. Rice pudding features fragrant jasmine, pear blossom, and lavender rices, an aromatic rendition of what seems to be a traditional favorite in just about every culture.
 
            Aizia offers sophisticated fare that combines flavors and textures in ways that bring innovative flair to traditional dishes  The interior décor is visually dramatic, and the outdoor seating area, with its piazza-style ambience and water views, is a beautiful setting. 
 
AIZIA
Address: Westin Diplomat Hotel, 3660 South Ocean Drive, Hollywood

Phone: 954-602 8347

Hours: Wed-Sun. 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Bar till 2 a.m.

Food: Asian

Ambience: Sophisticated casual

Service: Professional but a bit slow at times

Prices: Appetizers $5-$26; entrees $16-$36; desserts $9-$10

Wines: Balanced international list

Credit cards: All major