Tuesday, April 18, 2000

It's a pleasure

Posted on Tue, Apr 18, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Try to ignore the neon-lit surroundings on International Drive and instead focus on Ran Getsu and its pleasing impression of formal Japanese dining. The clean, cool lines of the two-tiered restaurant overlook a traditional garden and koi pond. At night it bustles like a Tokyo market: Traditional drum and dance teams snake through the restaurant in a performance that brings applause from a full house.

The menu is dominated by Japanese with the exception of a few random examples of nouvelle Floridian cuisine. Deep-fried gator appetizers are glazed with ginger-soy sauce; Florida Bay scallops and shrimp are rolled into rice paper and fried. On the night we visited, there was even fruit sushi, rolled up with crab, scallops and strawberries.

But whatever you order, expect appetizers to arrive quickly, arranged for an artistic effect on smart designs of plates and bowls. "Kushi" shrimp ($5) are skewered on a grill and scented with lusty, caramel-infused Kushiyaki sauce. But the best meal-starters are fried: Get the bonnet-shaped gyoza Japanese dumplings ($4.50) with pork and vegetables. Served with hot mustard and an ebony blend of soy sauce, they're buoyant and tender, laced with salty flavors, and definitely worth a detour.

There is a modest menu of individual entrees, but the really interesting stuff, such as sukiyaki and shabu-shabu, are prepared tableside in double portions. That can get expensive. It was only after we had chosen yosenabe as one of our entrees that we learned there would be an extra $5 charge for the individual portion. That brought the total price of this dish to $29. But this Japanese version of bouillabaisse was filled with original flavors that we won't soon forget. The waitress brought a fresh market selection of scallops, shrimp, salmon and mussels to the table, and added them one by one to a steaming pot of delicate fish broth, combined with glassy noodles and vegetables. The whole recipe simmered temptingly until it was ready to be retrieved with chopsticks a few minutes later. It was pure simplicity: The seafood were exquisitely fresh.

That brings us to the long, "S"-shaped sushi bar at the front of the restaurant. That's where chefs ply their craft, laboring over thick sections of buttery yellowtail, firm lobster tails and tuna steaks. We enjoyed some good rolls, although the choices weren't too adventurous. The soft-shell crab ($8.50) was cut generously in the spider roll, teamed with avocado and smelt roe. And the rice was just sticky enough to fasten together a snappy "dynamite" roll ($5.50) with assorted fish, asparagus and a dose of wasabi mayonnaise that left our respiratory system in flames. After 14 years in business, Ran Getsu appears to have no weak links. With its chic atmosphere and eager-to-please wait staff, this is a safe bet for an above-average tour of classic Japanese cuisine.

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