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Shima restaurant now open at Sundial

By Staff | Mar 9, 2016

Shima chefs William Jackson, Sammy Chaianant, Rigo Velacasy and Denny Cho. PHOTO BY LADY IN PINK PHOTOGRAPHY

Islanders now have the opportunity to enjoy a Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar, complete with hibachi grills and Teppanyaki chefs preparing an entertaining, delicious meal right before their eyes.

Executive Chef Criss Menassa said about 10 to 15 years ago the Teppanyaki restaurant called Noopies graced the island with three tables sitting 24 people. She said they were packed every single night.

When Sundial Beach Resort & Spa was purchased by the Roberts family and run by Columbus Hospitality, they began making changes to the location in various stages. The much needed improvements included a spa, workout room, upgrade to the tiki hut by the main pool, resurfacing of the pool and adding Shima Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar restaurant.

“They afforded me the opportunity to be as creative as I wanted to be,” Menassa said of Columbus Hospitality. “It’s sort of a dream job for a chef. There is not somebody sort of looking over my shoulder saying no, no, no. It’s more what do you need chef? How can we help you be successful? What can we do to make things better for you? I’ve been so fortunate in finding this position.”

Menassa was at Wild Dunes in South Carolina as their executive banquet chef when she received the job offer of becoming the executive chef at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa. Once the resort pulled the trigger to offer Shima, which is the Japanese word for island, the restaurant was completed in a couple of months to afford guests the opportunity to enjoy it during season.

“It (Noopies) was a benchmark restaurant here on the island. I have had so many people come in and say thank God you are back and wow this is so much nicer,” Menassa said.

The restaurant offers a very calming atmosphere with relaxing music, subtle colors and beautiful, simplistic art on the walls. Four hibachi grills are located in the space with eight seats surrounding the grill.

Menassa began creating the menu for Shima with Teppanyaki Chef Sammy Chaianant, who was one of the original chefs at Noopies. When Chaianant spends time at the grill he is busy making those surrounding him laughing, while entertaining them with tricks using such items as knives, eggs and his chef hat.

“What’s really great about Teppanyaki cooking is it’s fast, fresh, and it happens right before your eyes. You have a chef cooking right before you and not only does he have to concentrate on the correct seasoning on what everybody is getting, but then he has to make it perfect for you. And there is the occasionally dietary request. On top of doing all of that he is going to put on a show for you and he is going to make fire and smoke. It combines two things, your sensory perception of what you are looking at on top of what you are smelling and what you are tasting,” Menassa said.

When creating the menu with such hibachi dishes as sirloin steak, chicken, scallops, tuna steak, salmon and calamari, it was important to the chef that she used the highest quality of food she could purchase.

The farm, Harris Ranch, which she sought out from California, keeps their cattle from inception to production on property. Menassa said if someone orders sirloin steak, or filet mignon, that is where it is coming from.

The scallops come from New Bedford, the appetizer and entree shrimp are harvested right out of the Gulf and their ahi tuna is sushi grade.

“Everything on the menu you are getting from the waters right out front, or I have purchased the best quality food you can possibly get,” Menassa said. “The zucchini, mushrooms, everything, high quality, high end.”

The menu also includes a variety of sushi, many entrees from land, the ocean and house specialities. All of the entrees are served with miso soup, a house salad, two pieces of shrimp, mushrooms, vegetables and either steamed, or fried rice.

The chefs perfected the rice, vegetables and seasoning before Shima opened about a month ago. All of the sauces are made on property and put into handmade sushi pots and various colored China dipping bowls once the reservation begins.

“You won’t find any plastic in this room. I wanted it to be an elegant experience visually. I wanted you to be stimulated on the tip of your tongue. Just to enjoy from the beginning to the end, the whole experience,” Menassa said. “Because we just don’t eat with our mouth, we eat with our eyes too.”

Another aspect of the Shima experience stems from the staff that works at the restaurant, who make up a family. She said the staff is dedicated to the craft, a passion, making them happy.

“Everybody helps each other out,” Menassa said. “The care and concern that goes into it just doesn’t come across in the food, but it’s the people that work here too.”

When Menassa was offered the job almost three years ago she had a great feeling about the opportunity because she worked with a lot of the staff at Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa.

“I was there for 15 years,” she said. “The director of human resources here, the director of food and beverage, the director of sales and now our managing director, a couple of sales associates, some banquet servers all came from Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa during that period of time that we were at our pinnacle and it was a great, great team. So I knew it would be a swing and a hit. I had a great feeling about it.”

One of the first things she did when she arrived at the resort was look over the water, instantly imagining a seafood house, Sea Breeze Cafe. She said a lot of what drives her for the food that comes onto the property is looking out into the ocean every day.

“If that is what I am looking at, what can I get from the Gulf? My oysters come from the Gulf, my shrimp comes from the Gulf. Everything except my salmon, which is farm raised. Fresh fish comes in every day. I never use frozen,” she explained. “If I’m out of scallops, or grouper, I run out of it. I bring in what I think I can sell for the day and I sell it.”

Menassa said she has been incorporating the farm to fork and food to table concept into her kitchens for many years. She said chefs who are dedicated to their craft look for who is producing the best and seek them out.

“Whether it be artisan cheeses, breads baked right down the street, or somebody who took over an 80-foot hot house growing their own micro grains, which is happening for us right here,” Menassa said. “They are doing that for us.”

When Menassa left Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in 2010, she spent time at Pink Shell on Fort Myers Beach for a couple of years before she received a job offer in South Carolina. She said what intrigued her about South Carolina was it became one of the top five destination locations in the United States for food.

“I really wanted to get a little southern under my belt. The executive chef there was an executive chef who was my executive chef at Sanibel Harbour for eight years,” she said.

Menassa, who comes from a very Mediterranean background due to her mother being Greek and her father an Egyptian, began cooking when she was 4 years old. She spent time rolling grape leaves with her grandmother.

Shima Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar is located at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, 1451 Middle Gulf Drive. For reservations, visit www.sundialresort.com/net, or call (239) 472-4151.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.