Nobu, No way (A weekend of Miami restaurant experiences)
Just returned from an indulgent trip to Miami (over Easter weekend) where my friends and I treated ourselves nightly to a wide variety of excellent food. First stop was Smith and Wollensky, which is a bit out of the way but has a beautiful location at the mouth of the bay (perfect for Sunset viewing). Was a bit disappointed with the pacing of the dishes, but greatly enjoyed my choice of the Indonesian Shrimp with a Thai curry sauce. The Ahi Tuna dish was so-so, as was the side of mixed vegetables, which seemed limp. A friend's Wild Salmon was delectable, as was the Gorgonzola Crusted Filet Mignon, which was simply presented but perfectly prepared. The succulent Truffle Mac and Cheese side dish was probably my favorite (and sinful) part of the meal! Service was attentive at the beginning, although once the restaurant began filling up our table felt ignored. In fact, we ended up sending back our second bottle of wine before the server opened it because it had taken her so long to bring the bottle. All in all, this dining experience was by no means mediocre (as my party greatly enjoyed our meal), but it was also not exceptional.
The next stop on the list was Nobu. Having dined at Nobu before, we were all well prepared for the snobby service by the waitstaff and the hostess. After all, a huge part of Nobu is the "scene" so you have to go in expecting that the hostess won't even look you in the eye. We did not have a reservation, but we arrived early enough that there was immediate available seating in the "lounge" area and we gladly accepted this to avoid the 2.5 hour wait (I've dined in the lounge before and knew that the menu was exactly the same). Started with a simple appetizer of edamame, which took a 1/2 hour to arrive, and followed it with the tuna/jalapeno hand roll, soft shell crab roll, spicy tuna hand roll, and the negi toro roll for the table. One member of our party also ordered the Chilean Sea Bass. Overall, the sushi was very good but not extraordinary, with the exception of the soft shell crab roll, which has never disappointed me. My friend's sea bass arrived a good 20-30 minutes before the sushi, which was very poor timing considering that the rest of our table had no food yet and, as we were sitting near the entrance, her fish quickly got cold. I understand that the food is made ready to order, but this is not a tapas bar -- a place like Nobu should know how long it takes to make the sushi and the sea bass and time the dishes accordingly. Let it be said, I did not taste the sea bass but my friend was unimpressed.
By far the most disappointing aspect of the experience was the service. We were treated with contempt by the hostess and somewhat ignored by our waiter, but this behavior paled in comparison to the treatment we received by the Manager, Chris Manti. After our meal was cleared, we continued to sit at the table and enjoy our drinks. After about 20 minutes we finally got the attention of one of the servers and asked for a dessert menu. A good 10 minutes later, the manager came by our table with our check and told us that we had been sitting too long without food and we needed to leave so that he could use the table. My jaw practically dropped to the floor. Our party of four was by no means causing a scene or being obnoxious. Our only crime was that we were taking our time enjoying our overpriced sushi and drinks, which as it was we had waited an inordinate amount of time to receive. Yet the manager felt obliged to refuse to serve us dessert when we asked for the menu, even after we explained that we had already asked for it and had not received it (which was why were sitting without food in front of us). As if he wasn't even listening, the manager merely told us curtly "you've been sitting here for a 1/2 hour with nothing on the table. That would have been a good time to order dessert." I later confronted the manager on the side and explained calmly why I was appalled by his behavior. I even admitted to him that we would have gladly relocated to the bar area if he had requested that we vacate the table, rather than ordering us to do so. The icing on the cake came, however, when I asked him for one or two business cards of people whom I could contact to complain about the service. He responded very disrespectfully, "Sweetheart, I can give you two, three, four cards, I can give you my mother's name and number just so long as you leave." NEVER in my life -- and in my very extensive dining experience -- have I ever been treated so unprofessionally and monstrously by the manager of a so-called "well-established" restaurant. In my opinion, his rude and pretentious behavior is inexcusable. Let it be said, I will never, ever dine at Nobu again, and I strongly caution others to avoid it as well unless you have an incredibly high tolerance for unprofessional service.
On a more positive note, our third evening was far more enjoyable. We dined at "Social" at the Sagamore, which serves tapas-style dishes. We ordered a wide range of dishes, including:
Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese salad - perfectly marinated
Margherita Pizza - nice starter, delicious homemade crust
Crab Cakes atop fried green tomatoes w/harissa mayo - great take on a crab cake
Paella Croquetas - rich and filling, but delicious and addictive
King Crab Thermidor - first time tasting it; enjoyed it but didn't love it in comparison to the other dishes; also very rich
Kobe Beef Sliders - strongly recommend for beef lovers who aren't interested in the wildly new flavors of some of the other offerings
Caribbean lobster tempura - devilishly tasty
Honey and Balsamic marienated Black Cod - light and sweet; just right
Every dish was satisfying and excited our taste buds. The service, by both our waiter and the manager, was very attentive and helpful. On a weekend night you would need a reservation for this spot -- we grabbed an 8:00 reservation and the restaurant began to fill up at 9:00. There is limited outside seating, but the interior of the Sagamore is really interesting so I would recommend requesting a table inside. Overall, a lovely dining experience which more than made up for the horror at Nobu the night before.
Last, but certainly not least, on our final evening we travelled to Versailles for some quality Cuban food. This restaurant is a little our of the way (a good $30 dollar cab ride from Sobe) but worth the trip. Friendly, quick and diner-esque, we gorged on pork, plantains, ricee and beans and the sinfully good Ropa Vieja, as well as decadent cafe cubanos and fabulous mojitos. The one complaint came from a friend who is a vegetarian and couldn't find a lot of options (even the corn tamales had pork). We had to practically roll ourselves out of there when the meal was over, but we couldn't have asked for a better feast to round off the weekend.
Unfortunately the attitude you experienced from Chris Manti at Nobu isn't unknown in Miami, especially on the Beach. The tourist trade insures that tables are full despite poor, even contemptuous, service. Many locals are resigned to it. After a friend told me about her experience at Nobu (slow service, charged for items they ordered which never came), I will never go there.
I decided to try Nobu one night with a friend while we were out on South Beach. That was a $200 mistake. Your story doesn't surprise me at all - this place, in my mind, is worse than any fast food joint that slings utter crap or faux chef-run venture that sells all premades. They literally line up the punters and knock em out so they can move more volume, and they do it at ridiculous prices. And yes, since most of the business is tourists or people showing up for the name they couldn't care less if they give you a bad experience. They're making money hand over fist. Nobu would be my second worst dining experience of all time, only slightly behind a tourist trap I unfortunately fell into in Times Square many years ago.
Unfortunately the Miami Nobu isn't as good as the others - at least in my opinion. I've been to a ton of Nobu / Matushisa restaurants over the years in L.A., Aspen, Miami, NYC and the Miami is my least favorite. Like you say, the food is generally great but the service staff leave a lot to be desired.
Thanks so much for this post! I am a new Chow member and am grateful for your descriptions of the tapas at the Sagamore. My husband and I are staying there for one night before our cruise leaves Miami, and I wasn't sure if we should venture elsewhere or eat there. Now I can't wait to make my reservations at "Social"... Thanks!