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Apr 27, 2009 07:09 AM

NAOE - Excellent Omakase in Sunny Isles

When surfing OpenTable a week or two ago I came across a new restaurant listing that sounded intriguing - NAOE in Sunny Isles, the description for which said "Brand new to Sunny Isles Beach, Chef Kevin Cory specializes in natural Japanese Cuisine at NAOE. Every Wednesday through Sunday from 7pm - 1am, Chef Kevin Cory serves a unique Chef's Choice menu."

We tried it this weekend and it was one of the most unique restaurant experiences I've had in Miami. The place is small - 17 seats total - and the "menu" is purely omakase, or chef's choice. Other than asking about food allergies, the menu is entirely in the chef's hands. Roughly half the seats circle an open kitchen, where Chef Cory works. As "executive chef, general manager and dishwasher" (that's how his card reads), he makes up 1/2 of the restaurant staff. The rest of the team is Wendy Maharlika, who does, basically, everything else.

We watched as Chef Cory spent about 20-30 minutes preparing our dinner, which was served bento box style with several different items presented simultaneously. The contents were just magnificent, at least if you are an adventurous and open-minded eater.

- aji (horse mackerel), in a small bowl with a dab of wasabi paste (made not from the stuff in a tube but from freshly grated wasabi root supplemented with some horseradish), along with wasabi leaves and flowers. The aji's slight oiliness was nicely offset by the piquancy of the wasabi. The wasabi leaves and flowers - which I've never seen before - have the flavor of wasabi without the heat, providing a nice contrast and a texture similar to the smallest florets of broccoli rabe.
- home-made egg tofu, beautifully silky and rich like a custard, topped with an uni (sea urchin roe) sauce with a delicate, almost peachy flavor, and crowned with a nasturtium flower.
- a small little bowl carved from a turnip, filled with cubes of cooked turnip and rich, delicious ankimo (monkfish liver); alongside was a marinated whelk (sea snail), removed from its shell and then replaced for service, along with a small "cracker" of kohada (gizzard shad),basically the frame (bones and tail with a little bit of attached meat) quick-fried, the entire thing crispy and edible, together with a couple little dumplings of parsnip with potato and seaweed.
- a rice dish made with sardine and portobello mushroom, not at all overwhelmed by the sometimes strong taste of sardine, pleasantly dry and crispy and molded into the shape of a star or flower, and topped with slices of pickled daikon (daikon nukazuke, pickled in rice bran). Chef Cory is working on doing these in-house as well but they're not ready yet.

Alongside was a bowl of a dashi-based soup, thickened to an almost gelatinous consistency with kuzu, and flavored with a cage-free chicken egg yolk poached within, along with another tongue of uni and a fiddlehead fern.

The price for this fantastic little assemblage? $26.

If you are still hungry (and you may be), Chef Cory will then serve you a chef's choice of nigiri until you say "uncle". The nigiri is prepared with warm rice which he moves to a small wooden bowl with just enough for your service. We had lush, rich salmon belly (cut from a beautiful slab of Scottish salmon), kohada (one of my favorite sushi items, flown in from Japan fresh and lightly marinated in vinegar in-house), and aori ika (a giant squid, given a light salt-cure and served over some shredded nori with a small flower on top). Each piece is brushed right before serving with the chef's specially prepared shoyu-based sauce which he has made to perfectly compliment his sushi.

The ingredient list here reads eerily like a list of my personal favorites (uni, ankimo, kohada, aji ...) but Mrs. F, who is not nearly as partial to these kinds of things as me, thoroughly enjoyed it as well. Chef Cory said that he tries to not give diners too much of a preview, so that they do not write off things before they've tried them.

The location is in a small strip mall in Sunny Isles just before the 163rd Street Causeway meets Collins Avenue (eastbound side). They're currently open only Wed-Sun (7pm - 1am) and though they're not busy yet, I'd highly recommend reservations given the small size, really small staff, and the prep of most dishes to order. I think they take reservations exclusively though OpenTable.

They have a half-dozen or so sakes on the menu, all produced by Chef Cory's family in Japan, as well as Sapporo on tap, and are likely friendly to BYOB wine.

I've given some more detail here on our dinner there this past weekend ->

This was, quite simply, one of the most unexpected and special dining experiences I've had in Miami in quite some time.

175 Sunny Isles Boulevard, Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160

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  1. Frod- THANK YOU SO MUCH. I've been craving a meal like what yours sounded like ever since returning from Japan almost a year ago.

    1. I was ambivalent about visiting this place yesterday. On the one hand I must have driven my wife crazy with how excited I was ("Did you know the family brews their own sake?" "Did you know the family brews their own soy sauce?" and on and on), on the other, Japanese food at its purest is a cuisine so delicate that it demands the participation of the diner as well. You will not be overwhelmed with rich sauces or explosive flavors. With especial stress as of late, I should have ideally waited for a relaxed Saturday or Sunday for this meal.

      That being said, this restaurant is the best (only?) Japanese restaurant in Miami. I won't go into as much detail as Frodnesor did, but he is spot on. I felt transported. The quality, the attention to detail, the presentation of the food was like being back in Japan. Chef Kevin Cory is performing at the level where you can judge how well he rolls the rice for the nigiri. It’s not a dense pillow, but disintegrates deliciously in your mouth. He lacquers each piece with his sauce, as a sushi chef is supposed to. The wasabi here is the real deal and packed with elusive flavors, not simply a nose rush glop of green.

      The chef’s choice box last night was a bit different from Frod’s (no monkfish liver!), but beyond the actual quality of everything in it, Chef Cory’s pace lets you assimilate the food and I found that the box as presented was actually fairly satisfying (though it did not stop me from ordering a few pieces of nigiri before calling it a night). Wendy (the wonderful hostess) meanwhile entertained us, leting us (mostly me) blather on and on embarrassingly about how great our trip to Japan was, kept our sake glasses full, and showed us the final plans to finish the restaurant , though it looked great as it was. They are a great complement, both very nice, Wendy holding friendly inviting conversation the whole time, and Kevin with a twinkle of mischief when he chimes in. They were both great with any questions we had about his food or the cuisine in general.

      The place is an absolute must for anybody nostalgic or seriously considering a trip to Japan though I will not say that any one item I ate here outshone its equivalent in Japan. Like he said when I asked him how long it took him to learn to roll the sushi rice “I’m still learning.” That’s what they said in Japan too, and those were masters who were more than 60 years old.

      1. I went for dinner at NAOE last night with a couple of friends. The omakase portion of the meal was presented as a shokado bento (4 compartment bento box tradition with origins in Kyoto) and a soup on the side.

        The soup's primary ingredients were a combination of egg tofu and parsnip, accented with some mitsuba and a touch of lemon zest. This created a pleasant interplay of textures as well as deep aromatic complexity.

        The shokado compartments contained the following:
        -aji (horse mackerel) sashimi over a bed of wasabi leaves and flowers with a fresh wasabi/horseradish blend on the side (as described in previous posts). The aji was of the highest quality and the non-root portion of the wasabi were unique and offered a wonderful counterpoint to the flavor and texture of the fish.
        - thick cut of salmon sashimi wrapped in two types of seaweed (one salt cured and the other pickled), roasted unagi (freshwater eel) with strips of pickled daikon, a lightly fried shrimp tamago. The salmon was very high quality and was nicely offset by the combined seaweed flavors. Nor were these the typical seaweed products used in Japanese cooking (nori, kombu or wakame) but two completely different varieties. The eel had the superior flavor and texture that one would expect from a product flown in fresh from Japan. A light coating of eel sauce did not overwhelm the fish and the sweetness was nicely contrasted against the thin strips of pickled daikon. The shrimp tamago was the only fried component in the whole meal, coated with a light tempura like batter and delicately fried. This last component worked the least for me in terms of both texture and flavor.
        - a piece of local mackerel topped by a layer of grated lotus root and some touches of green beans. I believe this dish was prepared by steaming both the fish and the lotus root puree together. This was tasty both in terms of the fish quality and the unusual presentation of the lotus root but it lacked enough texture contrasts compared to the rest of the meal.
        - rice cooked with mushrooms and topped with some pickled daikon. This was a nice variation on the gohan-mono component of the shokado.

        I could have stopped eating at this point as the meal was properly portioned for a normal meal but I was also curious at to what Chef Cory would do for sushi. I tried four types of sushi as a follow up: salmon belly, kohada, aori ika and uni. The salmon belly was cut to include the fat layer that is just under the skin, yielding a wonderfully rich piece of sushi. The light cure on the kohada was a subtle but welcome flavor. Both the aori ika and uni were served with thin slivers of nori placed on top of the rice. The uni was rather firm and presented as nigiri rather than in the gunkan format (the big nori wrapper to prevent it from running). It was also served with several generous dabs of the fresh wasabi which supplemented the pungency of the uni with nice bit of piquancy but not in an overwhelming way.

        My overall impression is that NAOE offers an excellent and unique meal. I am not certain I would call this the best Japanese food in Miami but it is an exemplary presentation of the kaiseki style. This is refined and subtle food, emphasizing aesthetic presentation and broad variety of flavors and preparations. No other Japanese restaurant in Miami is cooking in this style. So if I am in the more in the mood for Japanese comfort food I would still go to Hiro's Yakko-san or if I wanted a more conventional sushi meal then I would go elsewhere. NAOE offers something very different and it executes that offering extremely well.

        6 Replies
        1. re: petroniusarbiter

          Hi Petronius,

          While your last paragraph is more than a fair one, my comment about NAOE being the best had more to do with the level of quality and authenticity I felt compared to a recent trip I took. In general I have not found Japanese food to perform at so high a level in Miami. Yakko-san is definitely a good and very different option and NAOE is a very specific slice of the island's cuisine that you should not by all means go there with the intent of eating a pan-Japanese type meal. I have yet to find a suitable option for contemporary sushi however, or one that even approached Japan's 110Y conveyor belt shops.

          1. re: Icantread

            I think we're in agreement about NAOE representing a specific style of Japanese cuisine and doing an admirable job in that respect. I just wanted to clarify the style and not offer a blanket recommendation for those that were seeking other types of Japanese food. High quality sushi is still hard to come by in Miami despite the large number of places offering it. I enjoy Matsuri but it is not always as interesting as some places I have been in Japan. But as much as I would like to have better sushi options around, it's also nice to see Japanese restaurants moving into other genres of cuisine and in a competent way. Personally I would love to see specialty establishments for yakitori and kushikatsu. I have fond memories of both from Japan, and at least for yakitori from living in New York, which has had 3-4 restaurants focused just on that appearing in the last decade.

            1. re: petroniusarbiter

              For good sushi try Sushi Deli / Japanese Market on 79th St. Causeway (closes early, easier to get to for lunch) ->

              The Hiro's on 163rd St. (not Yakko-San, but the one on the causeway east of Biscayne), though not a "unitasker", used to have a pretty sizable selection of yakitori but I've not been there for quite some time.


              1. re: Frodnesor


                Thanks for the response. I've followed your previous recommendations for Sushi Deli but I've never found myself completely satisfied. It may be the lack of atmosphere and the weird hours of operation. The sushi itself is good quality but there is a lack of variety compared to my expectations. Of course it may also be the lack of relationship with the chef as you recently noted on your blog.

                I will have to try the yakitori at the other Hiro's. The problem with non-specialized yakitori places is that if the flow of orders isn't large enough they don't serve enough breast and thigh meat to provide a good supply of livers, gizzards, hearts and tails for those of us who enjoy those parts. The overall technique also just seems better at the specialized yakitori shops.

                1. re: petroniusarbiter

                  It's not yakitori, but you can always get gizzards or livers sauteed or fried at Hiro's Yakko San (the one on Dixie Highway north of 163rd, not the Hiro's that's on 163rd St. Causeway). Or go with a different ethnicity entirely and find some chicken heart anticuchos at a Brazilian place like Boteco.


                2. re: Frodnesor

                  I finally tried Sushi Deli today after several failed attempts starting over a year ago. They actually had a decent selection of roll options. The simple rolls we did try were well balanced, with no item being overwhelmed by another. We avoided cream cheese/avocado/spicy mayo, etc. Additionally, nori was crispy and had some flavor to it.

                  More importantly, the nigiri and single item makis were exceptional and exactly what I was looking for. Fish was incredibly fresh tasting, rice well made and he seasons each piece himself. Compared to past experiences everywhere else, this place far exceeds the quality of the rest of Miami sushi joints. The toro and some of the other nigiri transported me to the touristy Tsujiki spots, though I did not necessarily get that extra-fresh whiff of ocean in them. Still, overall head and shoulders of any marked Miami sushi, be it Matsuri or Nobu South Beach.

          2. Thanks for the excellent review I've tried to get resv. opeh table says there booked forever any ideas L will omly be in town 5/30&31

            4 Replies
            1. re: abigjudge

              Chef had told me he may be going out of town late May, so it may be that they are closed. They are showing reservations available earlier in the month. It's a quite different experience, but if you want Japanese, Yakko-San does great izakaya style (small dishes) food.


              1. re: Frodnesor

                Looks like Kevin canceled his trip cause he opened the reservations. Also I was there on Wed. and he said he was talking with the New Times reviewer, and that they're going to publish a review soon. So make a reservation before the masses.

                1. re: Auger

                  There was apparently some OpenTable operational glitch as well so that may also have been the cause for the lack of reservations appearing.

                  1. re: Frodnesor

                    I was there saturday night (pics+notes coming eventually) and opentable was working fine, as far as I could tell. That said, I was there from 7:30 to 10:30 and only one other group came in. Hopefully the reviews open the floodgates.

            2. Thanks for the Hiro tip I read the web site can't wait is it better to eat at the table or bar ,I never eat sushi except at the bar thanhs again

              3 Replies
              1. re: abigjudge

                Yakko San is one of the few places where I don't think it makes a big difference if you sit at the bar or a table. It is not a true sushi bar in that they serve no nigiri or maki, only sashimi (unless you count onigiri). There is an open kitchen and the guys working it are friendly, but it is not a typical sushi bar format where you order with the chef, etc.

                1. re: abigjudge


                  We prefer the bar at YakkoSan because it's fun to watch them crank out the chow. The experience is not like a sushi bar b/c there are grills back there and most of the small plates get prepared at the bar by 3-5 chefs moving in tandem. I find the table service kind of boring in comparison.

                  We sit on the side closest to the wall/window to get the best views. When you see something interesting, you can ask what it is and often we order new things based on the "monkey see monkey do principal..."


                  1. re: advisor_Girl

                    We usually do the same! We even have a "Yakko-san" wardrobe when we sit at the bar since you get the added bonus of taking home all the food and smoke smells on your clothes.