NAOE - Excellent Omakase in Sunny Isles
- Frodnesor Apr 27, 2009 07:09 AM
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..."
Proud to find delicate Japanese food in Miami. Naoe is THE ONLY Japanese restaurant in Miami I can compare to professional chef in Japan, not touristy or comfort food restaurant in Japan. And not expensive. Surprised and very happy!
Thanks for the wonderful food porn! Your review is orgasm-inducing... and transported me to Japan. Glad to know of this place, especially when Yakko san has gone downhill a bit.
I'd definitely love to see more specialized Japanese restaurants, like a kaiden sushi place, a okonomiyaki place, yakitori shop or a ramen noodle shop. Like the ones in California, instead of just generic Japanese with the same sushi, teriyaki, tempura and green tea ice cream.
Or what about a kushiyaki place? (Sort of small grilled goodies). I remember Kushiyu in Encino, CA (SF Valley/LA area). Man that was good! Being able to get well grilled things was a perfect compliment to the excellent sushi there. I even saw Kim Basinger there! Oddly enough, she kind of looked terrible....
I took the videos and photos with the chef's permission. We've even had some email correspondences and he seemed pretty happy with the results.
Here are my photos from Saturday's dinner:
Look for more detailed notes in the coming days.. but, suffice it to say, it was an outstanding meal and I'd recommend everyone have at least one meal there before it becomes impossible to get a seat.
The big banquet for my wife's conference was on Saturday evening. She'd actually managed to scrounge up a meal ticket for me at the last minute, but wouldn't you know, she called just a few minutes after I'd made a reservation at Naoe, a brand new Japanese restaurant Sunny Isles Beach in Miami. Just my luck.
Naoe is a two-person operation -- Kevin Cory, the Chef/GM/dishwasher (as his card says), and Wendy Maharlika who does everything else. They're both warm, friendly, funny people with an amazing amount of passion for their work, and they made the three hours I spent sitting at Naoe's hinoki bar as pleasant as anyone could hope for.
The only printed menu is a list of drinks. Water, Ramune, Calpis, and a half dozen sakes brewed by chef Cory's family at the Nakamura Brewery in Ishikawa. When you arrive, Wendy gives you the details: everyone starts with a $26 chef's choice bento box comprising four dishes plus a soup. If you're still hungry after that, Kevin will serve you nigiri until you cry uncle. Wendy asks you about your dietary restrictions and then you wait and watch.
After a bit of a wait, the bento box and soup. Here's what's in it (descriptions provided by the restaurant):
organic carrot egg tofu and mitsuba clear soup
- steamed organic yellow squash, live pacific oyster, organic shiitake, anaheim pepper and okra
- deep-fried whiting with organic millet
- deep-fried live aoyagi clam with monkfish liver sauce
- organic gamet yam and sesame tofu with a dashi soy sauce
- local mutton snapper sashimi on wasabi leaves, wasabi flowers and shiso with seaweed shavings on top
- steamed sardine rice topped with rice bran pickled daikon and fava beans
- sake simmered & steamed scottish salmon with organic baby bok choy, organic portobello mushrooms on organic tofu
Everything was wonderful, well seasoned, perfectly cooked as appropriate. My personal highlights were the unbelievable wasabi leaves and flowers with the snapper sashimi, the sardine rice, and the whiting/aiyogi clam combination. The wasabi leaves and flowers were especially revelatory, with all of the flavor of real wasabi and none of the heat.
After all of this, I wasn't quite full, so I let Kevin send me nigiri for a while.
- scottish salmon belly nigirizushi: rich and luscious and sweet.
- aji nigirizushi topped with grated ginger: the bite of the ginger was a nice non-wasabi counterpoint to the oily mackerel
- live scallop nigirizushi with orange soy sauce (video): perfect, pristine scallop.
- freshly sea salted and rice vinegared kohada nigirizushi: A new fish for me, and it was exceptional. I'll be looking for it elsewhere.
- local spanish mackerel kojizuke nigirizushi covered with rice vinegared white seaweed: "kojizuke" = "pickled in koji" = pickled in steamed rice with koji mold spores mixed in, the precursor of sake. The sweetness of the koji plus the slight acidity of the seaweed were a great match with the mackerel.
- sea urchin roe nigirizushi topped with fresh grated wasabi: Lovely.
I stopped with the uni, and it was a nice ending. The chef put forth one more dish, a plate of cantaloupe with a sweet rice vinegar + fish stock sauce meant to ease the transition from fish to fruit (it worked, as far as I can tell).
I don't really have any complaints or notes on the meal. The pacing was relaxed -- about 2.5 hours from start to finish -- but not annoyingly so. All of the fish was incredibly fresh, the flavors well balanced, and nicely presented. The total, not counting drinks/tips/tax was about $80, and it felt and still feels like a great value.
Naoe just got a very favorable review in the Miami New Times -- Chef Cory won their "best sushi" picks in 2004 and 2005 at his last restaurant -- and I can only imagine more great press is coming. They deserve it, and I hope they get a lot of business from it.
If any of you are in Miami, go see Kevin and Wendy. They're great hosts, and you'll have a great meal.
originally posted at http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...
Agree that it's one of the best dining experiences in Miami. Got back tonight and we're still thinking about the complexity of the meal we'd just had. I love everything about the place (except for a walk-in couple who felt supremely entitled and were furious when told they'd have to wait until the next seating to be served, they should've been completely embarrassed the way they acted but Wendy handled it very well). Uni has been ruined for me as I'll probably never have a serving on par with this one, at least not locally.
Thank you for trying and reviewing this wonderful restaurant. I went last night and I am still so happy from our meal. Chef Cory and Wendy are so professional and yet so much fun. I cannot begin to give all the details of the meal but suffice to say it was as Frod describes and better. I am in awe of even Chef Cory's hardware, his knives, bowls, kitchen and even his water glasses are pleasing. We drove all the way from Kendall and will do so again. It is true that this is not your ordinary Japanese restaurant and definitely not a sushi bar. Go only if you can appreciate the high art of cuisine and have plenty of time to see how Chef Cory honor the high quality food and you as a guest.
Ok, after a 2nd trip to NAOE, my long overdue detailed report....
First the bento box components, separated into 4 quadrants:
- madai (sea bream), portabella mushroom, mitsuba custard/soup served in a little clay cup
- sake simmered Scottish salmon rolled with konbu seaweed on a toothpick-like skewer
- aji (horse mackerel) fried with a dusting of matcha tea
- yamaimo (mountain potato) fried with seaweed powder
- sake steamed ankimo, sake steamed sea bream milt, unfiltered soy sauce, miso, green beans, and cucumber
- local king mackerel marinated in rice vinegar konbu topped with an okra, miso, soy, citrus, and wasabi "dressing"
- parsnip rice with rice bran pickled daikon
And, of course, the soup component:
- soft poached organic chicken egg yolk, organic carrot, organic daikon, mitsuba, dashi (broth from dried skipjack tuna & konbu) soup
The madai/portabella custard intrigued me the most so I went after it first, using the little wooden spoon provided. The custard was very light yet held chunks of sea bream and portabella. Once the custard was broken up a bit, it turned into a nice little soup and the mitsuba broth really got a chance to shine. The custard was very hot, having just been removed from the steamer, so I moved on to the 2nd quadrant and went for 1 of the 2 bites of the sake simmered salmon wrapped in konbu. It had a very clean, sweet, and cool flavor that brought my mouth temp back down nicely so I could return to the custard again. The rice was similar to my last visit in shape only. This time I found the rice to be just ok on its own but much better when enhanced with some of the shoyu that Chef Cora serves. Last time I had a sardine rice that I liked straight up. Next I volleyed between the kingfish and the fried aji and potato. I dont recall a distinct flavor with the fried components but I love how Chef Cora incorporates the texture of a fried item into the bento box. Its like that guy who plays the triangle in an orchestra, you get just enough to know its there and realize the score wouldnt be complete without it. The kingfish was one of my favorite components though. It was layered with konbu and I really liked the okra/wasabi/miso dressing. A very fresh tasting dish. I saved the best for last though. The sake steamed ankimo was phenomenal. Its really hard to describe the flavor. It was just damn good.
After finishing off the bento box, I hit up the soup to wash it all down. I really liked the texture that the chicken egg provided and the dashi broth was very flavorful. The veggie ingredients provided a nice hearty component.
This bento box and soup combo was much more filling that the one I had on my first visit to NAOE, so I was torn between adding some nigirizushi or not. That lasted about 2 seconds. Next thing I knew, I was eating the following:
- Scottish salmon nigirizushi (belly side, but more towards the tail, so not the actual belly, even though fatty)
- aji nigirizushi with grated organic ginger on top
- aoriika (bigfin reef squid) nigirizushi brushed with orange soy sauce
- madai nigirizushi brused with orange soy sauce
- shiraebi (white shrimp) with grated organic ginger on top
- Hokkaido uni with grated wasabi on top
- aoyagi (orange/surf clam) with orange soy sauce
- fresh unagiyaki with sansho pepper
Though there was only enough uni to make 3 small nigirizushi for me and the 2 other patrons at the bar to share, it was still delicious. Besides, 1 is better than none! Chef Cora related that this type of uni is only available June and July (I hope I got that correct...). My preference for uni aside, I really liked the addition of the grated ginger on the aji and the shiraebi. It was a nice flavor enhancement. The unagi, flown in fresh with no additives or preservatives, was a sweet ending to a great meal. Well, I shouldnt say ending because Chef Cora served us some cantelope and donut peach with sweet rice vinegar fish sauce as he totaled up the bill for the 3 of us that remained at the bar. Yum.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - NAOE is not a restaurant. It is a dining experience. Its a fully open kitchen and a chef at work. Add that to the element of surprise with the omakase menu, plus the friendliness of Chef Cora, Wendy, and their new dishwasher (I missed his name but he is a very nice guy and, much like Wendy, always makes sure your sake glass is full), and you really have something unique to enjoy rather than "just a meal".
Though I live a good 30 minutes away, I can tell I'll be making the pilgrimage to NAOE often. Its the type of restaurant that really hits the mark for "foodies", whether you like the term or not.
Just to let you guys know, the reservation system has changed. Last week my reminder from OpenTable contained something new.
"All reservations must be confirmed prior to the reservation date. Confirmations and cancellations may be made by calling 305-947-NAOE(6263) from 7:00 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. If you forget to reconfirm your reservation, we will try to contact you directly to reconfirm. There is a cancellation fee of $50.00 per guest for cancellations within three days of a reservation. There is no cancellation fee for cancellations made with at least three days notice. "
I asked Kevin about it and reason for the change was, the weekend before about 10 reservations didn't show up. Considering the size of the place, 17 seats and that its a reservation required restaurant, so no/rarely walk in traffic, Kevin had to do something for the no shows. So beware.
Also no more Hokkaido uni, those were amazing, I'm going to remember to go back in next June.
I have not saved my receipts, but I believe that most of the nigiri is between $3-7 a piece, with 2 pieces per each "round". I found that review and the author says they had 14 rounds of nigiri (which seems a bit over the top even to me). So between 2 people, and including drinks (the sakes are in a range of prices) I suppose it's possible to spend $450, but that would be atypical.
miachef - are you talking about per piece or per duo? I dont remember anything being $10+/piece... My first meal there was $225 for me alone which included tax/tip. However, I had the bento, 6-7 rounds of sushi, a $5 beer, and a $68 bottle of sake. It really depends on how much sushi you put down and sake too. Its easy to get caught up in the sushi cuz its that damn good. One time, I felt like I wasnt gonna do sushi cuz the bento filled me up but I ended up doing 5 rounds anyways haha.
NAOE has been on the top of my list since Frod brought it to all of our attention almost a year ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to get there until recently but was fortunate to visit two times in eight days. All I initially had to say was WOW!!!!
There is not much more for me to add to this thread. That said, I would like to stress that this is a special place run by special people. I highly recommend checking it out.