Naoe

“It’s not fresh…it’s alive” is the motto of Naoe (Na-o-é).

This small restaurant holding only 17 seats including 5 at the sushi bar is open from Wednesday to Sunday, and has 2 seatings: 6.30pm and 9.30pm.

The restaurant lies in Sunny Isles, on a small strip mall which can be easily missed but Chef Kevin Cory’s one-man show cannot. Reservations are a bit tricky as they are only and exclusively made through OpenTable.com with a cancellation fee of 50USD$ charge. Though at first I was a bit adamant about this cancellation policy, I quickly understood how it immensely helps Naoe; since it is such a small restaurant and group cancellations hurt the business.

Chef Cory, half-American and half-Japanese, trained in Japan at a traditional kaiseki restaurant but returned to the United States in 2001 where he took over the sushi bar at Siam River, an average Thai restaurant. But Chef Cory’s work earned him many followers. That’s when he decided to open one of the most unique restaurants Miami has seen. Naoe is elegant but dons shades of grey and black coupled with low (but not too low) lighting. The restaurant also hosts a beautiful wood bar facing the open kitchen. The bar is made from hinodi wood (traditionally used for Japanese temples) which I was told was sanded down with a small file every week. It was indeed very smooth wood. I kind of felt bad when one time fresh soy dripped from my ngiri.

The menu (which changes every day) is purely omakase, or chef’s choice and other than asking about allergies, the menu is in the hands of the chef. Half the seats of the restaurant circle the open kitchen where clients watch in awe as Chef Cory works. As his card reads, he is executive chef, general manager and dishwasher but luckily he works with a team; a team comprised of Wendy Maharlika, who does everything else.

Chef Cory spends about 30 minutes to prepare the first part of the dinner, a bento box (priced at an affordable 26 USD$) serving several items all presented simultaneously. The food is in 3 words creative, daring and open-minded. As he continued his preparations, our anticipation began to build and I was very hungry since we arrived at the second seating. I had initially anticipated a series of small dishes like a tasting menu, but instead  was presented with a large bento box and a small covered bowl of soup.

The wasabi is made a la minute with the wasabi root, in front of your eyes – none of that stuff in the tube here! I definitely want to have that grater!

Here Chef Cory is grating the Wasabi root: 

The bento was divided into four compartments:

Home-made egg tofu custard, silky, smooth and not too rich, mixed with pieces of cooked fish. This was by far my favorite as it is very difficult to make – cannot be too dry and cannot be too liquid and it was hot, very hot – the way it should be and the way it remained for the rest of my adventurous search through the bento box.

Fresh Hirame flounder, in a small bowl with a dab of freshly-made wasabi paste.  The flounder was cooked skin side but the meat was still raw giving it a very smoky and yet fresh/natural taste at the same time – if that makes any sense! The wasabi itself was not overpowering at all and wasabi leaves which I have never seen before until now provided a very nice contrast and texture. It is served alongside goldern ring octopus and herring egg.

Octopus tentacles served with soy citrus and sided with cooked rectangular white turnips topped with Japanese mountain yam and unfiltered soy (soy before it becomes soy sauce) and marinated whelk (sea snail from Boston) removed from its shell and then replaced for service with a small “cracker” of quick-fried and crispy fluke with green tea.

A few close ups:

Octopus

Whelk

The unfiltered soy on white turnip

A sardine-rice dish which was not at all over-salted or over-powered by the strong taste of sardines but dry and crispy and molded into a shape of a fan and served alongside slices of pickled daikon (pickled in rice bran).

The soup was a Shitake mushroom broth and was very clean-tasting and not salty at all. A great way to clean the palate.

The second part of the dinner (if you’re still hungry) may be chosen and Chef Cory will serve you his choices of nigiri until you can no longer eat; or until there is no more fish left to serve. The nigiri (served 1 piece at a time) is prepared in front of you and served with warm sweet rice on a small wooden paddle.

Before serving, each piece is brushed with the chef’s personal shoyu-based sauce to compliment his sushi. You can tell the Chef performs at a high level when he rolls the rice for the ngiri in front of you. It is not dense but disintegrates deliciously in your mouth – that’s exactly what he wants to achieve at every around.
The pristine ngiri is always presented wonderfully.

The Chef took the time to explain how important it was that the ngiri must be presented to the client at the same temperature as our body so that the rice almost melts (if not disappears) in your mouth once you eat it. That is also why he serves (and all Japanese restaurants should serve) 1 ngiri at a time because if it’s too cold, it’s ruined and if he keeps on modling the rice with his hands and then placing the fish on top, it is also ruined – since the temperature is altered. The relationship between the rice and fish is very important and extremely difficult to perfect. I asked the Chef how long it took him to learn how to make sushi and he smiled for a moment then said: “A very long time”.

Chef Cory at work:

Several nigiris that we tried, the Chef also recommending us to be comfortable and eat with our hands.

Rich salmon belly (cut from a beautiful slab of Scottish salmon)

Poached maine lobster claw with orange soy (very smooth, sweet and rich)

Idaku roe – Octopus roe (the first time I ever tasted such a roe – which is apparently stored inside the Octopus’ head…he must have a very big head and only now in season. It was very rich and creamy like a rice-pudding but not heavy like crab roe and kept a very fresh taste to it)

Octopus tentacles

Aori ika (big fin reef squid)

Hirame flounder with white seaweed (loved the sweetness of the white seaweed)

Sea urchin roe from Alaska (The sea urchin was extremely sweet, like in Japan and the texture was so smooth, it melted in your mouth with the rice. I’m in heaven!)


Roasted then steamed eel with sea salt and soy

In-house roasted, steamed and basted Unagi (eel) with eel sauce, Japanese melon pickled in Sake for 2 years


I thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures of the ngiri. I don’t know why, but they appear so simple, elegant and serene at the same time. They’re beautifully packaged with the rice and appear so pure and fresh.

I did not have any more space left for dessert but it was insisted that we must try…well, if you insist 🙂

Fresh fruit in rice wine vinegar, sugar and fish stock

Home-made Japanese sponge cake

The mystery ice-cream? Soy!


I recommend anyone coming to this restaurant to sit at the sushi bar to watch the Chef prepare the dinner. Sure, sitting at the side tables gives privacy to the clients but he prepares the food (all with one very sharp knife!) with such serenity and calm, it is calming to watch – especially since I work in a very hectic kitchen! You can tell the Chef is happy with what he does and takes pride and joy to see clients mmm and aaah when eating his freshly made bento-box and ngiri.

The restaurant serves draft Sapporo-beer, some fine Green teas and a handful of Sakes (from the Chef’s family brewery in Japan (Nakamura Brewery). After speaking for a while, I found out that his family brewery in Japan bottles the Sake used at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in Tokyo; it’s called Alain Ducasse Nichiei. Pretty cool!

The Chef and his bottle served at AD:

During dinner, I also sipped on one of his Sakes which is served frozen (and is quite strong!) but had a gentler taste to it when it melted. Every ngiri I had was paired with a sip. A great duo!

The Chef talked and showed me a trailer of an upcoming film that made a debut at the Tribeca Film Festival called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This is a film that is not only about the art of sushi, but also about family, succession, and tradition. it’s about the value of hard work and the patience and vision needed to perfect any form of creation not just sushi. It is also the story of a son living in the shadow of his father. Here is the trailer below:

You see how the rice drops a little when he places it on a plate? This is what Chef Cory was talking about all along.

While finding this trailer Chef Cory showed me, I came across an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations where Bourdain visits the 80-year old Chef at his restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, 3-Michelin star restaurant tucked away underground. The 15-course meal lasting 20 minutes is the best sushi he has ever had in his life. Check out the video below:

It is one of the most unexpected yet special dining experiences I have had in Miami. The chef and hostess are earnest and friendly and the food is creative and adventurous paired with magnificently fresh ingredients. I’m not surprised that Naoe has been awarded by clients as the top restaurant in Miami and one of the top 50 restaurants in the United States.

 Naoe

175 Sunny Isles Boulevard, FL 33160
Website: http://www.naoemiami.com/
Tel: (305) 947-6263

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Comments
2 Responses to “Naoe”
  1. Roberto says:

    Omg, i could die there!

  2. Hol says:

    Thank you for sharing these links for Jiro. :))

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