After so many people raved about this new Japanese restaurant in Sunny Isles, we were eager to visit Naoe. However, as the place is really small, and certainly the recent review in the newspaper didn’t help, we were not able to reserve a table till now. Or, more specifically, we weren’t able to reserve a table at the first seating of 7:30, which we preferred (and apparently everybody else).
The restaurant is bigger than I imaged, very spacious with dark wood tables and chairs. There were only three tables, each seating two, four and six people with plenty of elbow room. The room is dimly illuminatied, most of the light coming from the open kitchen where Chef Cory is at work. There are additional seats at the counter, popular among those who enjoy watching their food being prepared. It looks like since the first reviews, the chef has hired help as there is a guy working in the back.
Our waitress brought us the drink menu. The sake are from Cory’s family, Nakamura Brewery in Japan, and the price starts at $17 for a 250ml bottle of Yukizake to over $100 for the 750ml Nichiei Junmai. The Sapporo draft beer is a good value , a cold, tall glass for $5. We ordered the Yukizake (Snow Sake) which came frozen and was scooped out like shorbet. The freezing intensified the sweetness and aroma of the alcohol. Gotta try this at home.
Now for the food menu? Sorry, but there is no such thing at Naoe. The only thing available is a bento box, omakase style (meaning, you are totally at the mercy of the chef).
We have been well warned by various sources to expect a long wait for the food, so we were prepared. (This is likely not a place for a first date unless you know that you two have endless things to talk about and she will not never get tired of you.) Our boxes finally arrived. The lid was removed to reveal four compartments. Apparently the regular waitress was not available and our waitress was there to help out, and while she was flawlessly friendly and pleasant, she was not very familiar with the food and the description was therefore somewhat sketchy. According to what we were told, and what I tasted, our dinner consisted of (from upper left clockwise): salmon in sake soy sauce with konbu topping; organic tofu with uni paste, aji with green bean, and a fish called sandpiper(?? – I wonder if she meant red snapper but it didn’t look like it); napa cabbage roll with sea beam topped with okra, aoyagi (short-necked clam) sashimi; rice with organic portabello topped with pickle. We were also served with a bowl of miso with carrot and corn in it.
The flavor of the miso soup is really nice, though the carrot was a little too firm/crunchy. The dishes are kaiseki style, and Naoe is the only place in Miami serving them. I had expected the presentation to be more elegant from earlier reviews, and wonder if some impatient guests may had been told the chef to skip the decorations. Comparing it to Frodnesor‘s review, our box certainly was missing a few petals and garnishes. It would be lovely too if the dishes are more representative of the season. Nonetheless, this is quite a feast for the eyes and for the mouth, and I enjoyed munching a pinch of food here and there. The majority of our group agreed on the clam and cabbage roll being our favorite.
Part of Cory’s family in Japan also brews soy sauce. I am not sure if that’s where our soy sauce is from, but our waitress told us that he brought it from Japan and cooked it with something (konbu?)
The bento likely will not fill you up, unless you subscribe to the healthful advice of Hana Hachi Bun. This gives you the opportunity to sample some of the fresh sushi.
We ordered the salmon, which is Scottish salmon that melts in your mouth and a different league from the standard salmon sushi available everywhere. At $3 a piece, it’s a good value. We liked the aoyagi clam so much in the box that we ordered it as sushi too. (The check noted it as aori ika but I am pretty sure what we had was clam and not squid.) There was also Madai, Japanese Red Snapper, which we didn’t order. All the sushi were excellent in quality and among the best in Miami.
The kohada is flown in fresh from Japan, and a rare find in South Florida, so we decided to try some. Like saba mackerel, it’s pickled in vinegar, and while the kohada is much milder in taste and more delicate in texture, and artistically presented, it’s just not my type of fish. But if you like saba, you’d love this.
I looked up kohada on the Net and this is some interesting tidbit I found on Wikipedia: The fish is called Gizzard shad in English. In Japan, when the baby fish is around two inches long, it’s called Shinko 新子 (literally, new baby), when it grows to 3-4 inches long, it’s called Kohada 小鰭 (or 小肌, meaning Baby Skin, referring to the soft and shiny skin like a baby!?). Another inch longer and passes its first birthday, it graduates to a Nakazumi ナカズミ, and upon reaching adulthood, at a length of six inches or more, the fish is called a Konoshiro. The adult fish has a lot of fine bones and the bigger the fish is, the less valuable it gets.
The name Konoshiro comes with an interesting, if incredible, legend. There was once a very beautiful maiden, who had a lover. When a government official wanted to marry her, the girl’s mother told the official that the girl had died from illness. To fool the official, the mother burned a coffin at the funeral. Inside the coffin she put some fish which, when spoilt, smelled like corpse and when burnt, smelled like one too. The official left with disappointment. From that time on the fish was called Konoshiro（子の代）(in place of the child). Intriguingly, Konoshiro also means This Castle in Japanese. As a result, this fish is mostly eaten pickled, as the shoguns and samurais understandably got nervous breakdowns when the peasants kept talking about castle burning. Or so the legend had it. Not to mention that the fish stinks when burnt… or so we were told.