Let’s make a deal. I’ll tell you about one of the most unique and memorable dining experiences I’ve had in Miami but you’ll have to promise not to tell too many others. After all, I want to still be able to get a reservation there!
The place: NAOE in Sunny Isles Beach.
My husband and I dined there two weeks ago and we’re still talking about what a great meal we had. There is only room for 17 diners at a time so the experience is truly intimate and special.
NAOE (pronounced na-o-é), is a Japanese “omakase” restaurant, meaning the selection of the food is up to the chef.
You’re in capable hands. Chef Kevin Cory is an experienced sushi chef and trained with Japanese chefs in Japan and the United States. He uses only the freshest ingredients available and executes each dish to perfection. Wendy, the friendly hostess and sole server, treats each diner like a new friend.
The meal starts with the chef’s choice bento box ($26). When you finish you can continue with as many rounds of sushi as you would like. Each piece of sushi costs between $2 and $8 and you get two pieces per round.
The only menu is the drinks menu, which features sake from Nakamura Brewery, Chef Cory’s family’s brewery in Ishikawa, Japan.
We ordered a bottle of the Nichiei “Glory of the Sun” Ginjyo ($68 for a 720ml bottle). Silky smooth with green apple and floral notes, it was one of the best sakes I’ve drank in recent memory.
After watching Chef Cory assembling the bento boxes behind the bar, I couldn’t wait to see what they contained.
The bento box was divided into four sections and came with soup, which for us was a terrific pumpkin miso soup.
I can’t recall Wendy’s description of everything in the bento box but it all was delicious. Like the decor of the restaurant, the presentation of the food was relatively simple. No embellishment needed — the flavors speak for themselves.
On the top left there was a creamy and savory custard-like dish served in a mini pumpkin. On the top right was delicately seasoned fish (perhaps mackerel?), and a juicy whelk, which I was thrilled to eat because I haven’t yet found a restaurant in the U.S. that serves these tasty mollusks.
There was more fish in the lower right section including monkfish liver, described by Wendy as “foie gras of the sea.” It was delightfully thick and soft with a slightly salty and nutty flavor. The sardine rice on the lower left side was perfect for cleansing the palate between bites.
Thrilled by the bento box, I couldn’t wait to try the sushi. First up: salmon belly.
As Wendy placed the salmon sushi on our table I noticed what she didn’t give us — soy sauce and wasabi. Chef Cory had already brushed soy sauce on the sushi and placed a touch of fresh wasabi on the rice. Both were unlike what you normally get at sushi restaurants. The soy sauce came from Chef Cory’s family’s shoyu brewery in Japan, also named Naoe. The wasabi was real, not made from powder. With each piece of sushi Chef Cory finely grated the root to create the familiar green stuff.
Wendy instructed us that the best way to enjoy the sushi was to pick it up with our hands, using a hot towel to clean our fingers between bites. Though hesitant at first to give up my chopsticks, I found I enjoyed this approach as a way to get closer to the food.
But back to the salmon. Taking a bite of it was like discovering how sushi is supposed to taste. It was the most creamy and flavorful piece of salmon I’ve ever eaten, and pretty much ruined me for most other sushi restaurants. Thank goodness I had a second piece to enjoy! Though I could have easily gone for another round of salmon I was excited to see what Chef Cory would prepare for us next.
With each round of sushi we became even more enamored with NAOE. The shira ebi (baby white shrimp) looked like it had been braided together over the rice. It was soft and almost gelatinous in texture, with a delicate salty flavor. The unagi (eel) was moist and tender, in a sweet sauce made by Chef Cory.
The sushi courses came to a close with one of my favorites, uni (sea urchin). As with everything else at NAOE, the uni was exceptionally fresh and flavorful. It was light and rich at the same time, and seemed to melt in my mouth.
The meal ended with three desserts. First was sliced cantaloupe and Asian pear, which Chef Cory served with an unexpectedly tasty light sauce made from sweetened rice vinegar and pistachio oil. Next came mochi, a jelly-like sweet treat made with glutinous rice, which Chef Cory prepared in front of us. Our final dessert was a piece of bright orange-red mamey sapote which tasted like fruity and creamy pumpkin pie. I was so intrigued by this fruit that I drove to Homestead the next day to buy a couple (more on mamey and other exotic fruits coming soon).
Time flies when you’re enjoying great food — my meal at NAOE lasted nearly three hours, though I didn’t realize this until it was time to leave. On the way out I thanked Chef Cory and Wendy for an incredible and memorable meal, while already planning my next visit.
NAOE is located on eastbound Sunny Isles Boulevard across from the St. Tropez condominiums. Seating times are Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30pm, 8:30pm and 11:30pm. Reservations are required and can be made online at OpenTable.com. As the menu is prepared specially each day, dietary restrictions or requests should be cleared seven days in advance.
For more information visit naoemiami.com.