Showing posts with label Naoe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Naoe. Show all posts

Monday, December 7, 2015

first thoughts: N by Naoe Shabu Shabu - Brickell Key, Miami

It was nearly seven years ago that I first found my way into Naoe. Back then, I had no clue what to expect, having heard nothing about the place other than its short blurb on OpenTable. The restaurant turned out to be something of a portal to Japan located in an unassuming strip mall in Sunny Isles Beach, in which Chef Kevin Cory served a bento box of kaiseki style delicacies followed by a procession of what was, at the time, the best sushi I'd ever experienced.

Since then – as Kevin recently reminded me – I was the first to write about Naoe after its move to Brickell Key three years later, and also one of the first visitors to his side venture, N by Naoe, which he opened last year alongside Naoe in an adjoining space. N by Naoe did a pretty remarkable $80 lunch service similar to the opening salvos of a Naoe dinner, presented in a multi-tiered bento box. Alas, that is what you call a "niche market."

So N by Naoe has been repurposed. Now N by Naoe does shabu shabu.

(You can see all my pictures in this N by Naoe Shabu Shabu flickr set).

"Shabu shabu" is the Japanese onomatopoeic equivalent of "swish swish" – and more specifically, refers to the sound that thin slices of beef make as they are quickly cooked via a brief splash in hot water. "Beef cooked in hot water" doesn't sound like the most exciting meal in the world; but when you start with silky, obscenely marbled Japanese beef, and combine it with beautiful fresh vegetables in a flavorful stock, you get something magical.

It starts with water: water which comes from a well on a tiny hilltop property in Kanazawa, Japan owned by Kevin Cory's family.[1] The water is warmed on a tableside burner, and a strip of dried seaweed is added to make a kombu dashi. It's simple, but kombu is loaded with glutamates (the stuff in MSG that makes everything taste better). A couple of dipping sauces – nutty sesame, and bright citrusy ponzu – are also arranged at each diner's place setting. After a few minutes of simmering, the kombu is removed, and a platter piled with vegetables is brought to the table.

For us, there were several different kinds of mushrooms – brown buttons, oysters, wood ear, enoki – as well as napa cabbage, chrysanthemum leaves, and blocks of tofu. You toss some vegetables into the pot – some of the heartier mushrooms, and the firmer bits of the cabbage can take a while, and add their flavor to the broth, while the frilly cabbage leaves and delicate chrysanthemum may need less than a minute.

Then the centerpiece is brought to the table: wagyu from Miyazaki Prefecture, thin slices of ribeye with incredible speckled fat marbling that runs through the entire steak. You have probably heard of "Kobe beef" – in fact, you have probably heard many things called "Kobe beef" that are not in fact "Kobe beef," since "Kobe beef" can only come from Kobe, Japan, and I'm pretty sure that places like Prime 112 are not paying for Japanese beef to put into hot dogs and hamburgers, even if they're sold for $25-30; but I digress. I mention this because the beef N by Naoe uses is not called "Kobe beef" because it comes from Miyazaki Prefecture, not Hyogo Prefecture where Kobe is located. But – unlike those ridiculous hot dogs and hamburgers that call themselves "Kobe beef" – this is every bit its equal. This particular sample carries an "A5" grading with a BMS or "Beef Marbling Score" of 8 on the 1-12 scale used in Japan, and was one of the most luscious steaks I've ever tasted.[2]

You take a slice of that beef. You swish it a couple times through the broth ("shabu-shabu").[3] You swipe it through one of the dipping sauces. You eat. You pluck some of the vegetables and tofu out of the pot and do the same.[4] Repeat. And repeat again, until you and your dining companion are anxiously eyeing the last slice of beef on the platter.

It's so rich that really, that one platter is enough – but sometimes enough isn't quite enough. If you understand what I mean, then you'll be glad to know that you have the option to add on an additional half-order or full order of beef. The fixed price per person for the shabu shabu is $60 per person; an additional order of beef can be had for $72, or a half-order for one person can be had for half the price.

Around the time you are closing in on that last slice of beef, the server will deliver a bowl of perfectly cooked rice. Then the pot will be scooped up and its contents buffeted with some chopped scallions and served to you as a restorative soup. It's surprisingly flavorful, imbued with the concentrated essences of the beef and vegetables which have been cooked in the broth. The one-two of rice and soup is a traditional Japanese coda to a meal that fills up and then calms your belly.

A simple bowl of fresh fruit – here, a couple different kinds of grapefruit – closes out the meal.

This is an elemental meal that depends almost entirely on its ingredients; after all, the cooking itself is being done by unskilled amateurs. But with the outstanding quality of the beef, and those gorgeous fresh vegetables, it works. It's also a lot of fun.

N by Naoe
661 Brickell Key Drive, Miami, Florida
(reservations exclusively through SeatMe 5:15-10:45pm Su-Tu, Th-Sat, and lunch 12-6pm for parties of 8 to 16)

N By Naoe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

[1] Kidding.

[2] For further explanation of the Japanese grading system, read up at the Japan Meat Information Service Center. The letter grade is based on yield; the number grade is based on quality, including marbling as well as both the texture and color of the meat and fat.

[3] Long communal chopsticks are supplied for action involving the big pot, unless you're dining with an uncouth lout who uses the communal chopsticks to feed himself. Steve insisted this is how you show dominance in shabu shabu. I think he confused it with sumo wrestling.

[4] Pro tip: though the recommended pairing is the sesame sauce with the beef, and the ponzu with the vegetables, both Steve and I preferred to reverse it.  The citrus in the ponzu nicely cuts through the fattiness of the beef, while the creamy, nutty sesame sauce adds a bit of richness to the vegetables.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Return of Naoe - Downtown Miami

bento box

When I wrote about my first experience of stumbling upon Naoe, I described it as seeming almost like a dream: a tiny 17-seat jewel-box of a restaurant serving a bento box of gorgeous Japanese dishes followed by a procession of pristine nigiri, all entirely "omakase" or chef's choice. But it was real, and I went back several more times just to make sure. (You can find recaps of some subsequent meals here, here and here.)

In December, Naoe had to vacate its Sunny Isles space when the landlord hatched other plans for it. They closed up shop and began work on a new space on Brickell Key, adjacent to downtown Miami. The new venue reopened last week, and I made my first visit this past Thursday - exactly three years after my first post on Naoe.

I'm not usually a superstitious person, but I do worry that a place can lose its "mojo" when it moves locations.[1] Any such worries about Naoe were absolved by my visit to Naoe on Brickell Key.

Walking into the new space was again something like a dream: it looks almost like a mirror image of the original spot in Sunny Isles. It has the same smooth hinoki wood bar stretching in front of the open kitchen; it has the same austere grey-brown tones throughout the dining room; it has the same pinpoint halogens which literally put the spotlight on the food. There's actually less seating than there was in the original spot, and Chef Kevin Cory will only be serving eight diners per service.[2]

There have been some other minor tweaks. Instead of the $26 bento box followed by nigiri priced by the piece, Naoe now offers an $85 omakase menu that includes both the bento box and eight pieces of nigiri. Additional rounds (either repeat visits to items served earlier or, possibly, some different items) can then be added a la carte. Though bargain-hunters might rue the loss of the $26 bento, I have trouble believing anyone ever went to Naoe without sampling some sushi as well. If they did, they were missing out.

(You can see all my pictures in this Naoe April 26, 2012 flickr set).

The food is every bit as good as it ever was:

bento box

Bento box with sashimi of cobia and scallop mantle, with Japanese seaweed, shiso and freshly grated wasabi; tsubugai (whelk, or sea snail); fried whiting; wilted mizuna; tofu with uni sauce and walnuts; sardine and portobello mushroom rice with daikon nukazuke.[3] A bowl of miso soup with puréed corn was served alongside.

salmon belly

Salmon belly nigiri. Always the first nigiri served at Naoe. Perenially one of my favorite bites.

(continued ...)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Naoe Revisited - November 2011

Chef Kevin Cory

When I wrote about my first visit to Naoe shortly after it opened, it felt much like recalling a dream with near-perfect lucidity from the night before. Though I've posted about Naoe since then, I've found it increasingly difficult to capture the experience in words - or new words, anyway. It's not that each meal is any less exceptional than the first; they have all been outstanding. Rather, there is such a pristine simplicity and purity to Chef Kevin Cory's style that it evades my descriptive abilities.

This is not about high-tech cooking methods. It's not about surprising flavor combinations. It's just about the best ingredients that can be found, prepared with thought, sensitivity and care.

I was back to Naoe again last week and had what may have been my best meal yet. As has been the case since the 17-seat restaurant opened, the meal followed the same pattern. The menu offers no choices other than a list of drinks: Sapporo on tap, a selection of sakes from Chef Cory's family in Japan, Japanese soft drinks like Ramune or Calpico. Dinner begins - about a half hour after you're seated - with a bento box of various treats accompanied by a soup (still priced at $26 like when Naoe opened 2 1/2 years ago), followed by a procession of sushi until you say "Uncle."

cobia sashimi

This time, the bento featured cobia sashimi, cut a bit thick to accentuate the snap in the texture of the raw fish. Alongside, ribbons of seaweed, a julienne of shiso, freshly grated wasabi, and a rare seasonal treat, kazunoko (herring roe), the strips of delicate eggs with a wonderful pop to their texture.


The next compartment housed a variety of cooked items: shirako (cod milt), simmered in soy and sake with a touch of sansho pepper; grilled sanma (a/k/a saury or pike mackerel), tsubugai (whelk), eggplant, served cold, lotus root, carrot, and a chestnut coated in little beads of mullet roe.

The remaining compartments held a tranche of cobia, steamed with a mantle of gooey mountain potato and a jelled dashi broth, studded with gingko nuts and topped with slivers of mitsuba, a delicate Japanese herb; and sardine rice, with slivers of koji-pickled daikon. A savory cup of shiitake mushroom broth, inflected with a hint of lemon peel, was served alongside.

(continued ...)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

NAOE in Pictures - A Year Later

It was a little more than a year ago that I made my first, revelatory visit to NAOE. I've been back several times since then, and each meal has been a bit different, but just as good. I brought the camera for my most recent visit, something of a one-year anniversary celebration. You can see the complete flickr set here.


The bento featured hog snapper sashimi with shiso and seaweed (the snapper freshly caught by a spearfishing friend that morning); scorpionfish (also locally caught) two ways, fried, and braised with apricot and sprinkled with white poppy seed; a silky custard with aji and shiitake mushrooms; baby carrots, gingko nuts; slow-braised, falling-apart tender pork jowl with parsnip purée and mustard sauce; bamboo rice, daikon pickles; butternut squash and miso soup.

snapper sashimi
snapper sashimi

scorpionfish, aji & shiitake custard
scorpionfish, aji, shiitake custard

As always, after the bento, a procession of nigiri.

salmon nigiri
scottish salmon nigiri

shira ebi nigiri
shira ebi nigiri

scallop nigiri
scallop nigiri

Chef Cory brings in live scallops and prepares them to order. You could see the scallop muscle still quivering after he sliced it.

(continued ...)

Monday, July 20, 2009

... and NAOE in Dine Magazine South Florida

You saw the pictures, now you can read a write-up of my last great meal at NAOE in Dine Magazine South Florida.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

NAOE in pictures

I've previously written about NAOE, which was one of my most memorable local dining experiences of the year. I've been back a couple times since and while the choices have changed, the quality was at the same level and the experience just as satisfying. Chef Cory has gotten somewhat more efficient, with only about a 20-30 minute wait for the bento box - though sampling all the nigiri he has to offer will still be a 3-4 hour affair. On my last visit earlier this week I brought a camera; this time I'll let the food do the talking. You can read my description of this meal at South Florida Dine Magazine, and you can see all the pictures on this flickr set.

the bento box.

mutton snapper sashimi
mutton snapper sashimi fresh from Haulover Marina, with an okra-miso sauce.

ankimo & persimmon with shiso leaf; steamed eggplant topped with fresh-water eel; fried citrus-marinated scallop mantle.

iwashi & tofu
iwashi (sardine, from Oregon) over organic tofu steamed in sake and sprinkled with sansho pepper.

portobello mushroom rice topped with koji-zuke daikon pickles.

slicing salmon
Chef Kevin Cory slicing Scottish salmon belly for nigiri.

grating fresh wasabi for the nigiri.

salmon belly
brushing the salmon with shoyu.

salmon belly
salmon belly nigiri.

Chef Cory skinning iwashi (sardine from Oregon).

iwashi nigiri with freshly grated ginger.

aoyagi (orange clam) nigiri brushed with orange-flavored shoyu.

shira ebi
shira ebi (tiny white shrimp) nigiri.

uni (sea urchin roe) from Oregon - possibly the best I've ever had.

uni nigiri with freshly grated wasabi over shredded nori.

madai nigiri topped with battera kombu and shiso.

iwana, shipped fresh from Japan.

sake from Chef Cory's family in Japan, and a view of the kitchen.

175 Sunny Isles Boulevard
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160

Naoe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 26, 2009

NAOE - Sunny Isles

What would you say if I told you there was a tiny place, in a little strip mall somewhere in Miami, that was turning out incredible, creative, beautiful Japanese dishes like nothing else you will find in this city? That they were flying in fish overnight from Japan or buying it that day from fishermen at Haulover Marina? That they did only an omakase menu, followed, if you're still hungry, by the chef's choice of beautifully pristine sushi until you say "uncle"?

No way?


A couple weeks ago while surfing OpenTable, I saw a new name on the list of restaurants. The description was intriguing:

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.
Looking over the website for NAOE, I learned that Chef Cory had trained in Japan at a traditional kaiseki restaurant, and returned to the States in 2001 where he took over the sushi bar at Siam River, a then-undistinguished Thai restaurant along the eastern stretch of the 163rd Street Causeway. Chef Cory's work with the sushi bar at Siam River earned him many fans, and apparently a couple years ago he got the ambition of running a place entirely his own. He opened NAOE about a month ago and it is undoubtedly one of the most unique restaurants I have eaten at in Miami.

It is a small but quietly elegant space, done mostly in shades of grey, brown and black with soft lights throughout (of course you have to recognize that I see nothing inelegant about an open kitchen literally stacked with shining stockpots, pans and steamers). There are 17 seats total, roughly half of which are at a beautiful blond wood bar which faces the open kitchen. The bar - made from hinoki wood, the same wood used for Japanese temples, this stuff sourced from Oregon - is sanded down with a small file every week. The entire restaurant staff consists of two people - Chef Cory (whose business card reads "executive chef, general manager & dishwasher") and Wendy Maharlika (that's who was listed on our receipt as "server", but her business card ought to read "maître d', hostess, sake sommelier, and public relations liaison"). We were the only ones there when we arrived around 9pm, but another couple came in shortly after. The location is a tiny little strip mall on the 163rd Street Causeway right before it connects with Collins Avenue on the beach side.[1] You could easily drive by a dozen times without ever noticing it.

You are given a small menu, but there are no choices as to what food to order. Rather, there are about a half-dozen choices of sake, all produced by Chef Cory's family in Japan, including junmai (organic to boot), ginjo, and daiginjo styles. There's also Sapporo beer - on tap! - and a couple non-alcoholic choices, including one of our kids' favorites, Ramune soft drink. For the food, you must put yourself entirely in the chef's hands, with only an inquiry as to food allergies before he gets to work.

Given the minimal staffing, obviously the cooking is entirely a one-man show. We watched as Chef Cory began his prep, meticulously fileting a small locally sourced Spanish mackerel (a/k/a sawara) and then slicing and arranging small strips. As he continued his preparations, our anticipation began to build. I had initially anticipated a series of small dishes like a tasting menu, but instead they explained that the service is bento box style with all the dishes presented together.

After about 20-30 minutes - during which our hostess conscientiously made sure our sake glasses never went dry, gave us some of the backstory on herself and Chef Cory, and showed us the future plans they have for the restaurant space - we were presented with two covered wooden boxes which were simultaneously unveiled before us. Alongside was a small covered bowl of soup.

The contents were just magnificent, at least if you're an adventurous and open-minded eater. The bento was divided into four compartments:
  • 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),[2] 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.
The soup was dashi-broth based but gelatinous and dense (thickened with kuzu) and carried the flavor of a cage-free chicken egg yolk that was poached in the broth (mine hardened to hard-boiled because I saved my soup for the end), and another tongue of uni floating within along with a fiddlehead fern.

The price for this fantastic little assemblage? $26.

After what we'd experienced so far I definitely wanted to try more. Chef Cory then moved us on to nigiri, serving two pieces at a time until we'd had enough. He started by first getting warm rice, and put some into a small wooden bowl with just enough for our service. We were started with salmon belly, a couple pieces for each of us cut from a beautiful slab of Scottish salmon which was immediately wrapped back up in plastic wrap and stowed away again in the fridge. The nigiri were quickly shaped with the warm rice, presented to each of us on small wooden boards, and given a delicate brushing of a shoyu-based sauce the chef has prepared himself to perfectly match the sushi. The salmon was wonderfully fresh and rich, and the contrast of the cool fish against the still-warm rice was just magnificent.

Knowing there was kohada in the house, I couldn't stop there. The next round of nigiri was the kohada, which Chef Cory brings in fresh from Japan and does a light vinegar cure himself in-house. The fish - which has beautiful silver skin speckled with black dots - was cut into strips and braided. One of my favorite things, and one that I've not been able to find elsewhere in Miami.

Next - and finally, for us, though I didn't really want to quit - was aori ika, a big squid brought in fresh (our hostess showed us a picture of the squid with its suckers still holding onto the cutting board). It is lightly salt-cured, with a small bed of finely shredded nori over the rice, and then the squid topped with a tiny yellow flower. Unlike any squid I've ever had before, this had a soft, almost creamy texture, rather than the bounciness you usually associate with squid.

Though we didn't try it during our visit, our hostess advised that Chef Cory does his own in-house "bbq" eel - unlike the pre-packaged eel you will find at most sushi places, he brings the eel in fresh and cooks it and makes his own sauce from scratch.

Everything we were served was elegant and beautiful, but most of all, delicious. 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.

This was, quite simply, one of the most unexpected and special dining experiences I've had in Miami in quite some time. The food was creative and delicious with adventurous and magnificently fresh ingredients. The chef and hostess were earnest, friendly, and absolutely charming. I enjoyed this so much, and was so pleasantly surprised, that I was afraid to go to sleep last night for fear that it would all turn out to just be a dream.

I will go back soon just to make sure.

Note: For pictures from a subsequent meal at NAOE, go here.

175 Sunny Isles Boulevard
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160
Wed-Sun 7pm - 1am[3]

[1] If it helps you get your bearings, it is right next door to the "Neptune Seafood Restauarant" - you can even sometimes hear the drumbeat of the Russian karaoke music through the walls.

[2] I may have misheard this, as I've never seen kohada cooked before. The size was about right though.

[3] Though the place is not busy (yet), I would highly recommend making reservations. Much of the food is made to order and with the one-man show in the kitchen, some advance notice will likely make for a much better dining experience.