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