Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The time is NAOE!

I had heard about NAOE on the Florida Chowhound board quite some time ago. As a big fan of Japanese cuisine and an even bigger fan of the omakase menu, I was excited to give this place a shot. The only menu youll find here is a list of sake and other beverages. Other than that, its all omakase, or "chef's choice". The experience begins with a bento box ($26) and then moves on to pieces of nigirizushi ($4-$8ea) until you tap out. Yeah, its kinda awesome.

Well, after a 2nd trip to NAOE, my long overdue detailed report....

First the bento box components, separated into 4 quadrants:

Quadrant 1:
- madai (sea bream), portabella mushroom, mitsuba custard/soup served in a little clay cup
Quadrant 2:
- sake simmered Scottish salmon rolled with konbu seaweed on a toothpick-like skewer
- aji (horse mackerel) fried with a dusting of matcha tea
- yamaimo (mountain potato) fried with seaweed powder
- sake steamed ankimo, sake steamed sea bream milt, unfiltered soy sauce, miso, green beans, and cucumber
Quadrant 3:
- local king mackerel marinated in rice vinegar konbu topped with an okra, miso, soy, citrus, and wasabi "dressing"
Quadrant 4:
- parsnip rice with rice bran pickled daikon

And, of course, the soup component:
- soft poached organic chicken egg yolk, organic carrot, organic daikon, mitsuba, dashi (broth from dried skipjack tuna & konbu) soup

The madai/portabella custard intrigued me the most so I went after it first, using the little wooden spoon provided. The custard was very light yet held chunks of sea bream and portabella. Once the custard was broken up a bit, it turned into a nice little soup and the mitsuba broth really got a chance to shine. The custard was very hot, having just been removed from the steamer, so I moved on to the 2nd quadrant and went for 1 of the 2 bites of the sake simmered salmon wrapped in konbu. It had a very clean, sweet, and cool flavor that brought my mouth temp back down nicely so I could return to the custard again. The rice was similar to my last visit in shape only. This time I found the rice to be just ok on its own but much better when enhanced with some of the shoyu that Chef Cory serves. Last time I had a sardine rice that I liked straight up. Next I volleyed between the kingfish and the fried aji and potato. I dont recall a distinct flavor with the fried components but I love how Chef Cory incorporates the texture of a fried item into the bento box. Its like that guy who plays the triangle in an orchestra, you get just enough to know its there and realize the score wouldnt be complete without it. The kingfish was one of my favorite components though. It was layered with konbu and I really liked the okra/wasabi/miso dressing. A very fresh tasting dish. I saved the best for last though. The sake steamed ankimo was phenomenal. Its really hard to describe the flavor. It was just damn good.

After finishing off the bento box, I hit up the soup to wash it all down. I really liked the texture that the chicken egg provided and the dashi broth was very flavorful. The veggie ingredients provided a nice hearty component.

This bento box and soup combo was much more filling that the one I had on my first visit to NAOE, so I was torn between adding some nigirizushi or not. That lasted about 2 seconds. Next thing I knew, I was eating the following:

- Scottish salmon nigirizushi (belly side, but more towards the tail, so not the actual belly, even though fatty)
- aji nigirizushi with grated organic ginger on top
- aoriika (bigfin reef squid) nigirizushi brushed with orange soy sauce
- madai nigirizushi brused with orange soy sauce
- shiraebi (white shrimp) with grated organic ginger on top
- Hokkaido uni with grated wasabi on top
- aoyagi (orange/surf clam) with orange soy sauce
- fresh unagiyaki with sansho pepper

Though there was only enough uni to make 3 small nigirizushi for me and the 2 other patrons at the bar to share, it was still delicious. Besides, 1 is better than none! Chef Cory related that this type of uni is only available June and July (I hope I got that correct...). My preference for uni aside, I really liked the addition of the grated ginger on the aji and the shiraebi. It was a nice flavor enhancement. The unagi, flown in fresh with no additives or preservatives, was a sweet ending to a great meal. Well, I shouldnt say ending because Chef Cory served us some cantelope and donut peach with sweet rice vinegar fish sauce as he totaled up the bill for the 3 of us that remained at the bar. Yum.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - NAOE is not a restaurant. It is a dining experience. I've had the pleasure of sitting at the bar on both visits, watching Chef Cory slice, dice, slide, and glide while cooking the components for the bento box. He shows focus but at the same time he shows that he has a great personality, taking time to chit chat with diners when he gets a free second or if someone chimes in with a question. I have learned something new on each visit and I'm grateful for having that as part of the dining experience. You just dont get that everywhere. Another cool thing about NAOE, at least for the time being, is the personal attention. Sunday night I was the only 730p rez with 2 walking in a tad late but Chef Cory accommodating them anyways. Two more showed at 830p and that was it for the night for reservations. With only 5 people in the restaurant, everyone sat at the bar. I found it amusing when I noticed that all 5 of us were all watching closely as Chef Cory sliced up some cantaloupe for the first 2 diners who had finished their meal. A simple pleasure of a fully open kitchen and a chef at work. Add that to the element of surprise with the omakase menu, plus the friendliness of Chef Cory, Wendy, and their new dishwasher (I missed his name but he is a very nice guy and, much like Wendy, always makes sure your sake glass is full), and you really have something unique to enjoy rather than "just a meal".

Though I live a good 30 minutes away, I can tell I'll be making the pilgrimage to NAOE often. Its the type of restaurant that really hits the mark for "foodies", whether you like the term or not.

175 Sunny Isles Blvd
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160
305-947-NAOE (6263)

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