One of South Florida’s most respected restaurants hides behind a nondescript single door, and a sheer white curtain. NAOE, a natural Japanese cuisine hideaway, continues to receive high rankings and accolades without any signs of slowing down. And yet, “Where is that?” is still a question I often get. Two words, Miami: Brickell Key.
Who is chef Kevin Cory? The heart and soul of NAOE, that’s who. His path to success began at age 19, under the tutelage of Kyoto-based, executive chef, Nobuo Kase. Several years later, Cory traveled to Toyama, Japan, where his highly disciplined uncle, Yasushi Naoe, became his next mentor. Once back in Miami, he worked passionately to prove himself while at a newly remodeled Siam River. By 2004, the restaurant picked up steam under his reign and started attracting significant attention by sushi aficionados and the local media. NAOE finally opened later in 2009, after years of preparation.
Honored with the prestigious Five-Star award by the Forbes Travel Guide year after year, and topping every Miami must-visit omakase list (as well as many of mine here, here, and here), this tiny kingdom deserves all the attention it receives. And more.
The Chef’s Choice menu, $220 per person exclusive of tip and tax, is available twice nightly for only eight guests. Reservations are listed only on the Yelp app/website for either a 6:30 pm or 9:30 pm spot. Diners are advised to be punctual and to block out three hours to complete the NAOE journey. Don’t be surprised if you are greeted by name upon arrival. The impressive attention to detail continues throughout dinner with prompt water refills, drink orders, napkin replacement, and extensive course-by-course descriptions. Minimalistic modern interior design and classical music provide an immaculate and harmonious backdrop to the royal menu.
For the best view and to better appreciate the entire process, I suggest requesting counter seats upon reserving. With only one assistant in the kitchen and an enviable intense focus, chef Cory works diligently to execute each course using flawless precision. He does not stop to interact with the guests much, but instead lets his work speak for itself. Despite the mounting awards and mentions NAOE receives, his grace, humbleness, and contagious serenity come across loud and clear.
The adventure usually begins with a sophisticated Shokado bento box and continues with a nigiri sushi progression. The sea treasures will vary per visit, but will undoubtedly include a mix of the local, traditional, and obscure: Madai, Shigoku (ultimate) Oyster, Maine Lobster, Jyo-Kinmedai, Lionfish Kōjizuke, Karasumi, Sea Cucumber Innards, Sea Urchin Roe, and Unagi, to name a few. The restaurant’s tagline, “It’s not fresh, it’s alive,” explains the concept further. Seafood is sourced locally and also shipped overnight from Japan. My last two visits included a Mirugai-Geoduck, showcased tableside alive at first, and then gingerly prepared right before our very eyes. Alive and fresh? Check!
Complementing dinner, you can expect an endless selection of organic vegetables, rice, freshly-grated wasabi root, and even shoyu and sake from chef Kevin Cory’s family brewery, which dates back to the 1800s.
Dessert concludes with a fun variety of sweets, including the NAOE signature ice cream and its guess-the-secret-ingredient game. Yes, I know the answer. No, I won’t ruin the fun by telling you.
To be honest, by now, I’d love to say my palate has already reached a level that can fully grasp the intensity and complexity of everything I have ever tried at NAOE. Of course, I am familiar with most courses. But others are a leap of faith in which I am a curious, willing, and enthusiastic participant. A trip to Japan currently tops my bucket list. In the meantime, I feel incredibly fortunate that we, Miamians, have chef Kevin Cory here. I welcome the challenge and lesson, one bite at a time. Nothing else compares.
661 Brickell Key Drive
Miami, FL 33131