There is no doubt that NAOE is one of the best small-table Omakase style restaurants within a thousand miles of Miami. NAOE is led by Chef Kevin Cory, whose path to success began at age 19 under the tutelage of Kyoto-based executive chef Nobuo Kase. After living in Toyama and being trained by his highly revered uncle, Uashushi Naoe, he moved to Miami to continue proving himself further. In 2009, after years and years of preparation, he finally opened NAOE. The attention to detail is apparent from the start as you’re greeted by name and shown to your 8-person seating. The courses that followed ranged from so-so to astounding, resulting in an impressive yet slightly underwhelming evening considering all of the positive reviews we had read previously. NAOE is very much in the upper echelon of sushi restaurants, but needs minor improvements to be truly amazing.
The rice at NAOE was a highlight. Chef Cory let us try some of the rice alone and it was beautifully seasoned, slightly warm, and had great texture. Chef Cory’s extensive training is apparent even in just a bite of his carefully cultivated rice. If only there were more bites of sushi with which to enjoy this rice! But more on that later…
The food itself was all delicious and of course, very fresh. The omakase started with a bento box which was a nice change from an all sushi presentation, but the butternut squash miso soup was lacking in flavor and balance, and the beet and grain cake seemed uninspired and lacked flavor. Attention to seasonal ingredient detail was appreciated, but these just weren’t successful applications. Everything else in the bento box was truly amazing and we had fun trying preparations of fish we hadn’t previously had.
All of the sushi bites served were outstanding. To our dismay we were only served 5 bites of sushi in a 12 course Omakase including 2 dessert courses. That was very disappointing to us. In terms of highlights, the uni from Hokkaido was truly the star of the show. Chef Cory explained that it was specially prepared-—not packaged with preservatives but rather with its own sea water and hence more expensive and harder to acquire. The remaining 4 bites of fish were delicious, but we so wanted to be impressed by the variety, rarity and preparation of the fish and with only 5 pieces of sushi, the restaurant did not deliver here. Three courses were of cooked fish, two of those three being eel. While these were tasty, we would have much rather tried more pieces of sushi. There were also no hand rolls or any type of small bite that is composed of fish, rice, and seaweed. Seaweed is another way (after rice and fish quality) that we judge a sushi chef and restaurant.
The two dessert courses were very good and really showcased the creativity and culinary skill of the Chef. NAOE has a fun tradition of serving a secret ingredient ice cream, and while we won’t divulge the ingredient, we'll only say we wish we could pick up a pint from our local grocery store!
Service at NAOE was largely responsible for what made our evening so enjoyable. There were two women servicing the 8 diners, and they both had an effervescent energy that was simply contagious. Not only did they have a lovely disposition, they were incredibly knowledgeable about the food being presented and offered valuable insights with every course.
Chef Cory was reserved yet amiable, and he mainly let his food speak for itself. When we had certain questions about the course he was happy to engage with us.
At the beginning of the meal, we were given a run-down of what we would be served and were told to pace ourselves because it was going to be a lot of food. Natalie usually eats less than Josh, and even she had room at the end! When we moved on from sushi, we were like…uh-oh, hope it’s not nearing the end. After two dessert courses we were mildly content but we definitely could have kept eating—especially for the price! At $220 a person we should have been rolled out of the door. This one's on the "We ordered pizza later" list.
It's always fun to eat at a restaurant with an open kitchen. At NAOE the kitchen was incredibly clean, but just not that appetizing in appearance. Watching the Chef cook was also not that interesting, placing delicious fish under a salamander oven to finish and putting temperature probes into other items did not convey the mastery the Chef has obviously obtained. Much of the preparation was done in a private smaller kitchen so we didn't really see the point of the kitchen on display. The area for preparing sushi was just a small cutting board and while it was nice to see the demonstration of knife skills and the preparation of the sushi, this didn’t last long before we were moving on to cooked courses.
The classical music playing in the background provided an elegant score for the evening and elevated the experience nicely.