Naoe. Not for the faint-hearted.
We had to get down to Brickell Key. It’s a man-made island off the south-east corner of Miami. According to Wikipedia, it was created by Henry Flagler, who dug a nine-foot channel at the mouth of the Miami and created two small islands. Every industrialist needs a couple of islands, don’t you think?
And it’s like Canary Wharf, by way of Disney. Sparkling lights in the manicured trees, security guards every 200 yards or so, happy beautiful thin people on skateboards. With a plethora of roundabouts and a crappy Hertz satnav, it’s not easy to find.
And they call you to make sure you’re coming. And they take a $150 deposit to make sure you’re coming. They really want you to turn up. And when I got there, I could see why.
There are only 12 covers. Everything is prepared to order, that day, depending on what they get. Some of the seafood comes from Japan, some from Scotland (the salmon) and some from closer to home. And the chef, Kevin Cory, comes from a long line of Shoyu (soy) sauce makers. It’s pretty hard-core as Japanese goes. No concession to western tastes. Shellfish, gluten, wheat, mushroom allergy or even intolerance? Bugger off elsewhere. This isn’t for you.
The room is brutalist modern. A palette of dark grey, black and white. Nothing gets in the way of the food. We are greeted at the door by Wendy, a charming, immaculate Japanese woman, who immediately makes me feel at least three sizes too big and galumphing. Tiny, elegant and delicate, she is everything I am not. She does the initial explaining and the serving is shared between her and another impossibly elegant Thai woman, who told me that I should use my hands eating the sushi. Apparently that’s what you do. No more splattered rice over the table, dropped from badly-held chopsticks. Why did I not already know that? All that money wasted on dry-cleaning.
And this is, you will not be surprised to discover, a no-choice venue. And as Wendy is running through the menu, she casually drops in the fact that everything we are to eat is alive at the time she is speaking.
“It’s not fresh…… it’s alive” as it says on their website. I’d managed to miss that.
And I am that most hypocritical of omnivores, an animal sentimentalist.
I curb my instinct to run away. There are 150 reasons I stay in my seat. But this “live” business takes me back to Chinese restaurants of my youth, where I had to be taken to the tank to choose which lobster was to be put to death for our dinner. Being of sensitive disposition, I never could. It was a bit too cause and effect for me. I don’t want the power of life or death, even over a crustacean.
But here, I didn’t actually choose. Until later, for the special things, brought out after the main event. Where I chose not to actually take an active part in killing things. But for the main part of the meal, it was killed for me. And the food was beautifully presented. First, a bento box with a sort of savoury custard, some bamboo polished rice, fish fried with black poppyseeds on the end, Japanese potatoes, vegetables I’ve never heard of and then a selection of the most interesting sushi I have ever tasted.
The fish tasted creamy almost. Every texture was there, chewy, silky, crunchy. The rice warm, the fish room temperature. I skipped the octopus. I just can’t. It has tentacles and suckers and I’m just not that brave. Every dish was beautifully presented, some in elegant dishes, others on a small wooden paddle.
And then there were the special things. A trumpet fish. Once I’d seen it, I couldn’t eat it. And even worse, geoduck. Could you eat that? I don’t want to know if they actually cook it or whether you eat it raw. I’m not a food adventurer. I don’t want to actually kill things or eat a mollusc with an elephant trunk. I just couldn’t. I just didn’t. I wanted to put it back into the sea before it expired.
And then two desserts. One, a tropical fruit salad with a “mystery” sauce. I guessed it was fish sauce. Not a combination I’ve ever thought of and whilst I won’t be making it in Pyrton any time soon, it wasn’t unpleasant and I’m sure I could get used to it. It was interesting rather than enticing and the fish flavour highlighted the fruit flavour in a way that was unexpected.
And then another dessert with a mystery ingredient. Much fuss about not telling me what the ingredient was. Cake and ice cream. Flourless, delicate sponge with a scoop of what looked like vanilla. I tasted it. It was soy sauce. They actually squealed, the two women, because no one ever guesses it apparently. Although you will if you go there now. And it was a good flavour, on the edge of weird but strangely interesting. Almost as good as the wonderful grey ice cream I had at Bone Daddies recently, black sesame. Yes grey. Look.
And the guessing of the soy meant that suddenly I wasn’t just a sushi lightweight and we were having all sorts of conversations about food in Miami and London and exchanging numbers in that way that you do when you are a bit obsessed. And then the lovely Wendy gave me her Miami hit list which I reproduce for you here, out of the goodness of my heart.
My talkativeness particularly enhanced by the Sake – unlike any I have tasted before, like Riesling, Wendy said and whilst it was truly not like any Riesling I have ever tasted, it was more like Riesling than it was like Sake and I managed to polish off half a bottle without any trouble.
And this isn’t the sort of place I’d go with just anyone. It’s one of those places you’re not sure you love, but you’re glad you’ve been. It treads a fine line between being truly excellent and being ever-so-slightly up its own minimalist posterior, but just manages to keep away from the edge of arsey-dom, largely due to the enthusiasm and passion of the proprietor and the quality of the produce. A foodie shrine, but not one you’d want to worship at daily, even if you could afford it.