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Review

Naoe

$$$$
Written by

Eating in Miami requires a strong bullshit detector. Scams abound. Gold-covered steaks and $300 bottles of vodka that actually retail for $23.99 hide behind corners, whispering “wagyu” into the wind like sirens tempting sailors towards their rocky doom. And Naoe is the kind of restaurant that can trigger a savvy bullshit detector.

Because it is expensive. A dinner for two at the Brickell Japanese restaurant will cost you $725.76, and it’s hard to tell just what, exactly, you’ll be getting for your money. Naoe’s cryptic website offers no menu or descriptions of dinner beyond calling the experience “a unique Chef’s Choice menu.”

At this price point, and with that amount of vagueness, it is not only natural—but appropriate—to wonder whether or not dinner will be “worth it”.

Dinner is paced like one of those roller coasters that tick, tick, ticks upward slowly.

Because we don’t know who you are (although we have no doubt you’re a lovely person who recycles and remembers birthdays) or how you like to spend your money, it’s impossible for us to answer that question for you, specifically. But here’s what we can confidently say: Naoe is one of the most unique, delicious, and meticulous meals in Miami.

When you manage to find Naoe, which is located on the island of Brickell Key and marked only by a business card taped to a glass door, you’ll be led to a smooth wooden counter with a handful of chairs, all pointing towards an open kitchen where three employees run the whole show. Naoe’s quiet dining room isn’t all that remarkable—nor is it supposed to be. It’s the aesthetic equivalent to those blinders they put on racehorses, designed to draw as little attention away from the food in front of you as possible.

Dinner—which can easily last for three and a half hours and includes roughly 13 courses plus dessert and tea—is paced like one of those roller coasters that tick, tick, ticks upward slowly. The first course is a shokado bento consisting of four very good small plates, which rotate based on seasonality, but could include something like miso-steamed oysters with shiitake mushroom or a wedge of simmered barley and pumpkin. It sets the expectations for a meal of seasonal ingredients presented at their peak. And each ensuing course gets progressively more intense, both in flavor and variety.

Next, you might be picking tender braised sazae from its shell with a little skewer, or plucking velvety milt out of a citrusy broth. Then comes the rapid-fire nigiri course—about nine pieces of fish, uni, and eel that taste like they’ve been training their entire life for the precise moment they touch your tongue. By then, you’ll have your hands in the air and wind in your face, screaming as you plunge towards the ground at 65 miles per hour (you know, emotionally speaking). It’s all so blindingly delicious that you could easily miss all the little details that make Naoe extra special, like the fact that the uni you’re eating was flown-in submerged in saltwater, rather than packed in wooden boxes, which adds so much to the taste and color.

But you should do your best to notice and appreciate those details, because that is, after all, what you’re paying for. So much of the Naoe experience depends on you—whether or not you’re present and engaged and genuinely interested in three hours of cured mullet roe, cuttlefish, and dozens of impossibly tiny little Japanese icefish woven together into a single nigiri.

If you are, and you come to the conclusion that: yes, this all sounds very worth $280 plus 20% service charge and sales tax. Well, congratulations. You’re in for one of the most special meals in Miami. So turn off that bullshit detector and enjoy.

Food Rundown

Omakase

The only choice you need to make at Naoe is what to drink (we recommend one of the sakes from the chef’s family’s brewery in Japan). The rest of the three-hour meal is left up to the chef. In Miami, most folks hear the word “omakase” and assume sushi. And while there is a nigiri section of Naoe’s menu, which occurs about halfway through and might make you cry a happy tear, Naoe is so much more than sushi. Dishes are constantly rotating based on seasonality, but you’re bound to encounter a mix of local vegetables alongside rare (for Miami) seafood like braised sazae, milt, and chunks of cured mullet roe that have the funk of an aged cheese. The leisurely meal ends with matcha, honey cake, and ice cream made with a house ingredient they like to make their guests guess. We won’t spoil the surprise.

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