Best of Miami Teaser: Best Japanese
|Naoe still one of Miami's best.|
Sadly, there can only be one winner per category, and we know you want to be teased. Careful deduction will obviously lead you to realize that the winners are NOT on this listing, rather an edited selection of the runners up who are just a tad shy of supreme status. In two weeks time, we will do the big reveal, but in the interim, here's our picks for those who came close in the "Best Japanese" category.
6. Although they are no longer open for counter service on Mondays and Tuesday (boo!), The Japanese Market was chosen as the best Asian market in 2009. What you may not know is that Chef Michio is making rolls and extremely good nigiri behind the tiny sushi bar. We love it because the fish is always fresh and it's unbelievably cheap. Both uni and sweet shrimp are priced at $2.50 per piece. Plus, they fry up the shrimp head in a mysterious back room - it's worth the wait. For Japanese without pretense, this is the place to go.
5. Nobu may not be the ultra-hip hot spot it used to be, but for nigiri flown in fresh from Japan, we can ignore the dated decor and low-hanging ceilings. The bottom line is that the original inventor of spicy rock shrimp ($26) and miso cod ($34) still sets the bar for other restaurant's imitations. The tartare, though ludicrously priced ($30-$40), is a tiny little mash up of caviar topped tastiness.They tempura batter everything from enoki mushrooms to sea urchin, bravo!
4. From barbequed eel to spicy clams, Hiro's Yakko-San continues to offer a wide variety of Japanese tapas. We dig the new location, which means never having to wait in that tiny vestibule that used to be called "the bar" ever again. The crispy bok choy ($6.50) is an Asian version of potato chips, and with strange offerings ranging from "trigger fish jerky" ($4.50) to "chicken gizzards"($7.00) with chive, they certainly win our vote for most authentic menu. It's open late and it's always full.
3. Toni's Sushi Bar is always packed with a local crowd of South Beach residents. In addition to the generously sliced sushi and sashimi, the kitchen turns out wonderful Japanese small plates. Menu items like grilled hamachi kama (yellow tail collar) and age nasu (fried Japanese eggplant) are always well done and well priced ($9 and $6.50). The "specials" are also a treat -- if they have the rock shrimp-stuffed soft shell crab lightly fried in tempura batter, order it.
2. Newcomer Zuma has upped the ante on Japanese for those seeking a bit more ambiance with their meal. The diverse menu takes traditional plates and infuses a high-end sense of style, pairing a variety of flavors and a visually stunning presentation. The shumai here are re-interpreted with prawns as well as black cod for the filler. "Signature" dishes sound deceptively simple; "spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, chili and sweet soy" is actually a prime filet, cut in half and then carefully seared to a delicate crispy level on the outside, soft as can be on the inside. No serrated-edge knife required.
1. Last year's pick, Naoe, continues to astound with beautifully constructed bento boxes courtesy of Chef Kevin Cory. Although it is impossible to know in advance exactly what you'll get, the food fun is inherent in the surprise. Your miso soup may have kingfish in it, your rice may be wrapped with pickled seaweed, your ice cream for dessert may be "soy sauce" flavored. Invention and dedication combine at Naoe. There are only 17 seats in the restaurant, and credit cards are required in advance for reservations -- this is a hard working man who only makes what his patrons plan on eating. An added bonus is that his family makes sake for a living, so ask questions and be rewarded with a libation far above the average offerings.
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