Makoto ranks with Asian greats

Makoto ranks with Asian greats
Ronnie Jariyawiriya preparing sushi. View our Makoto slide show.

Makoto, a new Japanese restaurant in the Bal Harbour Shops, is sure to bring comparisons to Nobu, Zuma, and Sugarcane. Like those popular spots, it is orchestrated by a noteworthy chef with a yen for producing pristine sushi and exquisite contemporary Asian cuisine.

Makoto Okuwa was the executive sushi chef of Morimoto — iconic Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's property in Philadelphia and part of Stephen Starr's expansive national restaurant portfolio (represented locally by Steak 954 in Fort Lauderdale and now Makoto in Bal Harbour). "He's a superstar," is how Starr described Okuwa to New Times in March, shortly before the new venture opened. Okuwa was also a short-lived TV star, having competed on Iron Chef (where he was edged out by Michael Symon in a sea urchin competition).

The 200-seat indoor/outdoor venue is located on the south end of the genteel mall, parallel with but distanced from Carpaccio and La Goulue. Makoto's lovely earth-toned décor is organic-looking and Zen some — a wood-dominated space with distressed white oak floors and stretches of darkly stained oak paneling. Crisscross lighting that cuts across patterned taupe walls lends an elegant shine, like sparkling tobiko atop nori, yet this space is by far the most subdued of Starr's signature showy designs.

Makoto's crab robata. View our Makoto slide show.
Makoto's crab robata. View our Makoto slide show.

Location Info

Map

Makoto

9700 Collins Ave., 107
Bal Harbour, FL 33154

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: North Dade

Details

Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-864-8600; makoto-restaurant.com. Lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A 13-seat sushi bar fronts the lengthy interior, which is divided into two sections. Outdoor tables bookend the restaurant's opposing entrances; the ones up front are used for dining, and the ones in back (inside the mall) congregate before an alfresco bar setup. A modest wine list offers global selections by glass, carafe, and bottle; the half-dozen beers include Asahi ($6), Sapporo Light ($7), and 22-ounce portions of Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban ($12, $16). There are five or six offerings each of Junmai, Ginjo, and Daiginjo sakes, also sold by the glass (most $8 to $13), carafe (most $19 to $35), and bottle (most $44 to $175). You might also consider the scintillating sake cocktail of Junmai, ginger, grapefruit, and rosemary ($12).

Exceptional sushi/sashimi selections cover a wide swath of ocean: hotate (live scallop), aoyagi (orange clam), and shime saba (cured Japanese mackerel) to name a few. Much of the catch is delivered fresh from Tokyo three times a week (no big-eye tuna for sustainability reasons). Unagi (barbecued freshwater eel) sashimi melts in the mouth like ice cream; the pair of über-fresh slices are lacquered with a sweet soy sauce culled from reduced fish stock, mirin, sake, and sugar. All choices, $8 to $14, are accompanied by fresh wasabi and soy sauce made in-house with an infusion of bonito flakes. The smallest of three sushi and sashimi samplers ($30, $50, $75) generally brings six pieces of a featured roll and another dozen composed of various seafood.

Makoto's maki includes a "traditional" quartet, from which we plucked a negi toro: six pieces of chopped otoro tuna (the fattiest belly cut) rolled with rice, julienned scallion, and a teeny bit of fresh wasabi; regular green wasabi putty garnishes the plate. Toro also comes as a tartare — the fish wrapped in nori and topped with caviar and gold leaf. Many presentations are striking.

From the "American classics" maki: a tempura soft-shell crab roll that fairly explodes with crusted buds of sweet white meat. Ripe avocado cradles the crab along with thin strips of cucumber and a skinny asparagus spear; orange tobiko glitters on top.

Okuwa is a serious practitioner of his craft, yet a sense of whimsy weaves its way through many dishes. Signature among his starters is "frosty Kobe fried rice," a twist on the frosty sea urchin fried rice he unleashed against Symon. The combo of warm liver and beef "popsicle" — along with shichimi spices and an organic jidori egg — brings an invigorating hot/cold/smooth/crunchy sensation that would make a molecular gastronomist foam at the mouth (foie gras foam, of course).

"Spicy tuna crispy rice" is likewise distinctive. Four sushi-size rectangles of rice with browned sides and heavily caramelized bottoms (chewy rice cakes) are each topped with a smooth purée of tuna heated with Serrano chilies. Even the standard Caprese salad gets a face-lift: momotaro tomatoes (a rich, sweet/tangy hybrid that's very popular in Japan) layered with silken tofu.

The nonsushi page of the modest menu starts with offerings of miso soup and a half-dozen appetizers. "Black edamame" were mostly green in color, although some were very dark green and a few even black. The waiter explained they were more mature and thus a little richer than the norm. Hard to say, but the portion was large and the pods were thickly coated in coarse sea salt.

Make sure to try at least a couple of items cooked on the robata grill. Its bincotan coal doesn't produce much visible smoke but lends an alluring char to a thick trunk of king crab shell brimming with sweet meat (at $16, this is the priciest of the grouping). And your jaw will drop at the lusciousness of four skewered cubes of truffle/miso-glazed short ribs from the robata. Luckily the meat is so soft you won't need your jaw to chew it.

A bowl of ramen is riveting with thin noodles and ground steak steeped in a spicy red-chili-spiked broth, a specialty of the chef's hometown of Nagoya. Other noodle dishes — green tea soba with sweet soy and fresh wasabi, and udon with steamed chicken, quail egg, cucumber, Japanese mustard, and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts — come chilled. The alternative starch is rice fried with crab, crunchy lettuce, and scrambled egg (as well as the frosted Kobe fried rice).

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3 comments
Miami Beach Restaurant
Miami Beach Restaurant

Lee,You are terrific in your reviews. I truly enjoy reading your experiences and most always agree with your assessments! Well done.

Grove Native...
Grove Native...

Hate to break this to you Lee, but Unagi(freshwater eel) comes in frozen(cryovac). I've cooked in several Japanese restaurants... One of my favorite Unagi preparations is called "Unagi Hakozushi," not all sushi places will make it though.(Unagi w/bbq glaze made with sushi rice, pressed into a box) Excellent...!!

Notsurprised
Notsurprised

Lee Klein? Mistakes in articles? Unedited?!?! No way!!

 
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