Kaiseki Your Way at N by Naoe
Box of treats at N by Naoe.
All photos by Zachary Fagenson
Kevin Cory's newest undertaking, N, which opened July, is far different from the neighboring Brickell Key omakase temple that earned him bundles of praise.
For most of your $100, hourlong meal at N, you won't see the soft-spoken chef. Also his staff has grown beyond Wendy, Naoe's longtime manager, to include a small troupe who tend your every need. They pour toasty, earthy Sencha tea, a variety commonly use in Japan's orderly tea ceremonies, into diminutive earthenware cups.
See also: N by Naoe Opens on Brickell Key
Unpacking the bento box.
There are still plenty of things indicating it's related to Cory's neighboring sushi restaurant, including an extensive list of meticulously sourced ingredients, some of which you're likely to have never heard of. For example battera kombu kingfish kojizuke with fried canistel.
Battera is simple enough -- a sort of nigiri preparation where sushi rice is pressed into a box and topped with fish, in this case the difficult-to-butcher rich Kingfish whose flavor is akin to a less fishy mackerel. I had to look up kojizuke, which is apparently a mold that's grown on white rice used to pickle various foodstuffs. Canistel, according to the Internets, comes from a Central American evergreen and is a creamy fruit similar in taste to an egg-based custard.
Kingfish battera, sake and miso pork jowl.
The accelerated kaiseki, a version of the highly seasonal, vegetarian and meticulously prepared multicourse meal, starts with tea followed the presentation of a three-tiered beechwood jewelry box. A covering board is slipped away, set aside and three trays are removed and placed before you along with a small bowl of pale yellow miso soup, short-grain rice studded with bamboo shoot matchsticks and a tart array of pickles.
The first box with the battera also holds a sake and miso braised pork jowl topped with a single line of spicy parsnip mustard. It all collapses into shreds with the first touch of a chopstick.
Jackfruit tofu with uni, broiled Blackbelly Rose Fish with key lime.
Unlike traditional kaiseki or Cory's Naoe the order and manner you eat your meal is basically up to you.
The second tier holds a nutty, slightly sugary tofu cube made with jackfruit and topped with two lobes of buttery, briney Hokkaido uni accompanied by a thimble of cubed of lobster meat and Florida avocado. Next to it is a broiled, skin-on piece of blackbelly rosefish, light and flaky like turbot, with red and green bell pepper squares and daikon radish pickled in kojizuke.
Steamed kingfish and okra, "kingfish kombujime with aori ika with komochi konbu on shiso with fresh grated wasabi."
The blackbelly appears in the next box, this time steamed, which seems to be the optimal preparation as it makes the brilliant white flesh even lighter. It sits aside Kingfish konbujime, a sort of fish-and-soft-kelp sandwich. The preparation, whose roots trace back to the pre-refrigeration days of 16th century Japan, is most preferred because of natural MSG in kelp, which creates an intense umami tingle. Slivers of cuttlefish layered with seaweed and a cube of snappy smelt roe are also squeezed into the box.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, just relax. It can be done during lunch, and wraps up with a final bowl of sugary Haden mango, sapodilla, sticky starchy rice dumplings, sweet red beans, and a sweet, herbaceous syrup made of ground green tea.
This is not your grandfather's Jell-O and fruit cup.
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