The potted palms are empty of greenery. Many of the rooms are bereft of beds. The lobby boasts a silence so profound it's almost religious in quality. But the Shore Club, along with its dining destination Sirena, is indeed open. More important, Nobu, one of the world's preeminent restaurants, also has finally debuted its Miami location in this long-awaited luxury hotel.
What's that you say? You didn't know Nobu had actually launched? You haven't even heard whisper one that it's serving? Join the club, so to speak. Although chef-proprietor Nobu Matsuhisa's highly regarded eatery has been dishing up the goods for almost a month now, very few people seem to be in on the secret. Among them are celebs so A list we need to invent a new letter for them -- like Madonna, who dined there on the Sunday before her South Florida shows and who purportedly camped at the Shore. And other important restaurateurs visiting from out of town, like Michael Chow (of Mr. Chow in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Paris), who is said to be scouting a South Beach location for his own product. And industry insiders like wine reps, local chefs, and public-relations personnel, all of whom have at least one friend who can guarantee them a table at Nobu, which currently does not take reservations for parties under six.
That's right. After (some say) viciously teasing the hotel and restaurant for their three-year foray into the world of construction delays, I dined at Nobu to see if the wait had really been worth it. And before you automatically assume that I was given special treatment because of the role I play in the resident dining scene, let me assure you that I went unannounced and remained unidentified. For one thing, though I have met the general manager of the Shore Club once, I was still sporting baby weight and had a different color hair then. I now look completely, well, the same but thinner and blonder. For another, I am not and never will be on the level of recognition of Madonna or even, it seems, Mr. Chow. The only thing I really expected, if someone did pinpoint me at Nobu, was to be promptly kicked out. Needless to say I am not well liked at the joint. To wit, the following conversation with the hostess/manager:
Us: "Why don't you have a wine list yet?"
Her: "We were really feeling the pressure to open. There's this lady at New Times who has been writing mean things about us."
Of course I'm willing to admit that any enmity between the Shore Club/Nobu people and me has been well earned on my part. I also concede that it may be time to cut them some slack. Because the kitchen wasn't ready, executive chef Thomas Buckley had to test recipes in the old Mezzanotte space, which was rented at an exorbitant rate from Tantra owner Tim Hogle (who holds the lease on the erstwhile Italian eatery and, according to sources, plans to open another restaurant there). Plus all the construction problems did not necessarily concern the resort itself but rather the street in front of it. If this block of Collins Avenue were a pair of blue jeans, they'd be so threadbare you could see body parts.
I also feel free, however, to point out that Nobu has an unfinished feel to it. Aside from the lack of a wine list, the restaurant has some glitches to work out. Among them are the chopsticks, the cheap wooden kind you have to break apart and then rub to get the splinters out. Because portions are small and selections numerous, it's easy to build up quite a bill here. The utensils should fit it.
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Nobu also is unequivocally one of the ugliest restaurants I've ever seen. Mr. Chow's wife told a friend of mine that Matsuhisa specializes in homely dining rooms, but this one takes the wasabi. As stunning as the chef's preparations are, that's how plain the room is. I can't imagine what caused the delay. A generic square, it looks like the banquet facility of a larger restaurant. Unbroken by any paintings, sconces, or other interior touches, solid bamboo covers the walls, and blue-green tile lines the chunky columns placed decoratively -- I use the word loosely -- throughout the space. A hideous florescence lights up the sushi bar, which incidentally has no seats; my dining partners were blinded and hey, it wasn't by my beauty. As for the display kitchen, you can see more of the dishwashers than you can of the chefs. All in all Nobu looks less like a prominent, neo-Japanese restaurant than it does like the bathroom facilities in a prominent, neo-Japanese restaurant. (Just in case you were wondering, restrooms are actually on the floor below the restaurant; take the stairs to the rear of the lobby bar.)
Sure, it sounds as though I'm being unduly negative (yet again). So let me quickly introduce my main point: With my apologies to Norman, Allen, Mark, and Robbin, the meal I savored at Miami's Nobu location just might be, chopsticks-down, the best I've had in this city.
I've written in the past that Nobu faces competition, and I'm not about to retract that statement. Shoji Sushi, Breez, and BlueSea at the Delano are still in the game. But there is a reason that Nobu has been singularly smug about its "build-it-and-they-will-not-only-come-they-will-have-multiple-orgasms" appeal to Miamians. It's called the decadence of items like toro tuna tartare with caviar. It's about unqualified signature dishes like the buttery black cod with miso. It's mixed into the martinis garnished with cucumbers and pickled ginger.
In short, Nobu may have been bewildered by my attacks. It may have stood too long on its rep without ponying up. It may have placed itself on a pedestal. But judging from my singular experience, that gantry is rock-solid. Try to budge it and you'll be knocked backward. As I was, right onto my newly smoochable ass.