Sumi Yakitori: The Best New Japanese Restaurant in Town
Owner-chef Jeffrey Chen with shoyaki hamachi kama (top) and chashu nyumen, served in a titanium bowl.
You might not want to tell friends about Sumi Yakitori, an unlikely Japanese restaurant in Brickell. It's a peculiar place, furnished with an open kitchen and festooned with bottles of booze. Sometimes, a young crowd wanders through the glass doors, stares at the quiet chefs in black T-shirts, and lingers at the entrance. A waiter hands them a menu, and they peruse it with the intensity of a literary critic. Sautéed tofu skin, whole deep-fried quail, and skewered chicken hearts fill the single laminated page, half of which is written in Japanese.
Occasionally, they stay. But more often, they leave.
So as you tear into your sausage-stuffed chicken wings, you can watch these fussy folks arrive and depart. Perhaps they head for the Peruvian-style sushi joint next door or the Italian trattoria down the street. You consider telling them to stay, that these wings are the best you've ever had. But you eat in silence. You don't want this restaurant disrupted by rowdy mobs.
Because in a neighborhood rife with middling chains and highfalutin bars, Sumi Yakitori is a bastion of honesty — a shrine to the Japanese tradition of grilled meat on a stick.
Sumi Yakitori belongs to Jeffrey Chen, the prescient man who launched Miami's first ramen house last year. His place, Momi Ramen, boasts a cadre of fervent noodle worshippers who slurp strips of dough from perfectly intense tonkotsu broths.
So when Sumi debuted next door to Momi in June, its opening spurred a flutter of excitement. But today the attention has waned. Often, the restaurant is noiseless. A sole waiter waits for instructions in the kitchen. He stands beside a curtain printed with Hokusai's The Great Wave and escapes these confines only to hand the menu to a passerby or deliver a bottle of sake to a couple on a date. The petite dining room is immaculate, yet it is rarely full. Some nights, the place lacks dishes listed on the menu. "No tofu tonight," the handsome server says unapologetically. Every night, his service is consistently succinct.
Indeed, Sumi has its foibles. But if you visit the restaurant twice, you might spot its regulars: the woman in a blazer who orders angel hair noodles in a soy-based broth and toys with her phone; the guy in shorts and loafers who comes for the hamachi sashimi, which is shipped daily from Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market; the pair that clinks sake cups in celebration of good company and great food.
Rarely do you spot anyone eating hamachi kama, the collar of the yellowtail. But you should certainly order it. Enjoy the white fish's clean taste, which melds beautifully with the charcoal of the grill.
More popular are the chicken selections, which are the specialty here. The lean flesh, skewered on thin bamboo sticks, cooks over slow-burning binchotan coals. The menu lists seemingly simple items, such as breasts or wings, alongside more adventurous things, like gizzards and hearts. They're all treated with the same respect: grilled until their flesh trickles moisture and oozes the tongue-tickling aroma of smoke.
Other skewers are best tackled in groups of three. An order of bacon-wrapped quail eggs yields a heaping portion of nine ova coated in rendered swine. Sprinkled with nori, sesame seeds, and dried skipjack tuna, each bite brims with delectable, mouth-drying saltiness. But it's unlikely you'll finish more than two eggs — although you might cave and eat three or four. Sautéed mushrooms — a medley of enoki and shiitake — settle on the table in a similarly bountiful platter. They're seasoned flawlessly and bathed in glistening oil. The same treatment graces chicken gizzards, which are coated in sliced green onions and cooked until slightly rough and firm.
Some dishes are best kept to yourself. Hunks of plump duck breast cling tenderly to skewers. Served alongside a green onion sauce, the breasts bleed a pleasant juice — one that tastes of coal drippings and game. Then there's Sumi's whole quail. The dish brings two birds, hot and golden from a dip in the deep fryer. Their surface is crisp and their flesh succulent. There's no better way to enjoy them than by pulling apart the tiny wings and biting into their flavorful meat.
Like most items at Sumi Yakitori, you might want to tell someone how delicious and special they are.
Stop yourself. Some things are simply too good to be shared.
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