Hiroshi Horai has offered kaiseki since opening Maido Japanese Restaurant (4267 NW 107th Ave., Doral; 305-592-4002) a decade ago. His regulars, who knew him during a 12-year stint at Su-Shin Izakaya in Coral Gables, have always loved his carefully composed, highly seasonal multicourse menu. For the most part, however, it has remained a secret.
Of course, 52-year-old Horai also serves traditional Japanese fare such as the sweet, sticky fermented soybean dish natto. He even sprinkles it with scallion hoops and grilled triggerfish jerky. Still, it's the kaiseki menu that shows off what he can do.
Horai's training began 30 years ago in Kobe at the now-shuttered restaurant Tankuma. Among the most important lessons he learned was the preparation of dashi, a near tea of seaweed called kombu and dried, fermented fish flakes called katsuobushi. It is the base of miso soup and a wide array of other dishes.
"We make it every day," Horai says, "and we reserve the first batch of the day, the ichibandashi, for the kaiseki."
Horai's menus (which start at $50 per person for six to seven courses and must be reserved at least four days ahead) are less rigorous than the traditional dozen or so courses presented in a strict order. Even the plates — earthen dishes for grilled items and lidded bowls for soups — can be meticulously enforced in some kaiseki temples like Kyoto's iconic Ryotei Kikunoi.
What's most important is securing the best of each season's products. For Horai, winter means lotus root, daikon radish, and lily bulbs, along with squid, octopus, and abalone. Summer means tender young bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, and young tofu. They manifest in little dishes such as snapper preserved in seaweed, bamboo shoots simmered with bonito flakes, and Japanese whiting fried in tempura with burdock root and verdant matcha tea.
They're all presented on a scroll that Horai brushes with inky Kanji characters. Just don't steal it. He paints only one a night, but he'll make you a copy so you can prove to friends that, indeed, kaiseki exists in Doral.