Japanese Gem N by Naoe Switches Up Concepts

It's too late to sample the treasure chest of delights Kevin Cory has offered for more than a year at Brickell Key's N by Naoe. The soft-spoken chef is no longer serving a meal from a quasi-kaiseki concept presented in a bento box.

The new menu is shabu-shabu, which is "a very lightly cooked communal meal consisting of vegetables and thin slices of real Japanese beef quickly swished in a steaming light kelp stock," according to the restaurant's website. The two-hour meal is available for $60 plus tax and tip and is offered for lunch and dinner throughout the week. Reservations must be made online.

Initially, N was the long-awaited followup to Cory's groundbreaking Naoe. It was also a step away from his beloved nigiri progressions and hid him away in the kitchen during meals. It was a strange experience for regulars used to seeing him behind the sushi bar, slicing and presenting each bite.

Cory's training began under an uncle in Toyama, on Japan's north-central coast. Later, in South Florida, he led the sushi bar at North Miami Beach's Siam River, where critics first noticed him. Naoe later opened in Sunny Isles Beach and relocated to Brickell Key in 2012. Along the way, it garnered armfuls of awards from local and national publications. Spanish culinary icon Ferran Adrià recently declared it "one of the very best in the world outside of Japan." More important, it set a new standard for what Japanese cuisine in Miami could be. Here was a place free of asparagus, cream cheese, and inside-out rolls.

Neither Cory nor his longtime restaurant manager, Wendy Maharlika, responded to inquiries asking why N's concept was changed. The few times I visited, no more than a dozen patrons would rotate through during the course of one meal, and it was a far different experience from what's offered next door at Naoe. Yet there were many highlights, including tiny dishes of softened, umami-packed seaweed called kombu sandwiched between a layer of smelt eggs with slices of cuttlefish.

Perhaps some dishes were a little too foreign and, unlike his pristine nigiri, not the kind of things you'd necessarily crave. Shabu shabu, however, seems far more approachable.

Perhaps N becomes Cory's test lab. His detailed-oriented touch is ubiquitous throughout Japanese cuisine and could certainly apply to other endeavors. Indeed, there are yakitori restaurants, tempura houses, ramen restaurants, and soba masters that all share Cory's relentless pursuit of excellence. It would be a thrill to see him try his hand at some of them.

In the meantime, you might still be able to find some of N's dishes — such as battera kombu kingfish kojizuke with fried canistel — waiting in the four-part bento box that begins each otherworldly meal at Naoe.

For more, follow Zach on Twitter or Instagram.

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