A sign went up on the perpetually crowded place's hostess stand and some of its shelving over the weekend. About half of the market's pantry items and sundries are already gone. The coolers containing frozen horse mackerel, bluefin tuna, the fermented soy beans called natto, and fresh ramen noodles are slowly emptying.
Asked in the middle of a jam-packed lunch service about the closure, Kushi throws up both hands, including the one brandishing a glinting knife, and proclaims "finally" with a wide grin. The modern age hasn't sat well with the paper-hatted itamae.
Once offering no more than perhaps a half-dozen or so seats, Kushi's minuscule sushi operation has for years — before Kevin Cory's Naoe, before Myumi, and before Makoto — been among the city's best places to go to request omakase, a chef's selection of nigiri or sashimi. Kushi, looking serious as a heart attack, would willingly prepare as many pieces as you requested and crack a devilish smile as he handed over plates festooned with sweet shrimp heads jutting into the air and fatty pieces of toro quivering and crowned with minty flecks of shiso.
As smartphones began to fill the world's pockets and enthusiastic eaters grew eager to share photos of their latest conquests, Kushi implemented a no-cell-phone rule. Pictures never seemed to be a problem, but the staff's willingness to request that customers step outside to take calls rather than bark their heads off next to patrons trying to enjoy hundreds of dollars' worth of saba, sayori, and uni was always refreshing.
But the pictures drew more and more attention, and some patrons who long admired and enjoyed Kushi's tried to implement a failing "don't ask, don't tell" policy. They might have been right. A few years ago, seemingly to Kushi's dismay, some of the market shelving was hacked off to add a half-dozen seats. The move gave more of Miami's dining public, now conscious that perhaps Sushi Maki wasn't all that great, a chance to try his pristine fare. Yet it also seemingly overwhelmed Kushi. Over the past year or two, it was decided the place would close an additional day, and now during the few open hours, hordes of hungry-eyed diners mill about the aisles while waiting for their chance to sit at the counter. Kushi, who had begun to complain of the deluge, seemed relaxed only Mondays and Tuesdays, when the sushi counter was closed and the place was quiet as a cemetery.
You might be tempted to rush over and grab one final bite before the eatery shutters for good. But don't. Let the man who has fed so many Miamians so well for so many years ease into retirement. He says he and his family plan to stay in town, but other than that, his whereabouts will be difficult to track. "Where will I go?" Kushi says. "Wherever I want."
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