Dining in Miami sometimes requires a little tolerance for over-the-top atmospheres and excessively lavish presentations because, well, “it’s Miami.” Here, tuna steaks are served with Samurai swords, and DJs spin tableside. Yet there’s a fine line when it comes to dramatics in the dining room, and Kaori, which opened last night, is pushing it.
“Million Dollar Chef” Walter Martino earned his name for creating the most expensive dish in the world, which he sold to an Arabian prince in 2013 for 1 million euros. Kaori is Martino’s first restaurant, and he intends to create a dining experience that immerses guests in a journey of all five senses. But in doing so, he risks overshadowing his own culinary talents.
The restaurant is located at 1250 S. Miami Ave., nestled among storefronts such as Golden Fig and My Ceviche. The interior space is small, and it’s made even smaller by the diagonal bar and the walls that jut out at conflicting angles.
With colorful upholstered chairs, mild electronic music, and neon lighting accents, Kaori’s whimsical decor feels like a cross between a futuristic dollhouse and an ultra-hip gallery. Projected onto the blank white walls is a series of rotating animated visuals, from a closeup of blinking eyes to water soaring through the air in slow motion. The changing light and color tones create a fluid atmosphere that Kaori calls “Miami’s first 360-degree cinematography dining experience.”
For his first restaurant concept, Chef Martino has developed an intriguing fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisines. He marries the two distinct cultures in pleasantly surprising dishes such as white tuna ceviche drizzled with aged balsamic ($12) and “sushiotto,” creamy risotto topped with seafood like shrimp or black seabass ($18 to $22).
In addition to the regular menu, three-, five- and seven-course tasting options are available for $300, $500, and $700. That hefty price tag includes the full Kaori experience, including wine, champagne, and cocktail pairings, customizable through Kaori's app on a Samsung tablet. All menu options come with handheld vaporizers and edible sprays designed to heighten the flavors of each dish.
But the most show-stopping menu items are Martino’s play on the sushi roll, which omits rice and seaweed and instead wraps Italian-inspired ingredients in iceberg lettuce. The Kaori Iberico roll ($24), topped with burrata, is definitely unlike anything you’ve ever ordered at a sushi bar, but it’s a clever representation of how Martino marries his interest in Japanese cuisine with his traditional background.
At just 14 years old, he began working as a commis de cuisine at Zeffirino in Italy and attended the Institute Hotelier Nino Bergese, from which he graduated with honors.
This chef has skills, and he’s clearly coming onto the Miami dining scene with intentions of maintaining his million-dollar name.
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Kaori has the potential to overwhelm costumers with its uninhibited efforts to create a sense of exclusive luxury, but if such a dramatically immersive experience were to prove successful anywhere in the States, it’d be right here.
For diners seeking a one-of-a-kind, extravagant “journey of the senses,” Kaori is the right destination.
Kaori is open from 6 p.m. to midnight Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.