There's no shortage of glamour at Makoto Okuwa's Bal Harbour restaurant. It
hits you before you step inside the dimly lit, black and light brown space. You've schlepped yourself clear across town for a chance to taste the Morimoto protégé's fare at a reasonable price.
Miami Spice is that oh-so-special time of year when some of Miami's most popular (and expensive) restaurants create three-course menus at drastically reduced prices. It gives the 99 percent a chance to eat the meals they can only dream about the rest of the year. It also throws some business at restaurants during what are traditionally South Florida's slow summer months.
See also: Makoto Okuwa's Five Favorite Restaurants
New Times has partnered with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which runs Miami Spice, so we've been charged with sampling some of the dozens of Miami Spice menus set to launch August 1. All for free, of course. New Times is also hosting the official Miami Spice kickoff -- Iron Fork -- at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Get tickets here.
If you don't go to Bal Harbour often, you might have to circle a few times to find the restaurant. Try not to feel broke when you pass the Balenciaga and Piaget stores three times. Don't make eye contact with the safari-ready security guards, who grew suspicious the first time you walked by.
Once safe and sound inside Makoto's Zen-like space, you're presented with five options for first and second courses. Dessert is up to the kitchen.
One of the highlights of Makoto's $39 Spice offering is that it's vegetarian-friendly, and not in the steamed-vegetables-and-barley kind of way. There's a salad that arrives in a heavy stone bowl with watercress, crisp tempura bits, and chikuwa -- a kind of Japanese mystery meat made of whitefish, egg whites and salt dressed in soy. Ask them to leave it off if you must. There's also edamame tossed in a sweet-spicy dressing topped with chili threads.
For your nonvegetarian dining companions, the Tsujiki Market whitefish tiradito (pictured atop this post) is the app that will elicit the most oohs and aahs. Thin strips of citrus-marinated whitefish hide below an ají amarillo foam that pops and disappears as your dark wood chopsticks hunt the final pieces of fish.
Alongside the chef's-choice sushi combination is a vegetarian option with a vegan Stephen roll, named for the restaurant's owner, Stephen Starr, with tempura zucchini, roasted red pepper, and kanpyo squash topped with avocado slivers. Alongside it are sweet tofu skins wrapped around rice. A bright red piece of pickled daikon mimics tuna nigiri.
If you're into something a little richer, try the short-rib yaki udon with sweet stir-fried noodles studded with tender bits of slow-cooked meat. There are also juicy grouper cheeks tempura-fried and topped with a cilantro-and-celery-leaf salad. Chili threads provide a hit of spice every so often.
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Dessert is as over-the-top as Makoto itself. Because it's summer, expect to see wedges of pomegranate and dragon fruit alongside chocolate parfaits and mochi, which has a soft, chewy rice-cake shell wrapped around ice cream.
Make sure to get your parking ticket validated on the way out. Otherwise it's $5 an hour.
For more, follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.