This coming Sunday, March 27, marks the opening of Makoto at the Bal Harbour Shops. "Makoto Okuwa worked for us at Morimoto in Philadelphia and New York," explains Stephen Starr (who is known locally for Steak 954 in Fort Lauderdale, but whose restaurant group includes a host of properties, including Morimoto and Buddakan). "He was the executive sushi chef for Morimoto. When we had the opportunity to do this restaurant, he was the first person I thought of. I think he's a superstar."
The 200-seat indoor/outdoor restaurant will offer "modern Japanese cuisine, with the focus being on hot foods, some that are traditional, some not so traditional," offers Starr. Makoto is known for his whimsical spin on familiar foods. Some menu choices at the new restaurant: Foie gras gyoza with yuzu marmalade; chicken tskune meatball with sansho pepper and quail egg; black cod karashi sumiso; and frosty Kobe fried rice with foie gras, chichi, and jidori egg.
I asked Makoto what the thinking was behind a dish such as the frosty kobe foie gras. "When I was competing with Michael Symon on Iron Chef, I did it the same way, but I used sea urchin instead," Makoto explained. "When people eat cold and hot food together it gives kind of a new feeling."
Naturally I inquired what he had learned while working with Masaharu Morimoto. He mentions a "focus on detail," but, more importantly, he learned "how to read the customer and know what to do to make him appreciate your food."
Makoto at Bal Harbour will also serve sushi, sake, and have a robata grill too. And while Starr is excited about the restaurant design ("sexy but sophisticated; not over the top"), and expects a lively scene to develop, "our philosophy is that food is the most important thing."
Makoto Okuwa is confident that his modern Japanese fare will be well-received in South Florida. I asked him whether he wants a rematch with Michael Symon, who ended up winning the Iron Chef sea urchin match. "For sure," answered Miami's newest star chef.
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