Over the past year or so, several culinary concepts that specialize in Nikkei cuisine have debuted in Miami. The word, pronounced nee-kay, refers to people of Japanese descent living elsewhere in the world. The term has come to be closely associated with a kind of cuisine by way of Japanese immigrants who landed in Peru in the late 19th Century.
Similarly, chifa is a term used for food that combines the influence of Chinese descendants in Peru. In recent years, much attention has been paid to the award-winning restaurants of Peru, where the country's capital, Lima, has become a foodie destination. To refer to the cuisine as a Japanese-Peruvian fusion would be a disservice to the origin and concept of these restaurants. Rather, Nikkei cuisine involves the use of Peruvian ingredients such as ají amarillo peppers and tropical fish that are executed with Japanese techniques. Tiradito is one example because it's essentially Japanese sashimi but served in a spicy, flavorful sauce.
Though Miami is usually a late bloomer in food trends compared with New York or Los Angeles, this is one instance where the Magic City is the testing ground for some of these restaurants' first locations in the United States thanks to the strong presence of South Americans who live and visit Miami. Here are a few of the recent additions to the local scene that are examples of Nikkei cuisine.
Chotto Matte1664 Lenox Ave., Miami Beach
Chotto Matte's global executive chef, Jordan Sclare, boasts Michelin-starred stints under Gordon Ramsay and at Nobu, which led him to discover an appreciation for Japanese technique. Sclare and head chef Michael Paul are not Japanese or Peruvian, but they have coined themselves the U.K.'s "Nikkei Boys" as a chef duo passionately advancing the style of cuisine in London and beyond. They met in culinary school and were reunited with the opportunity to open the first Chotto Matte in London seven years ago. In 2018, Chotto Matte landed in South Beach for the restaurant's first overseas expansion. The concept has since opened a Toronto location and a pop-up in Saint-Tropez, and other locations are on the horizon. The Miami Beach outpost's unique retractable ceiling and seductive tropical ambiance are enticing, and the vast assortment of Japanese and Peruvian menu offerings is worth repeat visits. The restaurant's tasting menus ($85 to $99) are a good way to sample a variety of dishes, including beef tataki, octopus anticucho, and ceviche. A vegetarian tasting menu ($70) is also available.
Inti.Mo840 First St., Miami Beach
Opened just in time for Art Basel 2019, Inti.Mo is a Miami Beach newcomer bringing Nikkei cuisine to the quaint upscale neighborhood South of Fifth. Created by Juan Chipoco — a Peruvian chef and the owner of the popular concepts Cvi.Che 105 and Pollos y Jarras — Inti.Mo is a more intimate, high-end reflection of his Peruvian roots, and its name also nods to his Incan heritage. Designed as an extension of Chipoco and his home, the interior offers a welcoming dining room with jewel-toned banquettes and shelves holding family photos and personal treasures amid eye-catching Japanese and Peruvian art. His menu includes Peruvian chaufa and causa dishes ($16 to $26). Seafood-based soups as well as perfectly cooked meat and fish entrées offer a warm complement to the various raw offerings of ceviches, tiraditos, nigiris, rolls, and sushi bombs — sushi spheres covered with fresh seafood, meat, or vegetables.
Itamae140 NE 39th St., Miami
Itamae in Japanese is the prestigious title earned by a head sushi chef, translating to "in front of the board," referring to the cutting board. This family-run concept is located inside Politan Row, formerly known as St. Roch Market, in the Design District. Don't be fooled by this unassuming food hall: The culinary team boasts the star power of three incredible chefs. Chef Fernando Chang, who is of Chinese origin and born in Peru, opened Itamae in 2018 with his daughter Valerie Chang and son Nando Chang, also chefs born in Peru. All three bring the flavors they grew up with plus years of expert culinary training to the table. The ingredient-driven menu is a mix of Peruvian-flavored sushi rolls, varieties of tiradito ($13 to $18), and vibrant poke and ceviche bowls ($17 to $18). Last year, the brother-and-sister duo was a James Beard semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, and New Times named Itamae's ceviche best in Miami in 2019.
Osaka Miami1300 Brickell Bay Dr., Miami
This Peruvian import landed in Miami's Brickell neighborhood this past December. Launched in 2001 by Diego Herrera and Diego de la Puente, Osaka is an award-winning Nikkei restaurant from Lima. The restaurateurs' Peruvian heritage, their passion for Japanese culture, and time spent in Asia during surf trips resulted in the successful concept that has opened nine restaurants throughout South America and a U.S. outpost at the end of 2019; a London location is slated to open later this year. The Japanese-inspired decor and exterior lend an intimate vibe that's not trying to show off. That's where the food and drinks come in. The list of Asian whisky, Peruvian pisco, imported beers, wine, sake, and inventive ingredient-based cocktails are seemingly endless, including more than a half-dozen mocktails. The food menu includes Nikkei dishes such as ceviche, tiradito, sushi rolls, and nigiri, along with an omakase option. It's followed by Peruvian izakaya dishes such as hot and cold appetizers. Don't miss the Inca gyoza, robata grill items, and larger entrées.
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