Restaurant Reviews

Nobu Reemerges in Miami Beach for an Exacting Crowd

Deep inside the 3-month-old Nobu Miami at Eden Roc, a German tourist sporting a salmon-hued pullover stands in front of the sushi bar. His back is stiff and his arms are crossed.

"How many years did you apprentice?" he asks an itamae who's busy forming a knob of snowy rice and a twinkling shard of fatty tuna into a nearly perfect sphere.

"Eight," the cook replies.

The interrogator notes that in David Gelb's 2011 documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the revered Tokyo sushi chef says one must apprentice for at least a decade to have any hope of mastering the craft.

The sushi makes Nobu's exorbitant pricing bearable.

tweet this

There's no response, so the inquisitor asks how long it took to perfect the art of making sushi rice. Does the chef think he could make the spongy, ethereal egg omelet tamagoyaki?

This isn't your average sushi bar. Nobu Matsuhisa's 32nd restaurant (and also his largest) replaces his much-loved outpost in the Shore Club, a boutique operation like Kevin Cory's Naoe or the omakase truck Myumi in Wynwood.

On weeknights, locals, tourists, and business types eager to drop serious coin fill Matsuhisa's 356 seats for the tried-and-true formula that was born when actor Robert De Niro and former film producer Meir Teper persuaded the now-66-year-old chef to open the first Nobu in New York City more than two decades ago.

The sprawling space inside the Eden Roc is filled with chocolate-toned wood tables. Lamps dangle from the ceiling, and columns wrapped in twisting bamboo frame the room. Countless sets of hungry eyes follow the never-ending parade of plates. One Nobu classic pairs spicy tuna paste with Lego-size blocks of crisp sushi rice. Another combines delicate slices of the Japanese sea bream called tai (or sometimes madai) with a salty/savory sprinkle of dried shiro miso. The dusting amplifies the fish's subtle richness, which would otherwise slip away under flakes of crisp garlic and a wash of yuzu and olive oil.

It's a better option than the yellowtail-jalapeño sashimi, which Matsuhisa conjured and myriad others copied. There's also "new style sashimi," which boasts a seemingly simple platter of fatty salmon sprinkled with garlic, ginger, and chives and then quickly basted in a ripping-hot brew of oil and tart yuzu juice. The quick heat just barely melts the fish's fat, adding a rich, oily glaze to each bite.

Hot dishes also show off the kitchen's precision and poise under the eye of executive chef Nicolas Mazier, who recently arrived from the Las Vegas location to take the reins. A trio of sea scallops arrives with a pleasant brown-butter crisp encasing creamy interiors. They come perched atop a velvety Japanese pumpkin purée. Chili threads and a smattering of wilted Brussels sprout leaves add a pleasing, kimchee-like astringency that perfectly complements the bivalves' brine.

Still, it's the sushi produced under the watchful eye of Tetsuya Isogami that makes Nobu's exorbitant pricing bearable. The kitchen imports polished Kinuhikari rice from the island's western Niigata Prefecture. After a steam, it's tossed with the red vinegar akazu, which is fermented with yeast and the rice mold koji for at least three years. The process yields superbly delicate grains that just barely cling together and twinkle with starch and salt.

This is the ideal stage for a bounty of seafood that's either shipped in or occasionally culled from fishermen at North Beach's Haulover Marine Center. The aged Japanese amberjack called kanpachi offers a delicate texture and flavor that's well complemented by the rice.

Thick slices of vinegar-cured mackerel called saba spend just enough time in an acidic bath to gain a meaty texture and lose some of their aggressive, oily flavor. The result is a case study in unexpected luxury. Santa Barbara sea urchin, a usually ho-hum variety compared to the pristine stuff from Hokkaido, is among some of Miami's firmest and creamiest offerings; it has just a subdued bit of tang. Tender scallop coins perched atop rice pop with the same salty-citrusy zing found in a bristling West Coast oyster.

Such precise bites show off the sushi bar at Nobu's world of possibilities. The deep-pocketed audience here yearns to try something new. In the meantime, Nobu's miso black cod will just have to do.

Nobu Miami at Eden Roc
4525 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-695-3232; Lunch Thursday through Sunday noon to 3 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday 7 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.

  • Crispy rice with spicy tuna $30
  • Tai with dry miso $32
  • New style sashimi $24
  • Pan-seared scallops $29
  • Assorted nigiri $7 to $11

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson