Bal Harbour is as recognizable for anyone in Miami as Lincoln Road or Calle Ocho. The highly affluent stretch of Collins Avenue is home to some of the most luxurious residences and also to one of the most luxurious malls in the country, Bal Harbour Shops. While more renowned for it’s designer clothing and jewelry boutiques that include Chanel and Harry Winston, as well as its Neiman Marcus and Saks anchors, the mall is also a destination for the truly savvy gourmand with restaurants like Makoto. Named after Chef Makoto Okuwa who mans the kitchen, this Japanese restaurant has been offering shoppers and culinary connoisseurs inventive fare since it opened its doors a few years ago. Chef Okuwa seems to be in a constant state of creation, and his unique interpretations of Japanese dishes inspire diners to look at one of the world’s most elegant cuisines in an entirely new light.
A meal at Makoto begins with taking in the subtle, dark-toned décor with its wood accents and muraled wall that evoke traditional Japanese design concepts with a modern sensibility. A perfect way to sample this cross of traditional and modern is with a cocktail called the Lotus blossom that combines shochu - a high proof spirit made from rice that is similar to a fine vodka - yuzu, and Calpico, a tart and milky Japanese soft drink. The cocktail is nothing short of refreshing, very pleasant to drink in South Florida’s balmy weather, and combines a beverage that symbolizes old Japan (shochu) with with one that represents new Japan (Calpico).
Appetizers also demonstrate a seamless melting pot of culinary traditions and innovative techniques. Small bricks of sushi rice are quickly fried to yield a crunchy crust and topped with spicy minced tuna and a slice of serrano chile to offer a range of textures and bold flavors. Thin slices of Ono, also known as Wahoo, are dressed in an orange ponzu sauce and topped with a tangle of crispy fried carrots that offer a contrast in textures while soaking up the delicious sauce. A departure from the more Japanese items, an appetizer of air bread topped with sliced raw tuna, tomato and red onion rests on bed of Caesar dressing foam and also offers Chef Okuwa’s signature interplay of textures.
Perhaps the most luxurious appetizer, however, combines both Japanese and European elements in a Kobe beef carpaccio with ginger, garlic, mitsuba, a drizzle of truffle oil and a scattering of freshly shaved truffles. Nevertheless, Chef Okuwa confides that his true love is sushi, and it is, without a doubt, the star at Makoto. An assortment of sashimi and nigiri can include a variety of the freshest seafood, such as buttery slices of salmon and clean-tasting hamachi and kanpachi. Whole miniature squid flown in fresh from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market top perfectly toothsome and well-seasoned sushi rice and are held together by a narrow band of nori. Pickled ginger, or gari, is typically sampled to cleanse the palate between bites of the various seafood, but a tiny clump of spicy grated daikon can offer just the right amount of heat and cooling freshness to offset something like a rich piece of toro.
After sushi, robata is the main specialty at Makoto, and Chef Okuwa offers several preparations of this traditional grilled food cooked on binchotan charcoal that burns exceptionally hot with minimal smoke. Providing a nod to Latin cuisine, grilled skirt steak arrives well-seasoned with coarse sea salt and smoky from the grill with a ginger-spiked avocado purée. Japanese eggplant robata presents half-cylinders of the creamy, smoky eggplant topped with a combination of ground chicken and miso and are probably one of the most luscious things to put in your mouth after foie gras.
A perfectly cooked salmon filet with ponzu sauce offers a kind of “mother-daughter” presentation with a topping of its roe, which offers just the right hit of saline creaminess. A garnish of charred brussels sprouts reveal their natural sweetness and are further accented by a sweet soy glaze. Perhaps the most interesting entrée at Makoto is a dish that offers a play on temperature as well as texture. Labeled Frosty Kobe Fried Rice, Chef Okuwa’s preparation combines creamy foie gras, mixed vegetables, and a fried jidori (Japanese free-range) egg. Cooked Kobe beef that has been minced and then frozen tops the rice, and when the contents of the bowl are mixed what is left is a hot fried rice that is bound with velvety egg yolk and interspersed with cold bits of beef.
Rarely do desserts make a memorable ending to a meal at a Japanese restaurant, and when they do, they are far from elegant and closer in line with a tempura something-or-other. What Chef Okuwa manages to do at Makoto is ensure that a meal here is memorable and inspiring from start to finish, which definitely includes dessert. While very well-made ice cream-filled mochi is available for those who desire it, other items are far more interesting and exquisitely rewarding. Take, for instance, the molten chocolate cake filled with a miso and yuzu custard sauce that melts out onto the plate once the chocolate exterior is pierced, the salty umami of the miso bringing out the complex notes of the bittersweet chocolate. The billowy puffs accompanying the confection are not whipped cream, but a foam made of unfiltered sake and elderflower liqueur. As if this weren’t enough, a globe of light gelato coated in crispy puffed rice candy offers a cooling and decadent touch to the dish.
Makoto, while maintaining an unmistakably Japanese aesthetic, also offers perhaps one of the most innovative dining experiences in Miami. While Bal Harbor Shops will always remain Miami’s go-to place for finding the latest in designer fashions, restaurants like Makoto are proving that foodies shouldn’t overlook the luxury mall as a dining destination in and of itself.
9700 Collins Ave
Bal Harbour, FL 33154