Tasting excellence at Miyake

Flavor frenzy
By BRIAN DUFF  |  May 16, 2012

food_miyake_sushiroll_main
OPENING WITH A BURST Miyake’s ceviche sushi-roll.

There is a theory about the extreme inequality found in American culture and economy that goes something like this: inequality is the price of a culture designed to identify and reward great talent. We are only a nation of strivers because those with brilliant ideas and accomplishments can reap great rewards. This theory is mostly malarkey: the elite rig the game — insulating themselves and their children from risk, and isolating themselves from the masses in expensive neighborhoods and elite schools. But once in a while the theory works: a talented striver reaps the rewards, and ascends to the rarefied air.

You can taste the theory in action at the new location of Restaurant Miyake. Once upon a time it was "Food Factory Miyake" — and you could lug your own bottle into the scrappy dining room, with its painted brick walls, and be astonished by the chef's affordable omakase menus. Miyake's talent paid off — he now oversees a second restaurant (Pai Men Miyake, specializing in noodles) and a nearby farm. But it's at the new manifestation of Miyake's original sushi restaurant that you can see Miyake's talent factory-fledged and in full flight.

No one would mistake Miyake's new place for the old factory. Behind the striking fish-scale installation in the front window is a handsome and muted dining room under a modish white ceiling installation. It is extraordinarily quiet, even when the room is full, and it's well lit — the better to appreciate the coruscating cuisine as it emerges from behind the bar, where a team of chefs work with remarkable calm.

In these muted surroundings it is the food that pops — with gorgeous presentation, colors both brilliant and pale, and an undiluted clarity of flavors. Small details charm as well — like the lovely handmade china and the rock on which you rest your chopsticks. The menu offers a chef's omakase of five or seven courses, or you can make your own meal out of salads, soups, rolls, small plates, and large plates — the last of which include several chef's-choice plates of nigiri and sashimi. We mixed and matched ourselves, but I defy you to watch the striking omakase plates go by and not calculate when you will go back and try it.

The miso soup has none of the turbid powderiness of your typical broth. Miyake's version is so rich and creamy it's almost thick. A salad with wakame seaweed had a great, funky, briny fishness — from both the dark seaweed and the chewy little baby sardines that spotted the greens. A small plate of duck breast features many thick perfect-pink slices topped with bits of chive. The rich meat combined with musty truffle oil gave the dish a quality almost like liver, while a lively dash of yuzu pepper (made with a tart Japanese fruit) cuts through the heaviness.

The omakase nigiri plate offered both the familiar and the unexpected. The tuna-toro had been just kissed with a blow-torch, adding a touch of seared flavor, while a salmon toro had a melting texture and almost smoky taste. Sea bass was more about texture than strong flavor, while the mackerel is not afraid to be fishy. The creamy scallop was like a dollop of sea butter. The tuna and the hamachi carried mineral notes and meaty flavor carried their soft textures. The ceviche sushi-roll, a beautiful yellow, opens with a burst of citrus followed by the sour and fish. A sprig of purple amaranth gives it sweetness and chewy texture.

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