Makoto, a sleek newcomer at Bal Harbour Shops, joins the Miami trendlet of izakaya restaurants serving shareable plates of noodles, rice, roboto grill, sushi and raw-bar eats. It’s an easy “A” for a neighborhood that, despite its high-rent ZIP code, has lacked a high-end Japanese dining room. The restaurant is named for its young, sublimely good-looking and talented chef, Makoto Okuwa, who worked with Iron Chef master Morimoto in New York and Washington, D.C. Okuwa was also the force behind Southern California celebrity magnet Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge, where he is still an owner. But the 35-year-old rising star could not resist the lure of his very own spot with big-name backing. No wonder. Stephen Starr, Philadelphia’s restaurant Midas, is the one who tapped him.

Ambience:  In true Starr style, the place is as good-looking as its staff with polished teak booths, dark wood floors and 12-seat sushi bar. The Zen-like open kitchen makes for a serene experience while a reggae sound-track and a diverse crowd add life.

Like the decor, the ever-changing menu is a blend of traditional and modern elements, from mentaiko aioli to an All-American burger on a brioche bun.

What Worked

  • Peruvian influenced snapper ceviche swimming in egg-yolk-yellow chile sauce
  • Toro tartare – velvety ribbons of tuna belly tossed with a light shallot vinaigrette and topped with toasty caramelized nori and pearls of black paddlefish caviar
  • Ttea-crusted tuna tataki, gently seared and slightly smoky slivers of blood-red fish beneath a mound of buttery avocado, crunchy pistachios and snappy microgreens, all brought together by a bright chile sauce
  • Divine, light and satisfying udon noodles with threads of white meat chicken, toasty peanuts and fresh pea sprouts
  • A tight-as-a-cigar California roll made with crab & wasabi
  • Shime saba 
  • Japanese mackerel
  • Live scallop
  • Black edamame
  • Kobe beef served with an intensely hot river stone (to quickly sear the stamp-size slice) and sweet onion jus soy and ginger sauce

    Flawless whole roasted branzino
  • Buttery black cod
  • Bargain-priced lunchtime bento boxes – seared, ponzu-soaked salmon & mahogany-hued short rib robata served with a tangle of fresh greens, a bowl of steamy miso soup and a scoop of sticky rice
  • A well-curated list of international wines and gorgeous sakes

What Didn’t Work

  • An an uni (sea urchin) fettuccine whose hand-rolled noodles were rendered greasy by a puddle of salty butter
  • A tempura asparagus that included at least half a dozen woody stalk ends
  • Predictable dessert – molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, mochi balls, yuzu ice cream and tiny puffed-rice cracker balls.