When top Japanese chefs and restaurateurs expand to the US, they have invariably headed to New York. Just look at the jammed counters at Yoshino, Odo and Sushi Nakazawa.
However, when first-time restaurateurs Samuel and Jose Tcherassi approached Hidefumi Namba, the revered shokunin, or craftsman, behind Tokyo’s eight-seat, referral-only Sushi Namba, the brothers didn’t offer him a plush spot in Manhattan. They made a bold offer: Open in Miami.
Namba countered with his own suggestion: If he were to expand to Florida, the space should have a bar—and not just any drinking establishment. He proposed a US branch of Bar Cocktailante Oboro, the members-only Tokyo spot run by his friend Shunta Yamakawa, which serves exceptional, digestion-supporting, fruit-based elixirs.
In summer 2024, the Tcherassi brothers and Namba will open the multiconcept Ura, a 1,700-square-foot space that includes Sushi Namba and the Listening Room, a jazz lounge that will also host Cocktailante Oboro. Ura will be located in a gated building in Allapattah, an up-and-coming artistic neighborhood northwest of downtown Miami.
To eat at Sushi Namba and drink at Listening Room, Miami residents will first have to pay a $10,000 members fee This will give them access to monthly seats at the sushi counter, as well as to the bar and jazz lounge. The price for an actual meal of sushi omakase will range from $400 to $500 per person. The Tcherassi brothers say that they will cap the number of members at around 300 and have started accepting reservations.
The eye-opening fee will not make Sushi Namba the first $10,000 members-only Japanese spot in Miami, though. Major Food Group (MFG) already operates ZZ’s Club there, with its $10,000 initiation fee and $3,500 annual membership. (Namba will not require annual membership.)
The trend toward private restaurants and bars is taking off in the US. In October, MFG announced the New York launch of ZZ’s Club at a cost of $30,000 for new members; earlier this year, New York became home to the referral-only whiskey den, Beatbox.
Members-only dining and drinking spots are well established in Japan, as are referral spots where a prospective diner needs to be accompanied by a member or obtain a referral from a regular.
John Hirai, a top reviewer for the Japan-based restaurant rating site Tabelog, said that by choosing their customers, operators can better control the dining experience. For in-demand restaurants with just eight or so seats, “chefs want customers who will repeatedly visit, respect [them], respect other customers, and various other factors depending on the chef,” he noted.
The Tcherassi brothers agree. They say that opening an expensive members-only place brings guests a better experience. Once Namba comes to know customers, he can customize their experience—a common practice in Japan. There’s even a word for it: Omotenashi is the Japanese approach to hospitality for hosts whose work goes above and beyond the norm.
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Miami is the Tcherassis’ home town, the base for the family’s luxury dress label, Silvia Tcherassia. Samuel believes, however, that the city is ready for “a world-class talent like Namba-san.” He adds that he hopes Ura will inspire additional Japanese chefs and operators to open in Miami.
According to Tabelog, Sushi Namba in Ginza is Tokyo’s fifth-best sushi spot and seventh best in all Japan. Namba has set himself apart among Tokyo’s sushi elite, thanks to his obsessive approach regarding temperature control of his sushi service.
The chef serves each piece of nigiri, both fish and rice, at the exact temperature he believes will optimally enhance each ingredient. He arranges 75F otoro (fatty tuna belly) on 104F rice; at these temperatures, Namba explains, the tuna’s fat melts into the rice while the vinegar that seasons the rice balances the fish’s richness. Bonito, on the other hand, is best served at 72F, draped over 100F rice.
Namba says he has dreamed of expanding to a “beautiful city [that] always has good weather” and plans the Miami menu to match that in Tokyo. His longtime senior apprentice Yuma Takanashi will run the American counter, with Namba in attendance for a month around the opening and then for one week in each quarter.
Back in Japan, Namba will handpick the Toyosu Market fish that the team will fly to Miami three times a week. (He estimates that 90% of the ingredients used on Ura’s menu will be from Japan).
Although the chef calls his style Edomae (traditional sushi that relies on marinated and preserved fish), he does not age his seafood. Guests can expect around seven small appetizers before moving on to consume around 15 nigiri. He will offer two of his signature starters: soy sauce-marinated monkfish liver sashimi and stewed red bream accented with green onion-like negi.
The Miami restaurant is being designed by Colombia-based 5 Sólidos, using a few simple, top-quality materials such as stone, wood and concrete. (It’s “inspired by sushi itself,” says Jose Tcherassi.) Up front will be a 10-seat hinoki-wood sushi counter, and a private four-seat nook will overlook a small garden studded with rocks and bonsai trees.
Beyond that will be the Listening Room, to be equipped with an Audio Note vacuum-tube analog audio system designed by Soundlux Audio, with custom Devon Turnbull speakers. This space will double as a cocktail lounge, with baskets of seasonal Japanese and domestic fruit, plus a wall of premium liquors. Pick your fruit, pick your spirit and Kazuki Yonekawa, Yamakawa’s senior apprentice, will get to work making your cocktail.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.