We’re a fresh fish-loving corner of the globe, so it’s no wonder that the omakase concept—which, in Japanese, literally translates to “I’ll leave it up to you”—has totally taken off. For omakase newbies, the experience often boils down to an intimate room setting, with seating for 10 or so, with a chef serving up the freshest catches and on-the-spot rolled sushi concoctions one toothsome bite at a time.
In the case of Sushi by Scratch, which is tucked in an elegantly lit, black-walled room within Coconut Grove’s Michelin-starred Ariete, there are 17 courses to navigate. The total experience lasts about two hours, with nightly 10-diner seatings at 5, 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. And should your heart desire, there’s booze, booze and more booze to complement it all, with sake bottles starting in the $50-ish range and curated whiskey/sake pairings in the $100 realm.
In the burgeoning omakase landscape, Sushi by Scratch is a stalwart. Its first location opened seven years ago in California and, today, there are seven total spots spanning Montreal to the Michelin-starred Montecito, California, outpost.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” says chef Phillip Frankland Lee. “When we opened our very first location, it was considered blasphemy what we were doing and now everyone is doing it. I like to think we’ve helped inspired this generation to do this thing. And while some may be in their first month or second month, we’re going on a decade of doing it.”
Sushi by Scratch’s Miami location opened in July 2022 in the Historic Stirrup House, also located on the Ariete compound. Described by Lee as “a very cozy and small set-up,” the spot moved a couple hundred feet away inside Ariete in December 2022.
Today, the experience begins with a small welcome cocktail served in a miniature tea-like glass at a bar outside of the space. The drink—dubbed the Tozai Typhoon —is a ginger-forward delight with fresh lime juice, Junmai sake and Suntory Toki Japanese whisky. If you’re nice to the hostess, she might give you a refill or two.
From there, you’re ushered through the restaurant, down a hallway and through a sliding black door to the omakase bar set-up. Guests’ names are written in cursive on a chalkboard in front of each setting. Behind the bar are rows of fine whisky, wine, four chefs (recently Mike, Kevin, Washington and beverage boss David) and conspicuous chalk boards, each boasting one of the 16 sushi selections for the evening. The boards read hamachi, toro, scallop, king salmon and, the closer—uni—among others.
You’re given a hot black cloth to keep your fingers clean—eating by hand is encouraged and that cloth comes in handy.
The vibe of the experience is contingent on who’s at your table—which can lead to an elegant, “Oh, look what that breadcrumb on top did at the end” affair, to raging with a crew of locals planning on getting lit on a boat nearby right after through the morning. Regardless, the chefs clearly and admirably have the right amiable personalities to adapt to any situation thrown their way (e.g., one time a diner apparently bit a chef’s finger and he lived to talk about it in good humor).
The 17 courses—inclusive of a final Makrut lime ice cream bonbon bite at the end—are spaced out evenly throughout the two-hour culinary sampling, each with their own dedicated spiel. For some bites—particularly those that include a blowtorched element—you’re instructed to indulge immediately. And—to say the word spiel one more time—the spiels are indeed such a core part of truly appreciating the Sushi by Scratch experience.
In the words of chef Mike, as he describes the elaborate-beyond-belief bone marrow fried-on-the-spot unagi: “As you can see, I am rendering out some of that extra bone marrow fat from the previous bone marrow bite on top of the eel. It’s going to bubble up and fizz when I hit it up with the torch in a couple of seconds, essentially deep frying the eel in bone marrow fat. It’s a pretty crazy thing to do, but we did it anyway.”
And, yes, that’s just one fraction of one-17th of the evening—it’s an experience that flies by in retrospect.
Sure, the group collectively begins to lean back and grow in collective fullness after course 12 or so. But with such prized selections—flown in regularly from Tokyo’s famous Toyosu Fish Market, as we learned—you can’t help but just power through until the end. It’s worth the overindulgence.