Japanese craftsmanship is known for its unflagging commitment to mastery, from the art of repairing pottery with golden joinery to the three years sushi chefs are required to cook just rice before they touch a knife (the word “wakiita” refers to the apprentice who’s allowed to be near the cutting board.). It’s thanks to this exacting, meticulous attention to detail that Michelin-starred third-generation sushi chef Shingo Akikuni decided that the best way for him to get the restaurant of his dreams in Miami was to build it in Kyoto and ship it here.
Yes, you heard that right. The 850-square-foot, 14-seat restaurant was entirely designed, built and assembled in Kyoto before being taken apart, transported and reconstructed in the historic La Palma building. And it wasn’t just the space that was shipped: Chef also brought the designers and the carpenter to Coral Gables to reassemble everything, like the most delicious Lego set you ever set eyes on.
“It was important for us to design and build it in Japan first, because the work is unique and there aren’t very many people experienced in creating something like this in the United States,” he says. “Basically, to ship all of the traditional tools and craftsmen required to finish all of the millwork onsite would have been incredibly inefficient.”
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The entire project took a year and a half to complete, and while the chef is keeping mum on how much it cost, one can safely assume it was…a lot. But the resulting space is exactly what Akikuni imagined, and that’s no surprise.
In crafting SHINGO, Akikuni took advantage of the expertise of Masato Yoshihara, whom the chef had met back in 2012.
“The first time I met Mr. Yoshihara was during my formal sushi training in Tokyo, at which my chef at the time introduced us,” he recalls. “When I saw Mr. Yoshihara’s design book, I saw sophisticated designs in every detail. I was very fond of his work, and I thought Mr. Yoshihara had a very good personality.’
Yoshihara took advantage of building materials like hinoki, a conifer revered for its durability, and vintage yakusugi, aged over 1000 years, to bring Akikuni’s dreams to life. The resulting space boasts an intimate L-shaped counter and custom ceramics (also made in Kyoto — this time by ceramicist Shin Murata). The “wave window,” a threshold one passes through to enter the dining area, is one of Akikuni’s favorite details, thanks to a finish inspired by ancestral Japanese techniques.
“The threshold has a finish called ‘naguri,’ a process in which ridges are sculpted on a wooden surface to create a delicate checkered pattern,” he says.
He also loves the hinoki counter, which he says is “very comfortable to the touch, almost soft.”
“The counter creates a sacred atmosphere,” he adds, “as it is beautiful to look at, feel and smell.”
And smell isn’t the only sense that was considered in the design.
“We thought a lot about the way lighting and sound plays into the space,” he says. “Traditionally in a sushi restaurant, the lighting would be quite bright and there would be no music. We wanted to create a bit more modern ambiance that still respects the traditional elements of the restaurant.”
The resulting space, he says, has the goal of providing “a calming effect for our guests — a feeling of being in a ceremonial tea room.” And thanks to its “lean,” wooden design, he says, “the dishes that are served in front of you are more impactful.”
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