After Philip Frankland Lee and his wife Margherita Klass Lee opened their first Scratch Bar & Kitchen in 2013, Lee yearned to fulfill another long-standing dream: He wanted to open a sushi restaurant. Growing up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, which contains one of the highest concentrations of sushi bars in the country, he’s wanted to be a sushi chef since he was 13.
Kallas-Lee pointed out that the restaurant, then located in Beverly Hills and now in Encino, was too busy to save me long stretches of time. So he turned his office into a small omakas restaurant.
The restaurant, too small to have only table space, fridge and eight restaurants, had no name, no website, no phone number and didn’t take reservations. Diners had to appear and write their names on the board with 24 slots to get a seat.
“It was a terrible business model,” he admits to me now with a laugh. But it took off, and out of this tiny space a restaurant empire has grown, earning Michelin stars and now making its way to Miami.
One of four locations for Sushi by Scratch, the Miami restaurant is now open on the first floor of the historic Stirrup House in Coconut Grove, behind Michael Beltran’s Ariete, which received its first Michelin star in June. The menu is served omakase (chef’s choice) style, and like all Scratch restaurants, everything is made from scratch, including soy sauce and vinegar.
“If we want prosciutto, we have to buy a pig and wait three years,” says Lee, who also runs two Pasta by Scratch restaurants in Los Angeles and Austin as well as Sushi by Scratch locations in Los Angeles, Austin and Montecito. LA Pasta and Montecito sushi restaurants each received Michelin stars in 2021.
The Miami restaurant will serve a 17-course omakase menu to 10 customers per seat, with three seats per night. You have to have a reservation, and it’s hard to get. On the 1st of every month, Sushi by Scratch will open their reservation website. July is already sold out, but you can be put on a waiting list in case of cancellation.
Lee says the Miami menu will include some signature items from other restaurants, including hamachi coated in sweet corn pudding with sourdough breadcrumbs and shredded wasabi on top, a nod to the sweet corn Lee grew up eating every summer as a kid and California sourdough.
Also on the menu is what Lee calls a 1-2 punch: a bone marrow course followed by Japanese eel seasoned with salt made with matcha green tea, mushrooms, and kelp, with bone marrow fat burned and distilled.
He tells me, “It’s not a traditional Nigerian, but I grew up eating bone marrow, and I love it. It’s on all my menus. It’s everyone’s favorite right away.”
Sharing his culinary past is something that Lee believes defines and sets his restaurants and brands apart.
“I see the kitchen as a language,” he says. You can either bring back the words you’ve heard or try to add them to the conversation. . . . Traditionally, in the best omakase bars in Tokyo, it’s not about who had the best fish or rice. At this level you divide the hair. Everyone is trying to have the best fish and the best rice. What separates one sushi spot from another is that each chef tells the story of his childhood and his neighbors. How they grew up is displaying their fish.”
Sushi from Scratch
where: 3242 Charles Street, Coconut Grove
cost: $165 per person plus taxes and service; Add $85 to pair three glasses, cocktails, and one beer, and $110 to pair six glasses
Seats: 5 PM 7:15 PM; 9:30 pm from Wednesday to Sunday
Reservations: Open on the first day of every month for the following month at www.sushibyscratchrestaurants.com