Omakase

April 28, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

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Those of you who know what omakase is, you may want to skip this post. This is for those of you who see the post title above and you’re scratching your head and wondering: “Huh?” This post is for you.

I’m not sure when I first heard the word “omakase.” Most likely, it was my friend James Felder, a real sushi enthusiast, who’d talk about eating omakase at a favorite sushi restaurant.

“Omakase?” I’d respond. “What’s omakase?”

“It’s a tasting of all the freshest fish the chef has,” he explained. “Sort of like a tasting menu except everything is at the chef’s whim.”

Indeed, the word omakase (according to the Wikipedia entry) means “entrust” or “protect.” You are entrusting the chef to serve you the best he has to offer and to also set the price; a fact that might turn some people off from it. But last week, I was out with Craig and Lauren at Blue Ribbon Sushi here in Brooklyn and after studying the menu I said: “Do you guys want to do omakase?”

Lauren had done omakase before but Craig hadn’t. Both, though, are big sushi enthusiasts and the price–$50 a person–seemed fair for the feast that was sure to come.

“Sure,” they said and I smiled eagerly, ordering for all three of us when the waitress came over. “We’re all going to have the omakase,” I said.

“Very good, sir,” she responded.

Now there are moments in a food blogger’s life where his entire worth and status as a human being is called into question. As we sat eagerly anticipating the omakase that was to come, I spied the chef assembling what looked like a beautiful sculpture.

“Do you think that’s for us?” I asked Craig and Lauren.

They looked at the bar and both said “wow” and then Craig said: “I hope you have your camera.”

The truth was: I didn’t. I left it at the apartment–all I had was the camera on my cellphone.

And when they brought the sculpture out for us it was so astonishing, so beautiful we seriously considered sending me home for the camera–a trip that would’ve taken 20 minutes, there and back–before diving into the food.

“I’m sorry,” I concluded. “This looks too good not to eat right away.”

So I took these pictures with my cellphone:

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So, in case you can’t tell, the chef took three whole fish and curled them sculpturally on the platter for both aesthetic and gastronomical purposes. The fish’s flesh was carved in such away that you simply used your chopsticks to pull pieces of the fish directly off the fish itself. Needless to say, it was astonishingly fresh and wonderful.

Then, surrounding the three whole fish, were dragon rolls, sashimi of salmon and tuna, there was fatty tuna belly–toro–(a true delicacy), and much much more–so much more that we couldn’t help but devour the whole thing faster than anyone thought we would.

A happy chorus of “mmmms” provided the soundtrack as we devoured our food and when we were done, all that remained were the three carcasses–one with some flesh still on it.

“Do we eat that?” Lauren asked the waiter.

“No,” he said “We take it in the back and we deep fry it.”

And, indeed, he took the platter into the kitchen and came back moments later with the whole fish skeleton deep fried in such a way that you could crunch through the bones after dipping it into a sweet, gingery sauce.

This whole experience was a revelatory experience for me. I’ve always been a sushi admirer, a relatively frequent sushi eater (I eat it at least twice a week for lunch), but not much of a sushi connoisseur. Now, though, after my first omakase I’m starting to see that sushi can be a truly decadent treat, an epicurean adventure akin to eating the most refined French meal uptown. Except, unlike the French meal, it won’t cost you half your life savings and you don’t have to wear a suit. So I advise any of you who love sushi who haven’t done omakase to do it right away. Remember those trust games where you fall backwards into someone’s arms? It takes temerity to get into the right headspace to let yourself fall, but once you do and you feel those arms sweep under your arms your faith in mankind is immediately restored. Same with omakase: your baser instincts might tell you that it’ll be a rip off, that it’s too much for sushi. But let yourself fall and suddenly you’re thinking of food and eating and fish and sushi in a whole new way. That’s what’s special about omakase and why you should try it the next time you go out for a sushi date.

Trust me.

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  • kathleen

    This looks great, but do you think they do omakase with exceptions? You know, for picky eaters who attempt to keep kosher even when dining out?

  • http://faboolosity.blogspot.com/ heidi

    which restaurant was that? It looks yama-ish, but could also be Tomoe. Please tell!

  • http://www.gastronomie-sf.com Fatemeh

    Small rant:

    “Omakase” has been taken over as a sort of “tasting menu” in Japanese restaurants – freshest catch, artsy presentation, slightly over-preened.

    The “real” omakase, though, is something you’d never walk into a sushi restaurant and order at will. You’d certainly never order it from a table.

    You would earn status as a regular at your favorite sushi bar, and when the chef came to understand your palate, it would then be acceptable to order omakase.

    Omakase SHOULD include a small selection of cooked dishes (agedashi tofu, broiled mussels, etc.) and certainly a small spinach or seaweed salad.

    I love that people are letting sushi chefs go to town and take risks, but I beg of you – get to know your favorite chef. Sit at the bar. Pour him some sake or beer. And THEN, order omakase.

    You’ll see it will bear little resemblance to the meal you shared above.

  • http://www.cookingandeatinginthewindycity.blogspot.com Erin

    That looks amazing! I love sushi, and this would be a great way to change things up next time we go out. I am totally craving sushi after reading this!

  • astrid

    I had amazing omakase at Jewel Bako. I recommend.

  • http://www.lucidscreening.com Ben

    The head sushi chef at Taro has always been great when I’ve sat at the bar and ordered omakase. He’s incredibly friendly and serves you the sushi one or two pieces at a time allowing you to really enjoy his work at a leisurely pace.

  • http://www.chuckeats.com/ ChuckEats

    As for omakase costing less than a French restaurant, you will learn. The best places will cost you your life savings.

    In NYC, Kuruma Zushi and Masa will easily run more than any other meal (including Per Se) in town. Outside, restaurants like Urasawa (LA) and Sawa (Sunnyvale) will costs upwards of $300/pp.

  • http://www.kittalog.com Kitt

    Holy cow! (Holy cod?) That looks fabulous.

  • esther

    @ Heidi – He wrote it in the post – Blue Ribbon Sushi in Brooklyn. :)

    That looks amazing!!!!! is it taboo to ask how much it might be beforehand? What if I don’t have enough $ or something…. haha.

  • Shae

    Can I at least be assured of no puffer fish?

  • Shae

    Can I at least be assured of no puffer fish?

  • http://www.wealthtodayblog.com Joshua K

    For $50 bucks, puffer fish ( fugu ) will be excluded.

  • http://singleguychef.blogspot.com Single Guy Chef

    Those photos turned out great, even for a cellphone camera.

    Keep in mind, omakase is really the chef’s choice. So it will vary from chef to chef and sushi restaurant to sushi restaurant. Not all of them may present it the way you got it. But if you’re at your favorite sushi bar, then omakase will be the way to go if you already trust that the sushi chef will delight you.

  • http://rainydaysandsundays-c.blogspot.com/ Clare

    I agree – I’ve never heard of ordering omakase from a table. It’s usually strictly ordered at the sushi bar. At my favorite sushi place, I’ll get everything from sashimi to sushi to fried shrimp heads to seaweed salad from ordering omakase style. I think next time you’ll have an even better experience if you sit at the bar.

  • http://onefoodguy.blogspot.com Scott @ One Food Guy

    Wow, that looks awesome!

    What is in the lower left corner of the third picture, it looks interesting, and delicious!

  • http://thepearlonion.blogspot.com/ The Pearl Onion

    I love sushi so much that when I walk into my sushi place, they greet me by name now! Anyway, I never knew about omakase so thank you for the lesson! Eating sushi strait from the fish? Mmm…

  • http://thepearlonion.blogspot.com/ The Pearl Onion

    I love sushi so much that when I walk into my sushi place, they greet me by name now! Anyway, I never knew about omakase so thank you for the lesson! Eating sushi strait from the fish? Mmm…

  • http://thepearlonion.blogspot.com/ The Pearl Onion

    I love sushi so much that when I walk into my sushi place, they greet me by name now! Anyway, I never knew about omakase so thank you for the lesson! Eating sushi strait from the fish? Mmm…

  • Amy

    We went there on Saturday night and ordered omakase–all because of your post–and we loved it!!! It was so fresh and good and eating the fried fish bones was definitely an interesting experience. Thank you for introducing it to us.

  • Amy

    We went there on Saturday night and ordered omakase–all because of your post–and we loved it!!! It was so fresh and good and eating the fried fish bones was definitely an interesting experience. Thank you for introducing it to us.

  • Amy

    We went there on Saturday night and ordered omakase–all because of your post–and we loved it!!! It was so fresh and good and eating the fried fish bones was definitely an interesting experience. Thank you for introducing it to us.

  • Revolted

    I find this meal to be extremely nauseating – how debauched can you be to consume a fried fish skeleton post-consumption of its flesh. I’m sorry – I’m quite used to ‘high end’ cuisine – but this is over-the-top and rather revolting.

    Reset your priorities my gastronomic friend. Times are a changing – hopefully, your palette preferences will change with them.

  • StavinChain

    H’mmm…”Revolted,” what could be better for our changing times than to completely consume a food item…rather than to simply throw part of it away? It seems that debauchery is not the question here, but rather ecological care for the environment. If you’re going to eat an animal at all, should you not endeavor to make every possible part of it count for nutrition? I applaud the total use made of the fish, and find it neither revolting nor nauseating–but rather both fascinating and brilliant.

    Yes, “Revolted,” times are indeed a-changin’, but not in the direction you seem to think. There is a limited amount of food available, and more and more people being born every day. Someday, your palate preferences may be forced to change, and you may have nothing to eat other than that which you find nauseating at present. My advice is not to criticize other people’s taste (never a better use of “de gustibus non est disputandum” than in this case) but rather to reset your own “priorities” and realize that there is nothing debauched about being an omnivore–OR cleaning your plate.

  • sosi moixui

    oh my god kill yourself

  • Arnold

    I went on google to look up with this meant but I just realized… It’s just romaji meaning to “Entrust”, etc. With that said.. Ordering the Omakase does not make sense for the word itself is a verb. –Just a rant from a student of the language–