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:
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.