Amount of food in Omakase? Long post. [moved from L.A.]
How much food should be expected for an Omakase that ended up costing $85 total (before tip) for two people? I know it's different for different restaurants, but my wife and I went out for Omakase last Friday at a restaurant we've never been to and left still very hungry. We just moved to the Inland Empire area (yes, I know, it's a food wasteland), so we tried Ken's Japanese Restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga. It was very good, and Ken was very nice to us, but we were just underwhelmed by the amount of food we got. We each had one beer, each had nine pieces of nigiri, and three pieces each of a maki roll. So that's 12 pieces of sushi each! It was indeed very good sushi and very high quality. But is that amount of food normal for $85?
Also, I'm not sure if we did something wrong, but Ken, the sushi chef, just all of a sudden stopped serving us. We never told him a limit of how much we wanted to spend, or how much food we wanted, but he just stopped serving us at one point. He wasn't even particularly busy. But we waited for about 20 minutes after the last thing he served us, and since I really don't know any of the etiquette I didn't want to ask him for more and figured that we should just ask for the check, even though we were still hungry. He didn't seem mad or annoyed, he just smiled and we got our check for $85 dollars a few minutes later. Is that normal? Should I have asked for more sushi?
Just for reference, this was only our second time trying Omakase, we usually go to another restaurant for all you can eat sushi. And our first time trying Omakase was a few years ago at Morimoto's in Philadelphia for $300 total for two people. So I can't really use that as a reference point. Are my expectations of sushi totally off-kilter because I usually frequent an all you can eat place, and because my only other Omakase experience was probably the best meal I've ever had? Did I do something wrong? Or is $85 normal for 2 beers and 24 pieces (12 each for me and my wife) of very good sushi?
Sorry for the long post, but I'm just trying to get my sushi bearings straight as I'm still learning. And for the record, the sushi I had at Ken's was excellent, I was just expecting more of it.
For my birthday this year I'd like to find a sushi restaurant that can serve me sashimi-only omakase, or sashimi plus izakaya (basically I don't like sushi rice so I don't enjoy nigiri). Would that be a reasonable query to a sushi-ya?
I'll still follow the suggestion of having a meal or several at the sushi bar first so the chef can know my likes & dislikes, but I want to know if asking for omakase without nigiri was even remotely possible.
re: Alice Patis
I think many sushi bars have a "chef's choice" sashimi plate. I think I had something like that at Koma Sushi in Menlo Park a couple years ago, which was named after a customer named Art (Art-san Special). I think it was still Toshi's back then, so the menu would likely have it under a different name now. (At least one of the guys behind the sushi bar seems to have stayed with the restaurant after the changeover.) Hmmm, it's dinner time, maybe I'll go check now. ;-)
re: Alice Patis
It is entirely acceptable to order omakase sashimi only - in fact some of the best places I've been to ask if you want either or both. You would most likely have to order a la carte from the waitress for specific non-sushi or sashimi items, (gyoza, shu-mai, sudako, etc.), unless you're actually in an Izakaya.
I think there's a tendency to mix up true omakase and just having the sushiya serve you the standard sushi or sashimi that he wants to serve you (or wants to get rid of). Omakase in a place that's staffed and equipped to handle it is something extraordinary - special preparations of ingredients that aren't available as standard nigiri or even sashimi pieces. I have received platters of art, with intricately cut pieces and completely original and unique ingredients and combinations - special sauces to go with special items. I would never consider an evening of standard sushi or sashimi as omakase, simply because the sushiya gave me what he wanted to give me.
Unfortunately, as omakase has caught on, and as sushiya's without the years of experience serving the most demanding clientele (in Tokyo or NYC or equivalent) have responded by serving what they know - the standard sushi/sashimi sets - omakase has become diluted and even meaningless.
I would only seek omakase in a place that was known to have a really special chef (e.g.- the OP commented about his experience at Morimoto in Philly) - I cannot imagine spending less than $75-100/person before drinks for this kind of experience. Anything less is just plain old sushi - maybe very good plain old sushi, but plain old sushi, nevertheless. To expect real omakase in a standard sushi place would be folly - maybe even an excuse to jack up the prices.
I think you have hit on the problem, at least for me. I was given to understand that omakase meant "trust me". Thus, I expected merely to be given a sort of chef's choice experience. I certainly expect the chef to give me the best things he has...but I do not expect a dazzlement. Apparently the word DOES have that context (or I misunderstood it in the first place) and a chef may not have the time or inclination to provide an over-the-top experience.
Being a sushi chef’s wife, I want to give you a chef’s point of view from talking to my husband about the subject of omakase. It seems that ordering "omakase" is getting popular. There are some restaurants that list "omakase" with set prices on their menus.
Omakase literally means "leave it up to you". Omakase, in true sense, would mean price is no subject. If “omakase” is not listed on the menu, before you order omakase at any restaurant, you would want to try them out couple times. That way, the chef would have some idea of your likes and dislikes and how much you’d likely to spend. I wouldn’t recommend ordering omakase at the sushi bar you’ve never been before. The chef has no idea how much you’d like to spend, nor how big your appetite is. They would normally serve you 10 to 12 pieces and see how you’re doing at that point. They would ask you if you’re full or you’d like some more because, again, they have no idea how much you could eat or how much to spend. When a customer say “omakase”, chefs usually assume there’s no budget; so they would give you most expensive items like toro, uni, etc. My husband doesn’t like it when a customer comes in for the first time and asks for omakase because he doesn’t know what the customer’s expectation is. Does he or she expects to be certain amount, or doesn’t really care how much the bill would be? The chefs don’t want to ask the customer how much the budget is because they don’t want to offend the customer.
So, my advice is: if you really want to widen your horizon and price is no object, go for omakase (but again, after sitting at the bar couple times and getting acquainted with the chef). If you only eat certain things and you have a certain budget, don’t go for omakase and sticks to ordering what you like.
chefswife -- This is really good advice and I thank you.
I always thought is was a good idea to order "omakase" in a new sushi bar so you could see the best that the chef would offer you; this way, you know if you want to return.
I never really thought about it the way you have presented it -- from the chef's point of view; your "try it a couple of times before ordering omakase" is a really good suggestion and I will change my approach in the future!
You're average price per piece was about $5 which seems reasonable to me for a high quality sushi place. Did you check to see on the menu if there was a sushi omakase listed or maybe called Chef's Sushi Tasting. Based on my reading of your post, to me, it sounds like you ordered (or better yet, got) a pre-set dinner. Every time I've gotten omakase, after eating a few pieces the chef continually asks if we want more pieces or are full.
At Sushi Yasuda in NY, which I think is one of, if not the best, I've had upwards of 25 pieces of nigiri and of course paid for it. Chef Yasuda initially gave us roughly 15-18 pieces and we wanted more and told him as much.
As TAG mentioned, don't be shy to talk to the chef or risk offending him. If you are hungry or want more, tell him. I also think you might be better off not even using the word omakase. Just sit at the sushi bar and tell him you want whatever is best tonight. Or tell him the number of pieces you want and tell him to pick out his favorites, or the freshest, or whatever. I've sat at bars and said I wanted to start with 15 pieces and for the chef to pick what he wants to serve me. After doing that, I wanted more and told the chef to serve me 3 more pieces.
I think I agree w/ the recommendation not to use the word "omakase". I have had ONE truly spectacular meal when I asked for omakase, but quite a number of less pleasant experiences, mainly consisting of being told no.
I think $80 sounds a bit too expensive, unless you were eating lots of toro, lobster, uni, etc. Then again, I don't live in LA!
this is a very interesting topic. i've never used the word "omakase" at a bar before but my recent visit to zushi puzzle in SF was pretty much that. we told chef roger what we wanted to start off with and after he saw what we had ordered for the first few and that we were serious sushi eaters, he took over for us. whenever we were ready for more we asked, "what else is good?" and he'd fire away with another 3 or 4 selections. very fun. so it was more of a culinary dialog vs an unspoken, on the fly menu. but we very much felt it was up to the chef where to take us next and trusted him.
i think the advice given in this thread is spot on and most chefs i've eaten with are patient and happy to serve.
my post on zushi puzzle (long):
Omakase is a very subjective thing. Since every restaurant does it differently, there are no set rules for it. Some places that are more expensive do charge $100-$200 or more per person, but I've had many great omakase dinners at Z Sushi in Alhambra for $50 each. That said, I don't think $85 total for two people is excessive- but again, it depends on what you had. Did your 12 pieces of sushi include things like toro or kani (fresh crab)? If so, those things are pricier than things like maguro (tuna) or salmon.
I think the best thing to remember is this- speak up. IF you are still hungry and you get the feeling that the sushi chef is finished, then simply tell him that you'd like some more. It isn't against the rules of omakase to ask for something if you're not getting it. Let's say you are really in the mood for salmon but, after 5 dishes, the chef has yet to serve you any. Ask him if the salmon is good today, and that in itself should be hint enough for him to see that you want some. If he still doesn't get it, just ask. Sushi is not a mystery and I do believe that many people are afraid they may break some rule or insult the sushi chef. Speaking up about what you'd like is absolutely fine and will, in the future, give the chef a better idea of what you like. Keep going to that place and pretty soon your omakase will fit your needs/taste.
Hope that helps.
Tuna Toast: http://tokyoastrogirl.blogspot.com/