I understand that you should try and form a relationship with a chef before ordering omakase. However, will almost any sushi restaurant have one? If I call around and ask for omakase, will places know what I am talking about. I am in Manhattan, and have called a few places close to me that I have been, and they have no idea what I mean when I ask for omakase on the phone. Thanks
Just about every sushi restaurant will have omakase.
I think people tend to make a much bigger deal about ordering an omakase meal if they have never done it before. Essentially all it means is that you are getting a chef's tasting menu. At some restaurants it will included sashimi, nirigi, maybe some cooked items, etc. Other places it will be nothing more than basically a sushi deluxe order. If you are hesitant to use the actual word, when you sit down at the sushi bar and order from the chef, just ask him to select for you X number of pieces of nigiri. The benefit of going to the same sushi chef for omakase is that they might try more unique/unusual pieces if they know you and know that you'll like it. That being said, I've had plenty of fantastic omakase meals my first time at a sushi restaurant, esp at the high end places like Sushi Yasuda, Jewel Bako, 15 East, etc. I've also had a great experience at smaller neighborhood places.
BTW, what are you asking on the phone? If they serve omakase or are you trying to place an order for delivery of omakase?
I think it depends on the chef as well as the restaurant policy.
There might be a menu listing that says omakase sushi, in which case if you order it at a table you get various random single pieces of nigiri all at once, versus say, a tasting menu that could involve more than just nigiri.
Most restaurants in the SF Bay Area don't require a reservation in advance for omakase at the sushi bar. You just ask for it and tell the chef what you want, otherwise it is all nigiri, and you might get fish hidden from plain view, or a nice prep/surprise. But for a few places I know of in Seattle, conversely, you need a reservation in advance to maximize your experience (for whatever reason, whether it be advanced preparation or stocking the right amount of ingredients).
I think the trick is to call the restaurant, make a reservation for the sushi bar ideally in front of the chef you want, and if the chef can speak English, ask to talk to him and ask about the availability of an omakase dinner then talk to a reservation person, if not then you might want to talk to the restaurant's manager (hopefully a Japanese speaker fluent in English). Some restaurants might do a name your price, or a fixed priced version, or the sky's the limit (like Masa NY at $350 to $500 a person).
The most important thing with omakase is to always call ahead to make a reservation at the bar so that you can sit right in front of the chef. Other than Yasuda and Jewel Bako, I would also highly recommend Sushi of Gari 46(they have some unique offerings like Salmon topped with hot tomato, lobster sashimi, japanese snow crab, or bruleed o toro --each piece of fish paired perfectly with a special sauce or other accoutrment.) . I'd say it's best to form a relationship with the chef, but I would consider the relationship to be more about letting him know about your food preferences. A good sushi chef will always ask how you like the piece he just gave you, what kind of fish/other creatures you like. By sitting at the bar you can also see and point to other delicious items that others are eating and give the sushi bar direct feedback on what looks good to you. Buying sake never hurts, but most sushi chefs just love when their customers are interested in what they are eating. so ask questions, let the chef know what you think is delicious, and each piece you will get will be even more delicious than the next!