unspoken rules/etiquette at high end sushi restaurants
I'm thinking of going to a high end sushi place in Manhattan, places like yasuda, 15 east, kuruma zushi, etc. I'd like to sit at the bar, where I can interact with the chef and he can pace the meal, etc.
what are the rules/etiquette about what you can order at the bar? I hear stories of people dropping hundreds of dollars, which I assume means they told the chef omakase. but I also see things like "sushi omakase" on the 15 east menu for only $55 or "sashimi plate" at kuruma zushi for only $70. is the bar reserved only for the "no price limit" kind of dinners? is there a minimum spend expected at the bar? what are all the unspoken assumptions/rules about this kind of thing?
is it worth it to order these cheaper menu items from these restaurants? it seems like the only threads I've read about these restaurants all imply the no limit omakase type experience. i'd like to have a great meal at a serious sushi restaurant - is it possible to do so for under $100 a person, and what tips should I follow to get the most out of the experience without stepping on anyone's toes?
There's a wealth of information on the internet. What I would do is search blog posts, as well as picture hosting sites like flickr maybe picasaweb, and blog/media reviews (other than CH) of various restaurants, and see what these people eat and how they order (if they mention it), look at the photos and pick items that you think you might want (whether sushi or cooked side dishes), arm yourself with this information and go to the place of your choice, and then guide your order to the chef at the bar specifically, or ask if they have such and such item.
The menu listed "sushi omakase" or "chef's special sushi platter" can be a vague description, and unless there are different price tiers, you won't know what you are getting, other than a random sample of what's in stock. Ask waitstaff (or the chef) what you are getting/how many pieces of sushi, what else it comes with, and decide for yourself. Kuruma is ridiculously expensive from what I've read online, so I'm not sure what you can get for less than $100 there.
Some places will have an "omakase" but it will be a pre-set price. That might work for you, just make sure you specify that you want the price-limited version. The quality of preparation and experience should be the same. You just might not get all the stuff that flew in from Tsukiji that day.
I find if I want to control my spending at a sushi place, I'll request to sit at a table, and order the special/deluxe/whiteboard-filled chirashi.
Sit at the bar, look at the menu - if there is one - and tell the sushi chef what you want to spend and what fish you like. Ask him for his best things within that limit. You don't have to say omakase. They want you to enjoy what they're making for you. Remember that folks who aren't fluent usually understand languages better than they can speak them.
The best sushi experience I ever had was in Boston years ago, early 90s - one of my vendors came into town and took me out to dinner. He'd been part of the army of occupation in Japan after WW II and learned to love the food. First thing he said to the waitress was "Do you have yellowtail collar?" "salmon collar?" So we got those two great grilled dishes which weren't on the menu before any sushi appeared.