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Photo Credit: Leila Kwok

Omakase restaurants provide a unique, singular dining experience. (Op-Ed)

Omakase is a traditional style of Japanese dining experience in which the diner lets the sushi chef prepare whatever they desire for their guests; there are no menus, no requests, and no two omakase experiences, even if at the same restaurant, are the same. The phrase omakase directly translates to “I leave it up to you.” This traditional phenomenon has spread to American restaurants across the nation and offers a unique experience like no other. Diners are sat before the chef who expertly crafts a journey, not a simple meal, a journey, with the finest ingredients and seasonal delicacies. You never know what you’re going to get, it is all up to the chef’s discretion. It is quite an expensive dining experience, but the price is well worth it due to the quality of the ingredients and the intimate nature of the meal.

Traditionally, sushi bars in Japan did not have menus. Experienced sushi connoisseurs know that the best way to eat sushi is to let the chef work their magic right in front of your eyes. Due to the price of omakase and the uncertainty of what is going to be prepared, many Americans feel a sense of anxiety. However, as a sushi lover, it is my dream to attend an omakase at least once in my life.

While there are horror stories on social media about women being served smaller portions without a deduction in price, diners still being hungry after their meal, and food waste, I argue that every restaurant has its downsides. One bad experience should not detract from omakase as a whole. Often, chefs will change their plans on a dime as they get to know their diners. Omakase is so focused on the happiness of the guests that they are met with the chef’s full attention.

“It’s a great pleasure for anybody who cooks,” Nobu Yamazaki, owner and chef of Sushi Taro in Washington D.C., said thoughtfully, “You aren’t just cooking in the kitchen, you want to know the reaction of the customer.”

“The overall experience at the omakase counter is truly stellar,” Yamazaki continued, “We start off with a few appetizers to see how the customer reacts to our food, then if we think they can go for [dishes] a little more adventurous, or a little more of something they’ve never had before, we’ll try to put those out there little by little.” According to Yamazaki, his most pressing concern is whether or not a diner is enjoying their meal. “Sometimes we might just completely change it in the middle of the course,” he explains, “It really depends on the customer.”

Such a singular experience is not easily repeated, and as long as diners go in with an open mind, they are seldom disappointed. As more omakase restaurants open in the States, I truly hope that I get to experience such a meaningful, thoughtful, intimate meal.

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