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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Omakase @ Sushi Japan - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse
Well I finally made it to Sushi Japan for Omakase. I've been wanting to blog about Sushi Japan for a while. I'm often asked to recommend a good place for sushi, and without hesitation, this has always been my first answer. It's almost a "Best Kept Secret of Omaha" because most people have either never heard of it, or they have, but for whatever reason, they've never been, or they did go, but didn't partake in sushi because they were lured by the siren song of the Yakiniku grills.

So why do I like Sushi Japan? Simple - they usually have the highest quality fish and their staff is friendly. Sure their prices are reasonable, they're centrally located, and have decent ambiance, but those first two items are what really count. The two may not weigh heavy enough for me to drive 20 minutes when there is another comparable sushi joint within 10 minutes, but if given the equidistant choice, I would pick Sushi Japan before Hiro, Blue or Sakura Bana (formerly Sushi Ichiban) any day of the week. I will make a confession though. If all you're after is basic run-of-the-mill sushi, any of the places just listed will do. It's just fish and rice people; how much can it really differ from place to place? I suspect they source a lot of their products from the same places.

So what makes one sushi place better then the rest? Well, as I already mentioned, consistent quality and a friendly staff, but I found a new aspect to appreciate. The artistry and creativity the sushi chefs (Itamae) can display when given complete control as in the Omakase format. It's hard to come up with a new concept in sushi, but if an Itamae can pull it off, they might just earn your respect and loyalty forever. So using this as the main differentiator between sushi bars, I've decided to set out to find "The Best Omakase in Omaha". With that in mind, this review, and the subsequent reviews, will focus solely on the Omakase experience while sitting at the sushi bar.

A quick preface

The definition of "Omakase"** comes from the verb "makasu" which means to trust, to let someone else take the initiative. In general, "Omakase" expresses the idea of having the courage to place your life in the hands of someone else. Or, in the case of dining...place your dining experience in the hands of the chef.

A true chef's "Omakase" menu should reflect the chef's vision of the following:

Flavor - distinct or combination of sweet, tart, bland, salty, spicy and sour
Color - contrasting and attractive combinations
Texture - distinct or combination of crisp, soft, chewy, and firm
Shapes & Size - mix of flat, round, long, chopped, shredded, heaped, tubular, etc
Temperature - hot, cold, tepid, lukewarm, even icy

After knowing what to expect when ordering Omakase, consider these additional recommendations when planning your visit.

Know when your place of choice receives their fish.
Only go on the day of or after they receive a delivery.
Let them know in advance that you'd like to order Omakase.
This will allow them to make sure they are properly staffed and prepared to give you their best.
Make your reservation several weeks in advance.
This will allow them to special order anything they may want to feature.

Now for the details about Omakase at Sushi Japan. Well, I'm not sure what to say. One of the best sushi meals I've had. What I'm having a hard time coming to terms with is why. The food was really good, but I'm not sure another sushi house couldn't do the same. Zach (the owner and our Itamae for the night) and crew were all nice and chummy. Did I mention the food was really good? But I think what I really enjoyed was that I was forced to try things I may not normally order. For instance, I have a severe aversion to nori, but about half the dishes I ate had nori, and I enjoyed or at least tolerated the nori in most of them. I tried uni again and loved it. I tried mackerel for the first time and loved it. I ate some special maki rolls and at least appreciated them - may have even liked the Super Dragon Roll. This fact that I have now been exposed to a wider variety of menu items may make it difficult for me to evaluate other Omakase menus, but I'll try to keep an unbiased opinion - I promise.

This all leads to an interesting discussion. How much guidance should a dinner be allowed when ordering Omakase? Not having a say in what we ordered had a big impact on my wife's enjoyment of our dinner. She's extremely sensitive to heat created from chilis, wasabi and the like. This was explained to Zach during our second course when she pawned off her spicy tuna tempura onto me because she couldn't handle it. While she did enjoy our meal, she's hesitant about ordering Omakse again for lack of control. It's hard to justify the cost when you sit down and know you're likely going to be given something you really don't like. If anything, this would be my one complaint for the night. Zach was made aware of her sensitivity, but when we were presented with our nigiri plates, her tuna and salmon both had wasabi on them. It's one thing to not bend your preparation for a dish made in advance or in quantity, but on nigiri?

So here are the questions I have: Should you be able to mention dislikes to the chef? How severe do your dislikes have to be? Can you insist on foods that fit your palate? If so, should this fact be mentioned when you first sit down or when you make a reservation? Should you be able to do the opposite and state that you'd really like to have some uni and o-toro? Does it defeat the spirit of Omakase? And what about price? What's reasonable as guidelines to set for this aspect of your tolerances? I'd love to hear your feedback on the issue.

Finally, since I mentioned price, I should talk about our cost for the evening. Happily sedated with fish belly (the term my wife uses for the feeling your belly has after eating copious amounts of sushi - in a purely positive way), amused and entertained for almost 3 hours, the bill with tax was just shy of $50 a person? Rip-off? My initial reaction was one of a bit of shock. I know sushi is expensive, but I wasn't expecting such a large bill. However, sushi is expensive. Sushi in the mid-west is insanely expensive. For example, a two piece order of Maguro Nigiri is about $3.50 on the west coast. Those same two pieces would be closer to $5.50 in the mid-west. If we would have ordered the same menu a la Carte, our bill would have been closer to $100 per person, not per couple. So in hind sight, it was actually a bit of a bargain. And to be completely fair, Zach asked us several times how we were doing and if we were ready to quit. But you know how it is - you want to know what he might bring out next if you stay in the game. Honestly it was completely worth it.

Omakase @ Sushi Japan on Flickr

** Omakase definition adapted from FLO

Rating: 90

Sushi Japan Yakiniku Boy - Make a Reservation
Omaha, NE
(NE Corner of 144th and West Center Road - Behind Old Chicago)

14134 W Center Rd
Omaha, NE 68144
(402) 778-0840

Hours of Operation
Tuesday through Thursday:
  Lunch 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Friday - Saturday:
  Lunch 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Sunday:
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Sushi Japan on Urbanspoon

Reviewed during a Foodies of Omaha event.
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