Omakase Room by Mitsu – New York, NY
I can't stay away from omakase meals in New York City. My last NYC omakase at Nakazawa just reinforced what I already knew––an excellent sushi omakase is one of my favorite experiences, and when I finish one, I leave feeling not just like I had a wonderful meal, but also experience a fulfilled, joyful, almost zen-like state.
Maybe it's the sake.
Eater has a constantly updated list of the 30 or so best sushi restaurants in the city, and whenever I am planning a visit, I go through the rotation and see where I can score a reservation. One of the glorious things about sushi counters is that, bucking the trend of slighting solo diners, they often have open spots for one when their counters fill up with uneven numbers. So, in a city replete with magnificent omakase options, I just wait for the first acclaimed place I can find with a spot for one. During this most recent visit, my eighth this year (!), when NYC was a launching point for my Thanksgiving break flight to Europe, the first reservation I found was at Omakase Room by Mitsu.
The Omakase Room, despite its sort of unsatisfying name, is a subterranean wood-paneled oasis of just eight seats in the West Village, was previously helmed by a different sushi chef, Tatsu Sekiguchi, before Mitsunori Isoda took over. Hailing from Osaka, Mitsu-san came to the US and worked in Memphis (of all places) before relocating to New York City and most notably guiding the sushi program at Jewel Bako to a Michelin star. Now, at Omakase Room, he focuses on traditional sushi flown in daily from Japan, with a focus on hyper-seasonal, harder-to-find fish and his mastery of various traditional aging techniques. Doing my research on the place and seeing many fish I'd never sampled, or don't routinely see on an omakase list, I was getting more and more excited for my dinner.
I quite liked the look of the minimalist basement dining room. Just seven seats at the bar, and each party divided by a plexiglass shield, despite the fact that all the diners were very much vaccinated, as is the rule in NYC. Shrug. As Fran Leibowitz once asked a server in a plexiglass barrier-populated dining room, "Can I smoke in here, then? If the barriers stop air from going to the next table..." The room was paneled in gorgeous blonde wood on every surface, making it feel warm and modern, yet traditional. As with many sushi bars, they sand down the unfinished counter every day. Behind it, Mitsu-san and his assistant patiently began crafting the sushi for us, greeting each diner with a toro hand roll. In the tradition of eating hand rolls right away, I refrained from photographing, and instead chowed down immediately on the still-crunch nori housing glorious morsels of luscious tuna belly.
Their sake by the carafe or small bottle list was the most disappointing aspect of my experience. The selection was pretty tiny and increased rather quickly in price from one to the next, not really giving me a chance to sample much before the prices became simply untenable. I started with their super dry, pristine Junmai from Soto in Niigata Prefecture, an area of Japan known for producing brilliant, crystalline dry sakes owing to the remarkably pure water. A perfect pairing with the early white fish bites, and check out the awesome hand-made Japanese serving vessel!
The first three pieces offered were delicate, clean white fish. Ishigakidai, a type of snapper and a new fish for me, was served with (a little too much) sea salt and yuzu zest. Kamasu, barracuda from Japan, contrasted with the snapper with its melty flesh and what I believe was Edomae-style aging. And finally, shima aji, striped jack, one of my very favorite fish these days, was simply prepared with the ideal proportions of wasabi and shoyu. A brilliant first set that was only marred by the bellicose chattering of two sushi bros next to me ("We should copter into Chamonix mid-Jan, bro.").
My two favorites from the whitefish portions came next––first was ji-kinme, which Mitsu-san said is also called kinmedai, one of my favorite fish, but one that I knew as goldeneye snapper and not "splendid alfonsino" as the menu translated, though I think I prefer the latter name! This one, instead of wasabi, had a dollop of pungent yuzu kosho between the fish and the rice. Fantastic! The second was Mitsu's professed favorite, nodoguro, or blackthroat sea perch, which gave way to the teeth more easily and was held together by its flavorful, gorgeous skin.
The next sake was a Yamahai, which is a bit tangier and fruitier than the Niigata Junmais because it has some lactic acid to it. This was the suggestion of the server as the flavors of the fish got stronger, and it worked quite nicely with the forthcoming pieces.
Tuna is the only thing that Mitsu-san doesn't seem to source from Japan. From Boston, this lean bluefin was aged and marinated, which imparted a spectacular umami that I'd expect from a piece of tuna belly rather than a lean cut. Quite impressive. Instead of the predictable chutoro and otoro cuts, Mitsu instead sources kamatoro, the collar or cheek of the tuna, an also lusciously fatty cut, and ages it for three months. The best piece of the night thus far––it even made the sushi bros shut up.
Kohada, known as "gizzard shad" in English, is a type of herring and is a hyper-traditional fish sourced only when it is exactly four inches long, then marinated and aged in vinegar for some time before being served in all its funky, mouthwatering glory. Two gorgeous offerings from Hokkaido, Japan's northern island, followed––uni, which y'all know I love, and may have been the best uni I've had, as well as a plump, sweet Hokkaido scallop dressed with sea salt and yuzu. Three showstopping pieces in a row.
I couldn't believe the sushi courses were almost over! Anago was last on the list, which has always been a "meh" piece for me, as well as a little cup of the best miso soup I've had.
Fortunately for me, Mitsu-san asked all of us if we'd like to try anything else or sample from the remainder of the fish he had available as specials. In a move that should surprise nobody, I opted for the entire lineup. But more sake first, right? Seeing as how the next carafe on the list was an eye-popping $94, I asked if they had anything off-menu that was more reasonable, and was brought a daiginjo from the same producer, Soto, that made the first sake. Clean but a little more complex, it was an excellent food-friendly premium sake that went well with the many stripes of fish left to sample. And yet again, I was blown away by their gorgeous glassware.
Three cuts I'd never experienced at a sushi restaurant were up first––a firm but forgiving cuttlefish aged and dressed in a very traditional style, followed by a type of sardine I didn't think I'd care for, since sardines tend to be rather fishy, but was fantastic, and then a striped bonito, a fish I've only had in flake form. All were delicious.
Three of my favorite things in all of the culinary universe were to be the last three sushi bites of the meal. The first was ocean trout from Tasmania, a close relative of salmon with similar fatty flesh. Botan ebi from British Columbia followed, the sweet raw meat of the spot prawn nearly melting on the tongue. And finally, more sea urchin, this time from Santa Barbara, which as usual was more assertive in flavor and larger in size than its Japanese counterpart.
Gyoku, a Japanese rolled omelet made from a recipe perfected by Mitsu-san over many decades, was the last bite, and was a refreshing change from the expected closing tamago course. Very impressive, and another example of how he plays with and upends your expectations of a standard omakase.
Omakase Room is yet another bright star in the sushi constellation in New York City, and Mitsu has brought his experience, mastery, and congenial countenance to make this one of the most enjoyable sushi experiences I've had. What made it even better was when Mitsu and I started talking about music, and his belief that food and music are spiritually connected––"I can't make sushi without music playing." The aging techniques were fantastic, and there were some cuts that were so good I could have eaten three or four of them, all while plugging my ears so as not to let my palate be distracted by the toxic corporate masculinity radiating from the sushi bros.
Up next, the Maestro Eats International Edition returns! At least one of my two of loyal readers knows where I'm going––can the other one guess? Stay tuned!