Where can we get both omasake and a la carte in Shinjuku?
June 4, 2017 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Looking for good place in Shinjuku for dinner where you both do the whole omasake and also can order from a menu.

We'll be traveling to Japan, specifically Shinjuku then Kyoto, and my partner is a big fan of sushi and would like to do the whole omasake at the counter of a decent sushi place. I am not such a fan of fish, so it would be great if I could order of menu to have ... less fish while he does this.

I've done some research but some seem to imply that they only do omasake at dinner or the websites are only in Japanese so I can't tell what my food options would be. So we're looking for recommendations of good places to go and if there's a night that will be more quiet that would be useful information as well.

Budget can be a bit of a splurge and our Japanese language skills are very minimal.
posted by platypus of the universe to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
I don't have any firsthand experience, but Horikawa does omakase (note: omakase, not omasake) and also kaiseki (traditional high-end Japanese cuisine) and teppanyaki (grilled food - steak and that kind of thing), and they list on their web site that they can provide an English menu.

TripAdvisor says they're in Shibuya, but they're right close to the Shinjuku subway station. Reservations are recommended.
posted by Jeanne at 5:50 PM on June 4, 2017

You'll want to confirm that they'll serve a table with both. Sometimes restaurants want everyone to order the same "menu," because of the pacing.
posted by praemunire at 6:17 PM on June 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Are we talking sushi here? Honestly if your partner wants the high end omakase experience you should either both do it or just have them go alone. It's actually a quick meal so dining alone is pretty decent option.
posted by JPD at 6:55 PM on June 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are a few things to know about restaurants in Japan that may help your search. First of all, restaurants are highly specialized, so sushi restaurants tend to serve mostly sushi (possibly with some side dishes, but maybe not too many) - the serious sushi places aren't catch-all Japanese restaurants as they are in other countries. There are dozens of different cuisines like tempura and tonkatsu and unagi, and they all have their own specialty restaurants. Izakaya-style restaurants serve a variety of small dishes, but rarely sushi (and certainly not the kind of upscale sushi you're looking for).

Second, if you see the word "omakase" on a menu, the meaning is that the chef chooses the dishes or items in your meal. It doesn't necessarily refer to sushi (and the word has nothing to do with sushi). On a menu you might also also see seasonal "courses" and other prix-fixe options that amount to the same thing (particularly when it comes to sushi, which is highly seasonal).

(Third, sort of tangentially, when you refer to a location in Tokyo as being in Shinjuku, e.g. it means that Shinjuku is the closest station. So Horikawa, for example, is said to be in Shinjuku even though the postal address says it's in a different ward.)

Your best bet would be to look at Japanese restaurants in hotels that have a sushi counter as well. These are geared towards overseas visitors who might have different expectations from a restaurant and wish to order high-end sushi and other types of food in the same place. The above-mentioned Horikawa, located in the Hotel Century Southern Tower, looks like a decent choice.
posted by Umami Dearest at 7:35 PM on June 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I live in Japan, but as a vegetarian, I won't be of much use here. There is sushi without fish, of course, but since I've never been at an upscale sushi place, I don't know if those serve non-fish sushi. You might want to ask for inari-zushi, which is only rice stuffed into slightly sweet, um, let's call it tofu skin. (If you want to know what it is exactly, you can always google inarizushi.) I second Umami Dearest with the hotel recommendation, though.

I also want to make sure that you know what you want is o-makase, not omasake. People before me have given you the correct word, but just in case you didn't catch it (which the brain tends to do with words in languages we don't know), I wanted to point this out. People at the restaurant might think you're trying to order alcohol if you say omasake.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 9:22 PM on June 4, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for suggestions/info/spelling corrections!
(This is the downside to google's helpful autocorrect which kept giving me what I wanted and reinforcing bad spelling.)

We are talking sushi and he'd like that whole sushi chef explains stuff about the fish/sushi where it's a bit of an educational thing? I've heard about this from Travelocity forums so if it's either 1.not really a thing or 2. Happens everywhere no need for special planning I wouldn't be surprised.

I'm perfectly happy with eating inari all night and maybe a piece or two of fish but wouldn't be happy eating a full meal. Ideally he wouldn't have to eat alone but I'll keep that in mind.
posted by platypus of the universe at 9:51 AM on June 5, 2017

Language will be a huge issue with your hoped for explanation thing.
posted by JPD at 10:19 AM on June 5, 2017

Best answer: No, upscale sushi restaurants in Japan don't serve inari-zushi, and even if they did it would be pretty strange to make a whole meal of it.

Having the chef describe each piece of fish as he serves it is pretty common, so the trick is to find a chef who can do it in English - another good reason to go to a hotel restaurant. The biggest problem would be whether they let you sit at the counter even if you're ordering a non-sushi meal, or if you'd have to sit at a table, where you wouldn't get the blow-by-blow description from the chef.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:23 AM on June 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Then again, hotel restaurants have probably run into this situation before, so it's worth asking.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2017

I'm just going to reiterate something. If your partner wants a true Tokyo omakase experience you should go to a place that offers that. If he needs the explanations he will probably need to include a translator.
posted by JPD at 5:00 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

My experience matches up with JPD's - the places I know that do omakase require that the entire dining party does omakase [though as Umami Dearest and LoonyLovegood mentioned, hotel-based restaurants are more likely to cater to tourist expectations]. It's a meticulously coordinated and timed thing that, from a hospitality perspective, doesn't jive well with the pacing of the other party ordering a la carte, and the restaurants worry about the impression that poses, no matter how casual and accepting you may feel about it personally. I would send your partner on his own for this and find your own lunch or dinner.

I don't know if you or your partner have seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi - it's a documentary about Sukiyabashi Jiro, a high-end sushi restaurant in the Tokyo subway, and the first sushi restaurant to get three Michelin stars [and IIRC, available on Netflix]. Their website explains just how precise an operation a meal there is - most online reviews of this particular restaurant mention their meal taking about 20 minutes total for 20 pieces of sushi coming to you one at a time, and they don't want you taking pictures of the fish because they believe the fish is at its absolute best the second it leaves the chef's hands, and you delaying eating it for even five seconds to snap a photo will decrease the quality unacceptably. Without a translator, though, since the chef doesn't speak English, I wouldn't recommend this particular place for your partner, especially not at 30,000+¥ [~$273 at current exchange rates] per person, and it's a pretty difficult reservation to get anyway. But there are many other sushi restaurants in Japan serving high-quality omakase, and they won't all be at so hurried a pace; I'm just using a relatively well-documented-in-English example to illustrate why they generally require the whole party to do omakase together.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:22 PM on June 5, 2017

If you're looking for a good place in Shinjuku where your partner can dine on his own, then I would recommend the Shinjuku branch of Kyubei. It's a branch of a famous upscale Ginza shop that's been going strong for eighty years, and they have English-speaking chefs. (It's located inside the Keioh Plaza Hotel.)

The back and forth banter between customers and chef is a big part of the sushi-dining experience here, so I would recommend a place with English-speaking chefs over someplace that just had English menus.

If your partner wants a true Tokyo omakase experience you should go to a place that offers that.

Well for me, ideally when you say "I'll leave it up to you" to the chef it's when you're at a neighborhood shop where the chef already knows your likes and dislikes based on several previous visits, and can tailor a meal to your tastes. They'll also have some idea of a rough budget that you're comfortable with, based on your previous visits.

(If the chef doesn't know you, then you can work your way through the meal ordering piece by piece, with suggestions from the chef, but it's a lot easier to just order a seaonal prix-fixe menu of whatever the chef wants to give you, which also has the advantage of having a fixed price that won't surprise you at the end of the night.)

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that for a visitor who doesn't speak Japanese, going someplace with English-speaking chefs will probably be a more rewarding experience than randomly picking some Micheilin-starred restaurant that's probably going to be filled with tourists anyway.
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:40 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

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