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Outside of Japan, omakase dining is almost exclusively associated with sushi. However, the Japanese take on omakase – a tasting menu in which the chef decides the meal (omakase means “to entrust") – has expanded to include almost any cuisine. Such tasting menus in Tokyo range beyond fresh, raw fish to exquisite wagyu, grilled chicken, or cocktails.
1. Sumibiyakiniku Nakahara
Self-taught wagyu specialist Kentaro Nakahara opened Sumibiyakiniku Nakahara three years ago in Tokyo’s Chiyoda neighborhood, and this modern industrial ninth-floor eatery is, arguably, one of the city’s very best places to indulge in the buttery, umami-rich protein. The seven-course omakase menu is best enjoyed from the front counter, where Nakahara himself will sometimes grill a customised tasting menu. Don’t miss his famed katsu sando, an epic wagyu sandwich on squishy white bread, even if you have to order it a la carte.
Culinary wizard Yoshiaki Takazawa cooks for just ten diners a night at his sleek, modernist namesake restaurant in the Akasaka district, which perpetually makes global best restaurants lists. While a seat at Takazawa is a coveted treat, an oft-overlooked alternative is the chef’s newer, adjacent effort, Takazawabar. Still sleek, but slightly more casual (no reservation required), the bar features Takazawa hits such as his artfully plated vegetable parfait or fried Iwate guinea fowl liver. Accompanying them are an omakase-style, innovative beverage pairing by sommelier Thatcher Baker-Briggs, a veteran of San Francisco’s Saison. Expect highballs built with satsuma-orange distilled shochu or a beautifully balanced cocktail composed of Hakushu 12 single malt and an aged ume plum wine.
In Japanese, yaki means grill and tori translates to chicken. The yakitori omakase experience at Ranjatai elevates simple skewers to a new level. Michelin-starred chef and owner Hideyuki Wadahama’s yakitori is so good that serious chefs in town make his multi-course menu, devoted to super flavorful Hinai-jidori chicken, their go-to omakase. Wadahama doesn’t miss a detail, meticulously sourcing his birds and carefully cooking his skewers over neon orange bincho grills, all of which results in juicy yakitori that celebrates the purity of flavour.
Kaiseki ryori is Japan’s form of haute gastronomy in which a chef develops an ornate, coursed menu composed of many small dishes based on balance of flavour, colour, texture, and temperature. Its roots in Kyoto are tied to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony from hundreds of years ago. Of course, Tokyo offers many outstanding kaiseki studies, but at the top is Shinjuku’s Ishikawa, a serene three-Michelin-star haunt that plates tastes of old and new. Choose one of the seven counter seats (the restaurant also offers four private dining rooms) to watch chef Hideki Ishikawa assemble nine or so dishes that celebrate whatever local product is in season that day.
Experiencing tempura in Japan makes you rethink every deep-fried vegetable or morsel of seafood that’s been passed off as “tempura" in the past. For genuine, light-as-air tempura, the place to start is one-Michelin-star Mikawa in Roppongi, which has the feel of a cosy home, offering just nine bar seats for an omakase fried foods adventure. Here, longtime tempura master Tetsuya Saotome preps a menu based on edomae tradition, that is, using the kinds of food available in Tokyo during Japan’s Edo period from 1603 to 1867. His fried vegetables, meats, fish, and other seasonal ingredients such as ebi and matsutake mushrooms are coated with a fragile batter that both preserves moisture and intensifies flavour.