Dining Review: Omakase Experience at Isana Sushi Bar – Tokyo, Japan
Omakase – the ultimate Japanese dining experience. Translating to “I leave it up to you”, omakase meals are completely in the chef’s control and base the dinner on what is fresh ensuring the highest quality is served and allowing for the chef’s creativity and skill to shine. This means even at the same omakase restaurant, the meal may change from day to day. Dating back to the Edo period, omakase remains highly respected in Japan and has spread to other countries as well. Meals usually last several hours and can consist of 10 to 20 courses! We knew we had to experience an omakase meal on this trip. They are generally a fixed price and depending on where you choose, you could pay anywhere from $50 USD to $300 USD or more. I vetted A LOT of omakase restaurants in an effort to find the best without completely blowing the trip budget and quickly realized it was an impossible task – there are hundreds of omakase restaurants in Tokyo.
My search criteria narrowed down to a few things – I wanted an experience that we would learn from so that meant a smaller more intimate atmosphere and a chef that spoke English. I realized we would lose a large component of the experience if all we did was eat food placed in front of us. I wanted a place outside of the tourist area but well rated, and somewhere less formal without compromising on the quality. We also needed something bookable online since you cannot simply stroll up to a restaurant – the chef needs to know in advance their headcount to meticulously plan their meal.
And so, I landed on Isana Sushi Bar – an authentic edomae sushi restaurant in the Roppongi neighborhood. The chef and owner is Junichi Onuki who after starting his career in Japan, spent over ten years in London perfecting his art (Zuma at Knightsbridge), and opened his restaurant Isana (meaning “little fish”) in 2012. I found a few interviews with Chef Onuki and knew instantly this was our omakase spot. In Conde Naste, he is quoted stating “I am not a scary sushi chef. I want people to feel relaxed when they come to my restaurant.”
The sushi counter was full this Tuesday evening and Authentic edomae sushi restaurant made everyone feel welcomed as we embarked on a three hour dinner adventure. Parts of the meal felt like a magic show – watching Chef Onuki create incredible dishes from simple but outstanding ingredients with his knife and hands. We learned that the rice is just as important as the fish, serving as the foundation for the entire meal. When we got to the tuna portion of the meal, I asked Chef Onuki several questions about the entire tuna industry. We learned that the blue fin tuna we were enjoying originated from a 150 kg tuna which was probably seven or eight years old. While it is a rare catch for a fisherman, hitting the jackpot with a tuna means his expenses are covered for the rest of the year.
Over the course of three hours we were served fifteen dishes. While I attempted to take copious notes, it would be impossible for me to do this meal justice in describing each one in detail. The first set of dishes were appetizers that showcased a variety of seafood stylized with different flavors.
- Firefly squid
- Steamed octopus with mustard on the side
- Sea breeze and red snapper
- Dragon fish
- Bonito fish with onion sauce
The second set of dishes were all sashimi with the freshest and best cuts of fish along with the precise grain and consistency of rice.
- White shrimp
- An aged fish similar to sardines
- Ark shell
- Marinated blue fin tuna
- Medium blue fin fatty tuna
- Blue fin tuna
- Sea urchin
- Tiger prawn
- Seared red snapper
- Congo eel
The meal ended in traditional fashion with the miso soup which was delicious with dense umami flavor and little shellfish hiding at the bottom. While I expected dessert, I was relieved that this was indeed the end of the meal as we were extremely full.
Wow! We loved our Omakase experience dining at Isana with Chef Onuki. It was the perfect space to enjoy our first omakase style meal we were really happy with the comfortable atmosphere and amazing quality of each dish. Chef Onuki put his own personal touch on many of the dishes – it was not simply a cut of fish – with each decision being intentional and purposeful. The price was 18,000 yen or $125 USD and I felt that was a good value for the amount of high quality seafood we were served. There are countless places in Tokyo to have an omakase meal so I am by no means in a place to crown a best, but I think Isana is a great place to experience omakase particularly if you are a first time visitor like me and want an approachable meal that showcases the incredible diversity of Japanese seafood at a good price. Highly recommend Isana Sushi Bar!