While New York City has no shortage of hard-to-get tables in its dining scene, you don’t often see a place that has a tasting menu only one night per week on Saturday. I have already heard a lot about the now famous Japanese breakfast menu at Okonomi in Brooklyn, which also turns into Yuji Ramen during weekday evenings. I was, however, more interested in the omakase option that is available only through advanced ticket purchase online (at a hefty $140 per person). I remember that the omakase used to be inspired by ramen, which, as much as I love ramen, I wasn’t sure I could handle all that carb intake, but the concept was changed this year to focus more on straightforward Japanese cuisine with seasonal fish and vegetable dishes. I already missed a couple of ticket sales (tickets do sell fast given the limited number of opportunities you can dine any given month), but finally got to purchase a ticket for my wife Jun and myself for a spot in early July. The day of our scheduled visit, I got an email from the owner that there was “medical emergency” and so the dinner had to be cancelled. I was quite bummed but was able to reschedule our dinner to the last week of July. So, was all the patience with waiting on online ticket sales and then having to re-schedule three weeks later all worth it? Absolutely! Jun and I had a fantastic omakase dinner at Okonomi that is undoubtedly one of the best meals we’ve had this year.
The tiny counter at Okonomi is helmed by the soft-spoken owner George and one young chef wearing a baseball cap. I was expecting a middle aged Japanese “master” to be leading the kitchen, so was somewhat skeptical when we first sat. Once the slices of fresh Boston mackerel with tomato water came to kick off the dinner, however, all my trepidation was instantly gone. I really loved the way the kitchen was handing out fresh and meticulously prepared dishes with minimal seasoning (i.e. not catering to what Americans typically expect in form of bold and rich flavors) to really emphasize the texture and seasonality of ingredients. An assortment of bonito in cucumber sauce, summer squash, eggplant and scallop roe and shirako followed, again fully displaying an impeccable balance of flavor and texture that made me truly appreciate this meal. Jun is particularly sensitive to the freshness of scallop, and she quickly remarked after tasting a piece of raw scallop (also accompanied by mahi-mahi and triggerfish) that this could be the freshest scallop she’s ever had in her lifetime!
My favorite dish of the night would undoubtedly be the Spanish mackerel with maitake mushrooms on top. The chef explained that he prepared the dish at the spur of the moment, which makes this dish even more remarkable. The mackerel was cooked to perfection and the textural combination between the fish and the mushroom is something that I would not easily forget, even more so with the refined flavor from a hint of yuzu. Jun and I have had tons of chawanmushi dishes in our life by now, but the chilled one at Omakase was something entirely different, and we savored the silky smooth texture of the cold egg custard that worked harmoniously with tomato and corn on top. The final savory course consisted of rice (you can put egg yolk on top) with miso soup, tsukemono (preserved Japanese vegetables) and perch fish. Jun thought the miso soup was a little too sweet for her taste and the tsukemono a bit saltier than she would make at home, but the fish was otherwise cooked quite nicely. For dessert, honey and lemon thyme cake and buckwheat cake with cream on top again showed the moderation of flavor that the kitchen had been displaying all night. Finish the meal with matcha tea from the powder that George himself grinded in front of us, along with delightful bites of wagashi (traditional Japanese confections), and we finally woke up from the blissful experience at Okonomi. The subtlety and elegance of dishes throughout our dinner really impressed both of us, and we promised George we will definitely come back at some point in the future.
As noted above, plan ahead for purchasing the online tickets for a seat at the counter. Okonomi has concise beer and sake options, the latter of which they sell by carafe in very generous portion. We’ve enjoyed complementing our meal with a junmai ginjo named “maboroshi” (translated into dream or vision in English) that quite aptly summed up our experience at Okonomi, made better even more so with an intimate setting and the inviting gestures of George and his chef throughout the dinner. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that Okonomi is located on a quiet street in East Williamsburg that is far from the central Williamsburg area; you will be rewarded immensely with a trip to this unassuming place that delivers so much more than its décor would otherwise suggest.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 150 Ainslie Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Telephone: (718) 302-0598