In the course of our culinary journey together, my wife Jun and I have become increasingly conscious of the value component. Restaurants in New York City are in general more expensive than most cities around the world, and knowing Jun is a wonderful cook at home I no longer felt obliged to check out every single new restaurant in the city. In other words, we wanted to make sure we visit places that are actually worth the money. That value factor becomes even more acute at expensive tasting menu restaurants; while Per Se is a very good restaurant, it was not wonderful enough to justify over $350 per person before drinks (see my review here https://kenscale.com/2019/04/21/per-se/). Other times, we felt so lucky to indulge on the meal at Atomix for slightly over $200 per person (https://kenscale.com/2019/12/23/atomix-revisit-winter-2019/). I’ve been meaning to check out Odo for a while with all the wonderful reviews coming from the press; the key question was going to be whether the $200 per person price tag for the restaurant’s kaiseki menu was going to be worth it. We did have a good meal at Odo, but concluded that the value proposition was a bit shaky.
The kaiseki menu at Odo consists of a few starters followed by a series of sushi nigiris, then a few more savory courses and a seasonal cocktail and dessert combination. While we both appreciated the creativity behind each dish, we also felt short of marveling at how delicious it was. The use of caviar and cacao nibs on top of black sesame tofu in the first sakizuke course, for instance, was quite smart but the flavor of caviar and cacao nibs didn’t quite gel together. While the bluefin toro in the owan dish was well-cooked, Jun found the broth to be slightly fishy. We both loved the gindara misozuke using sablefish from Canada, but wondered if the dish would’ve been even better with the truffle on top that somewhat overpowered the fish’s flavor.
Compared to the first few starter courses, the sushi course at Odo was quite consistently good. During the sushi course, chef Seong Cheol Byun came in front of our counter and started expertly preparing each nigiri. To my surprise, he noted that the vast majority of sushi at Odo is not sourced from Japan but from fishermen in NYC’s vicinity like Montauk with personal connections to chef Hiroki Odo. Moreover, he said, the rice during our course was sourced from a noted rice master in Japan. Whether it’s from the freshness of the ingredients or the optimal firmness of rice, most of the pieces we tried were actually quite good, from the very chewy pollock and tile fish (both from Long Island) to the Florida jack fish to blowtorched New Jersey bonito with radish on top. If Mr. Byun wants to open his own sushi shop one way, I have no doubt he will do very well.
Following the wonderful sequence of sushi nigiris, the last two savory courses were also good but not particularly memorable. The takiwase dish with washugyu, tofu shabu shabu and burdock had aromatic flavor overall, but Jun and I had had better quality meats elsewhere. For the gohan course, Jun got the shrimp tempura soba while I got the king crab ramen. I tried both and didn’t come away with lasting impression; the broth of the ramen didn’t have the depth I would usually savor from a tonkotsu bowl, and the soba noodle’s texture was strangely not very firm. For the dessert course, our server brought out a seasonal cocktail menu made with shochu and sparkling wine in front of the diners. It was a refreshing drink, but we were slightly puzzled why the kitchen only brought out a slice of dates monaka with sake kasu ice cream inside. We would’ve expected something a little bit more elaborate for a $200 per person meal.
Getting a reservation at Odo wasn’t too difficult although the counter was more often than not full with diners coming in and out. The minimalistic dining room was perhaps too much quiet, giving an eerie vibe to the overall atmosphere of the restaurant. We shared a bottle of dry sake to complement the meal and there are also expensive wine bottles available. The service was also somewhat off; not that we care about a server bowing to us in 90 degrees at the end of the meal to express gratitude (which is fairly typical in Japanese restaurants that deeply value hospitality), but Jun couldn’t help but notice that our server bowed in front of an American diner sitting next to me while not doing so to us. In any event, while Odo was overall a good restaurant, especially in the sushi course where I would love to come back for, we both felt a bit sad having shelled out a lot of money at the place. Is this a new norm for expensive Japanese sushi and kaiseki restaurants in the city? Perhaps our taste and expectation are a little bit more stringent when it comes to Asian food, but the visit to Odo really made me think about giving the value component of a restaurant more weight in our culinary journey.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.75/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 6.5/10
Address: 17 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011