Review: Omakase, y’all! Taking stock of Atlanta’s latest fancy sushi spots

Refined Japanese dining is on the rise

Review: Omakase, y'all! Taking stock of Atlanta's latest fancy sushi spots
A tasting of three different grades of Hokkaido uni, or sea urchin at Omakase Table

Photograph by Martha Williams

I liked eating in Japanese restaurants better before the omakase frenzy took hold. Yes, it could be stressful to tell trusted chefs that you wanted to give them carte blanche: “Omakase,” you whispered (the phrase means something like “I leave it up to you”), and maybe a number between $100 and $200. The chefs then reached deep into their inventory to create menus reflecting the availability of products and their seasonality. When you grew satiated, you said, “I have had enough,” and that was it. Receiving every piece of sushi one at a time from the chef’s hand, you felt superior to the masses eating big platters nearby.

In recent years, though, omakase around these parts has morphed into something more like a prix fixe dinner, featuring a tasting menu with sometimes as many as 22 courses. Practically speaking, the formula makes economic sense. It requires a smaller staff and a smaller battery of cooking equipment than a conventional restaurant; the dining room is usually compact and features a single counter. Atlanta now has at least three dedicated omakase restaurants, all within striking distance from one another on or near Howell Mill Road. More are on the way.

I’ve already told you, in a December 2022 review, what I think of Mujo: It is the epitome of fine dining ($225, beverages excluded) and a fascinating showcase for the traditional Edomae style of sushi, which features cured fish that’s had time to relax and deepen in flavor. Let me add a few others for your consideration.

I had many delightful dinners at Sushi Hayakawa: For 15 years, the restaurant was a staple—and a famously difficult reservation—on Buford Highway, where its chef, Atsushi “Art” Hayakawa, was a jovial dude from Hokkaido who had the best salmon caviar in town. It relocated recently to the Star Metals development and streamlined its name to, simply, Hayakawa. The reformulated restaurant features a severe dining room with a long, austere counter, with the chef working at a distance from his customers and wearing a microphone. The dishes I remember best from the costly meal ($315, beverage and service excluded) are the clear soup with pearly scallops, the simmered conger eel with sansho pepper, the remarkable bluefin tuna, and the spicy pollack roe over rice cooked with dashi broth and green tea. The meal included too much rice for my comfort, but the quality otherwise never faltered.

Review: Omakase, y'all! Taking stock of Atlanta's latest fancy sushi spots
Ethereal tamago at Omakase Table

Photograph by Martha Williams

Leonard Yu’s Omakase Table ($235 before tax and gratuity) will save you money because it doesn’t have a liquor license and you can drink what you bring without a corkage fee. Yu, who is from Indonesia, rose to fame through his pop-ups at Brush Sushi Izakaya. As at other omakase restaurants, dinner starts with a series of tiny appetizers known as otsumami—a few pearls of lustrous caviar, a bite of monkfish liver. As the main event got underway, I particularly loved watching the chef arranging precious pieces of seafood atop carefully shaped fingers of rice—almost as if he were a potter—and working on the temperature and texture of items such as a rare cherry blossom trout, a wondrous sharkskin sole topped with a bit of its own fin, an unusually shaped cockle, a delicate splendid alfonsino, a quickly poached striped imperial prawn. Young assistants stood by to explain the nature and provenance of a female squid that appears only in the spring, or an almost crunchy amberjack warmed by pressing binchotan (Japanese charcoal) on its surface. Yu impresses connoisseurs with his ethereal tamago, a Japanese omelet flavored here with sweet shrimp; it’s a dish that normally does very little for me but was the revelation of the meal.

Editor’s note: When this article went to press for our August 2023 issue, it included Jason Liang’s Cuddlefish. However, Cuddlefish closed in late July. As this article was not published online until late August, we have removed Cuddlefish from the digital version.

This article appears in our August 2023 issue.