An ordering mistake sends SoraNews24’s Mr. Sato soaring into the bliss of his most rarified lunch ever as he learns there’s one sushi restaurant where not all omakase are the same.

Recently, our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun, a.k.a. The Human Otter, treated himself to a 10,000-yen (US89) meal at Saizeriya, Tokyo’s cheapest Italian restaurant chain. This left his coworker, Mr. Sato, awash in jealousy of P.K.’s decadence, but not so much at the way he’d crammed his stomach to bursting in order to run up a five-digit bill of budget-friendly fare.

So Mr. Sato decided to go the more elegant route by visiting the elegant sushi restaurant Kyubay. Located inside the Hotel Okura Tokyo, one of the city’s most respected hospitality providers for over 50 years, Kyubay sits in the Okura’s south wing, which was opened in 1973.

▼ Kyubay

Looking at the restaurant’s website, Mr. Sato noted three lunch options, starting with a 6,480 yen lunch set with each type of sushi specified in advance. This was followed by a similarly formatted 8,640-yen course, but what he had his heart set on was the 10,800-yen omakase course. Omakase is a common system in high-class restaurants in Japan in which the diner places his taste buds in the capable hands of the chef, who uses his expert knowledge of his field of cuisine to select each component of the meal that the customer will eat.

Arriving at Kyubay just in time for his 1:30 p.m. reservation, Mr. Sato was ushered to a seat at the L-shaped counter. “Omakase for me,” he told the chef, feigning bold nonchalance but actually filled with a nervous, yet excited energy at the prospect of what his luxuriously priced dining experience would entail.

The meal began with a small salad of pickled wakame seaweed accompanied by grated carrot and daikon radish, with complimentary refills available. Since he’d asked for the omakase, there was no need to peruse the menu or make any choices himself, so Mr. Sato sat back and relaxed as the chef, who was also preparing sushi for two other customers at the counter, cordially chatted while deftly forming pieces of mouthwatering nigiri-style sushi.

▼ The first nine pieces: Karei (flounder), madai (sea bream), buri (yellowtail), chutoro (medium-fatty tuna), uni (sea urchin), otoro (extra-fatty tune), kuruma ebi (prawn), sumi ika (squid), and mirugai (gaper clam).

Even more so than the chef’s dexterous fingers, it was his masterful pacing that amazed Mr. Sato. In Kyubay’s omakase, each piece is served one at a time, and should be eaten before it’s left to sit too long. Yet the chef, carefully gauging each customer’s eating speed, managed to place each new piece before Mr. Sato at the perfect moment. He never felt rushed, but he never felt bored or forgotten about either.

▼ The epic meal continues: Nodoguro aburi (seared rockfish), aji (mackerel), katuso (bonito), kohada (gizzard shard), nihamaguri (boiled clam), anago (freshwater eel), sayori (halfbeak), kombu-wrapped karei flounder), kinmeidai (red snapper), awabi (abalone), and one more piece of buri (yellowtail)

As one exquisitely delicious piece after another was placed before him, Mr. Sato’s palate experienced so much bliss that he became unable to feel the flow of time. Looking at his watch, he suddenly realized that an hour had passed since he’d started eating, and he’d already had 20 pieces.

And yet, the chef looked ready to provide him with even more sushi. Before he could, though, Mr. Sato’s gaze met that of the chef’s, and he asked our reporter, “Should I keep going?”

“No, that’s OK,” answered Mr. Sato, feeling incredibly happy and extremely full. “Just the check please,” he asked, and a server went off to prepare his bill, which he knew would come to 10,800 yen, plus the restaurant’s 10-percent service charge.

But as he waited for his bill, another customer came in and sat down at the counter. “I’ll have the omakase course,” he said, using ever-so-slightly different terminology from Mr. Sato, who’d simply asked for “omakase.” Then another customer came in, and he too asked for the “omakase course.”

Suddenly, Mr. Sato felt a chill run down his spine, as though he was swimming in the same cold ocean waters that the components of his lunch once had. At Kyubay, could there be a difference between the “omakase” and the “omakase course?” 20 pieces is an awful lot for a sushi set in Japan, and he began to worry that what he’d actually been eating was something more expensive than his 10,800-yen budget.

“Thank you for waiting, sir,” the server said as she brought Mr. Sato his check. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath to settle his nerves, then lifted his eyelids and looked at the paper, which listed only a single item, “sushi,” and a price of…

21,276 yen! Add in the service charge, and Mr. Sato’s planned 10,800-yen meal, already an extravagant lunch, ended up costing him…

23,403 yen (US$207).

Mr. Sato quickly checked his wallet, hoping beyond hope that he had enough cash to cover his bill. Thankfully, he had barely enough, and we mean barely.

▼ The 164 yen (US$1,45) Mr. Sato had left after paying for his lunch.

So what happened? Well, Kyubay is sort of unique in that it actually has two different sorts of lunchtime omakase. First, there’s the omakase course, which is priced at 10,800 yen and has the chef choose a pre-determined number of ingredients. But Kyubay also has what it calls an “omakase okonomi,” in which the chef will keep going, making you piece after piece of whatever sushi he thinks you’ll like best, until you tell him you’ve had enough, at which point your bill is calculated based on the type and quantity of sushi you’ve eaten.

Because he hadn’t specified he wanted the “omakase course,” Mr. Sato was put on the omakase okonomi path. Really, he should have noticed something was up when the meal started stretching very far past a dozen pieces, but even if he ended up spending more than twice what he’d originally intended, it tasted so good that he hasn’t actually said a single complaint about how things turned out.

Restaurant information
Kyubay (Hotel Okura Tokyo branch) / 久兵衛 ホテルオークラ東京店
Address: Tokyo-to, Minato0ku, Toranomon 2-10-4, South Wing 2nd floor
東京都港区虎ノ門2-10-4 別館2F
Open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

Top image: SoraNews24
Insert images: Hotel Okura, SoraNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]

Follow Casey on Twitter, where some of his favorite sushi is the 300-yen half-off packs from his local grocery store.

[ Read in Japanese ]