Sometimes ordering can be difficult. We hate having to make the difficult decision between a delicious pasta or a cut of meat. We worry the table next to us will order exactly what we should have. Sometimes though, we're lucky enough to have a compatible dining companion who's willing to share a few plates, and a great server that works with us to create the perfect order.
Placing that perfect order is rare, but it doesn't have to be. Options such as chef's selection, daily special or omakase (the Japanese version of a chef's selection which literally means to 'entrust') take away the pressures of choosing the best combination, and entrust this task to our chef. Often times, we'll get more for our money and are enabling our chefs to reach their full culinary potential -- they are the experts after all.
More and more, Miami chefs are asking diners to just trust them. When we got the news that the Fontainebleau's sushi bar, Blade, was adding an omakase dinner to its menu, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. This Short Order writer had spent the last few days binge watching David Chang's Mind of a Chef, and with close to eight hours of straight-up Asian-inspired food porn under my belt, I was ready to taste and explore whatever the chefs at the Blade had planned. What we got was eight courses of perfectly paired, fresh and thoughtful dishes starting with a ginger-infused tuna tartar served over crispy filo dough sticks that made a playful nod to spaghetti and meatballs.
It was clear right from the start that half the fun of omakase was interacting with our chef and witnessing his spontaneity first hand. The other half was the freshness. It was as if our fish had been swimming earlier that day -- in fact it had been. Dishes progressed from light to heavy and included asparagus wrapped in Madai, AKA fresh snapper topped with chimi-yuzo mash, mussels served in broth that took over an hour to make, sea salt cold-smoked salmon, a generous sushi and sashimi platter, and the popular Fontainebleau role. After almost three hours, we had tasted a vast selection of the offerings and were not the least bit envious of the gargantuan rolls being ordered by the rest of the restaurant that only demonstrated a fraction of what the chefs were capable of creating. The omakase dinner is available for $95 and is offered exclusively at Blade's intimate 10-seat sushi bar from 5 to 10 p.m.; reservations are required 24 hours in advance.
Blade's offering of an omakase dinner alongside a traditional menu is perfect for those who want the chef to take the wheel, but take comfort in knowing there a safety menu waiting in the wings. Diners looking to ease into trusting their chefs can check out Macchialina's five-course chef selection for $45 a person.
The selection is custom made for each guest and features some signature dishes as well as off-the-menu creations. Although the selection consists of five courses, guests are served an average of ten dishes which allows the unique opportunity to sample a larger portion of the menu in one visit. When selecting the items for a guest's tasting menu, Chef Pirolo believes most of all in balance, saying "the dishes need to make sense together and progress from light to heartier." As a general rule of thumb, diners can get the benefits associated with omakase dining such as freshness and complimentary plates by ordering the daily specials and simply asking servers and chefs what they suggest that day.
Nobu Miami Beach also caters to diners of varying levels of trust offering two styles of omakase: signature, for those who don't want to be too adventurous with items composed from the menu in a tasting format including Chef Nobu's signature items; and Chef's Omakase, which is a 'true' omakase based on seasonal items, the guests preferences, and the chef's whim. Nobu's Chef Thomas Buckley says that opting for the omakase options are ideal for diners who want to get a sense of the Nobu cuisine and how it should be coursed without having to navigate the large menu. Different (meaning $$$$) price levels apply so plan accordingly.
Some spots even take the task of ordering entirely off our plates, but they ask something in return: that we trust the chef without exception. Naoe, who won Miami New Times Best Japanese Restaurant back in 2010 bases its entire dining concept around traditional omakase, meaning you get only Chef Kevin Cory selects for you. The dinner is served every Tuesday through Sunday and starts at $160 per person. As the menu is prepared specially each day, the spot asks to clear any special requests at least days in advance and notes that they cannot accommodate allergies to mushrooms, eggs, fish, shellfish, rice, raw, vinegar, alcohol, legumes, or gluten. Oh, and there's no vegetarian menu. The dinner lasts for two to three hours, reservations required.
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Similar to Naoe's sole focus on an omakase dinner, Copperbox Culinary Atelier in Wynwood hosts a dinner series that invites guests to rely solely on Chef Gabriela Machado's expertise to deliver an elegant and balanced meal. The spot, hidden in plain sight, is all about connecting people through good food, good wine and good company. They operate on a decidedly small scale (never more than 24) so the process can be as personable as possible, they even spend a half an hour at the start of each meal to introduce the diners to one another. The intimate space also allows Chef Gabriela to interact with the group throughout the meal. She works in two-month "mini-seasons," where ordering is about quality, supporting local farmers, artisans and purveyors. Two menus run during the mini-season, they are one week on, one week off. Copperbox's meal starts at $125 until mid-October and usually consists of seven courses served on china and linens you'd see at any good hostesses home. They rarely reveal the menu beforehand, suggesting that part of the reason people come to Copperbox is to be impressed by the chef. And, as of this writing have never had a diner complain and ask for anything other than what was served.
Regardless of whether we indulge in omakase and chef selections with or without the safety net of an additional menu, we love this style of exploratory dining because it allows us to sit back and enjoy the wave of food set forth by our chef without fear. Plus, we thoroughly enjoy the suspense. It's not for everyone, but if you want an expert's opinion on what you should be eating, just trust your chef.
Follow Jen on Twitter @JenMangham.