As the Valley continues to attract more eclectic and upscale fine dining options, one type of culinary option is still notably underrepresented: omakase. For sushi purists looking for the ultimate Japanese dining experience, there are but a few options. And Old Town’s ShinBay (a 2012 James Beard Foundation semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant”) remains near the top of this exclusive list.
For the uninitiated, omakase is a Japanese phrase that roughly means “I’ll leave it up to you,” and when one embarks on an omakase experience, they are left to the whim of the sushi chef. You typically receive at least a dozen small, meticulously prepared courses ranging from the traditional to the exotic. Master omakase chefs are among the most respected in the world — anyone who has seen the sublime Netflix doc “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” knows what I am talking about — and for true fans of Japanese cuisine, omakase is everything.
As someone who regards himself as just such a fan (and has had the privilege of dining at some of the nation’s finest omakase restaurants), I am pleased to report that ShinBay delivers everything you could want and more. As is often the case, the restaurant is an intimate affair, a small wooden dining room where but a few lucky patrons sit encircling the sushi kitchen and enjoy a front-row seat to the culinary mastery at hand.
It helps to look at omakase experiences more as shows or performances than dinners, and the titular master behind the production at ShinBay is none other than Chef Shinji Kurita. Named as a James Beard semifinalist himself for “Best Chef in the Southwest” in 2013, Shinji-san has been providing Valley omakase fans with something unique and spectacular for the better part of a decade. His mastery is on full display with each ShinBay seating.
Much like a play, ShinBay offers two seatings each evening, one at 5:45 p.m. and another at 8 p.m. Each showing is $185 per person, not including beverages or gratuity. If you are a fan of omakase, then this entrance fee is beyond worth the price of admission as the experience that Shinjay-san and the wonderful staff provide is nothing short of spectacular.
The menu is ever-changing but each course I experienced during my visit was both delightful and impressive. From the initial trio of Japanese salads to a fine assortment of seafood bites (the firefly squid or hotaru ika was particularly exceptional) to the main show of 17 different samplings of sashimi and nigiri, each morsel had me tipping my hat to the chef. Furthermore, the sake selection was equally impressive, and while there are no cocktails at ShinBay, the vast collection of Japanese beers and wines is more than enough to complete your experience.
In closing, us fans of omakase in the Valley may have limited options, but as long as we have ShinBay, we will not be complaining. Chef Shinji and his team go out of their way to provide an exceptional experience full of unique ingredients and stunning preparations that amount to an experience unlike anything else in town.
For more information about Shinbay Omakase Room and to make a reservation, visit shin-bay.com.