This post originally appeared in the January 13, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
It used to be a rule of thumb for restaurant critics: Wait three months after a restaurant opens before reviewing it. Sooner than that, the wisdom went, and the place hasn’t found its legs. Applying that logic as a regular diner makes sense, too — a brand-new restaurant is usually still ironing out the kinks. Better wait a month, or at least a few weeks, while that newcomer hits its stride.
But when an omakase sushi restaurant opens — as they seem to on a weekly basis in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — the three-month rule is not in effect. The move is to go right away. Here’s why.
Omakase spots — tasting menu-focused sushi counters at which skilled chefs present sushi to diners one piece at a time — are a dominant force in American dining. They rack up Michelin stars and command prices that reflect the expense of high-quality fish — as well as the expense-account holdings of their typically rich clientele. Eater NY lead critic Ryan Sutton, who has kept one eye trained on the prices of NYC omakase for years, observed last month that, more than ever, restaurants charge north of $300 per person. Those prices tend to tick upward over time. The acclaimed Sushi Ginza Onodera in NYC opened with a $300 menu, but recently raised prices to a $400 minimum, service included, citing rising costs for tuna.
Food costs aren’t the only reason for the price hike. Every omakase sushi place I’ve seen open — particularly in SF, where I’ve spent the last several years — has steadily bumped up its prices after gaining recognition. Cheaper opening prices are a way to generate interest and demand. I’m not chiding the restaurants: The strategy is just baked into the business model.
So in order to escape that inevitable creep, it’s worth going right when the restaurant opens. When a friend texted me a photo of a sandwich board in Chelsea advertising a new $65 omakase for 12 pieces of fish plus two appetizers, we went within days, not months. The place — called Mojo — was solid: We loved the raw scallop, torched hamachi, and uni. And in terms of kinks, there was little to harp on. Timing mishaps, a problem at new restaurants firing lots of dishes in different ways all at once, are less likely to plague a small new sushi place with no hood and limited seating. I’ll check back in on Mojo in a few months, but I wouldn’t expect it to stay at $65 for long.
And if Mojo — or any brand-new place — isn’t perfect right away, it’s likely to compensate with generous service. After all, that early pricing is a way to generate buzz, so staff are inclined to give you a good reason to pass on positive reviews to your friends. Everybody wins. — Caleb Pershan
P.S. How did omakase become the go-to meal for the biggest expense account holders? Eater’s Ryan Sutton breaks it down.