We were celebrating the trifecta, belated Lunar New Year, Valentine’s and President’s Day weekend and after narrowing down restaurant decisions we decided it was time to visit O ya, once listed as 10 Best New Restaurants in the World. Was the experience worth the $150-$200 per person? The experience was worth it.
In 2008, James Beard Award-Winning Chef Tim Cushman opened California Japanese restaurant o ya and offered it’s creative sushi and tasting menus. What put o ya on the Nation’s map was Frank Bruni’s New York Times review. Our sister visited o ya and had great experience (BMH’s 2010 review of her visit to o ya).
The menu is divided by nigiri, sashimi, vegetable, pork, Japanese Wagyu beef, poulet rouge chicken, truffles and eggs, other stuff including chilled homemade squid ink soba noodles, something crunchy with tempura, salads and soups.
In terms of price, the Grand Omakase is $285 per person. For an additional $150 per person, there is a beverage pairing. The Grand Omakase includes a Kamasu wild Japanese Barracuda (we thought of the Blue Barracuda team from Legends of the Hidden Temple), Tasmanian Ocean trout, Warm lobster with ponzu bueerre fondue, black winter truffle and bonito and Wagyu seared petit strip loin. The 17-Course Chef’s Selection goes for $185 per person with an additional $80 per person beverage pairing.
We were seated at our corner table (we decided to hold off on the chef seating for another time). Our waiter greeted us an gave us the option of still or sparkling. We ordered still (thinking it is tap) and it was Aqua Panna still water for $12. Next time, we will spend the $12 on another vegetarian sushi roll or dessert and be will be clear we love our tap!
We also enjoyed a 200ml bottle of Hou Hou Shu Sparkling Sake for $39 (by the glass $12). The sparking sake was was clean, effervescent and a nice pairing with all the dishes we tried. We considered another bottle, but decided to savorr it throughout the meal. O ya holds a Sake 101 class and teaching on unmai, ginjo, and daiginjo and the percentage of the original rice grain is used in the brewing process.
The opener was the Scottish Salmon Belly cilantro, ginger, hot sesame oil drizzle for $20. The warm dish was our absolute favorite. The Scottish Salmon belly is a high complex dish, with layer and layer of flavor. The heat hits you, the butteriness of the salmon belly coats your entire month, there is the garlic flavor and roasted onion after taste. This is what Frank Bruni should have stated is o ya’s signature and destination dish. We would return to have this dish for lunch or dinner alone.
The next dish was a warm braised shiitake mushroom anise hysop, truffle honey sauce for $8. The shiitake was warm and had a nice sweetness from the truffle honey and a wasabi kick. Although tasty (and one of the more inexpensive plates, it wasn’t overly memorable).
The next special item on o ya’s menu and signature was the Fried Kumamoto Oyster yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles for $14. The bite was was buttery, airy and smokey, the squid ink and reminded us of calamari. The oyster was nicely fried and the right temperature, creamy and lushious. Another must try.
The Suzuki sea bass spicy cucumber vinaigrette, avocado, benitade, cilantro for $20 was crisp, had a sesame hint, clean and watery from the cucumber, but nothing spectacular to order again. We would take another Scottish Salmon belly.
Our other favorite was the Peruvian Style bluefin toro tataki aji panca sauce, cilantro pesto for $18. Another must order. This was rich, smokey and had a barbeque flavor. The fatty bluefin chutoro tataki had a lightly salty finish. Really special.
We then tried the Kampachi jalapeno sauce, sesame, apple, myoga for $18. This sushi was was literally rolled in rice paper, had a very fresh and clean flavor. The kampachi had a heat after bite and reminded us of fresh rolls. The minty flavor was also refreshing and cut the heat.
One of my favorites was the Hamachi Viet mignoette, thai basil and shallot and our waiter’s suggestion for $21. The minty, sweet spicy flavor was very enjoyable and the fried shallots was so Viet. The tender Hamachi was complimented by the combination of flavors and tasted like a great representation of Vietnamese cuisine.
One of our sister’s favorite was the Hamachi spicy banana pepper mousse for $14. Our initial reactions and comments were a mmm. Nothing more. The combination was buttery, smooth, lightly torched and had a smokey flavor.
We noticed the Bluefin Maguro with Republic of Georgia herb sauce for $18 was on the Grand Omakase, so we ordered it. The dish had a hint of sesame and was slightly sweet. The pesto had sesame and a pine or fir tree flavor. The pesto reminded of the crust of a lamb’s rosemary crust. We jokingly labeled this plate as a tiny fish sushi version of a rack of rosemary lamb.
Another signature which exceeded expectations was the Homemade Fingerling Potato chip with black winter truffle for $18. Both of us had a thumb up midway threw our taste. The sushi was nicely seasoned and had a crisp texture. The tender truffle and burst of flavor from the richness of the mayo. The oil helped coat the flavor and was not greasy from the vinegar in the rice. There was also a hint of green, slight glassiness and pleasant fresh note.
The dish Frank Bruni wrote up as his surprise favorite was the grilled chanterelle and shiitake mushroom sashimi with rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, soy for $24. The plate was visually stunning. Absolutely gorgeous and we both exclaimed wow. The crispy roast garlic and rosemary garlic oil flavor really was lovely and this element is what made the earthy, meaty chanterelle and shitake sashimi harmonious.
The tea brined fried pork ribs for $16 had hot sesame oil, honey, scallions on top and the combination was nice. The sweetness and smoke tea flavor of the ribs was balanced and the bbq sauce was more like Southern BBQ sauce. The pork meat had a firm texture, chunky and smokey sweet. Although the ribs were good, we prefer the ones at Myers and Chang (BMH’s review of Myers and Chang).
Our sushi tasting was at its denouement, but decided to add a warm chive blossom omelette sweet dashi sauce, shiso for $9. The egg was delicate and was one of our favorite egg tomago we have eaten.
We noticed a fellow diner enjoying the Aragawa Style strip loin with frites. for $299.99. We were torn, is that steak excessive or luxurious dining to pay $300 for one person. No judgement, since our o ya experience was the most expensive dining experience we had just paid for, just food for thought.
The Yuzu curd with shortbread crumbs, raspberry gelato and meringue for $12 was brilliant. Unlike the lemon meringue we had at Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, the citrus flavor was delicate, the crumbs were nice and buttery and the meringue was light and not too sweet. This was the perfect dessert to end the meal.
The warm chocolate bread pudding, banana tempura and goma (sesame) gelato for $12 was also delightful. The bread pudding texturally was similar to chocolate molten cake. The dessert itself was slightly salty and savory which was really unique.
Purchasing a la carte versus tasting menu, our bill, with sake, dessert was $175 each including tip. We were happy and o ya put on a solid concert. Again the highs salmon scottish belly, fried kumamoto oyster and desserts were awesome.
We paid for a well orchestrated food concert, and although there were some average notes, there were a few highs that make the experience worth it. We had high expectation of o ya, and recalled one of our all time favorite sushi meals and dining experiences at Uchi, Austin and we are still yearning to return to Austin and visit Uchiko headed by Top Chef winner Paul Qui.
On our way out we learned about the Sake and Unexpected Food Pairings events. Once a month 2:00pm to 3:30pm $145 per person, o ya serves sake with other cuisine such as Thai, Mexican and Italian (apparently sake and pizza is unreal). We would definitely consider attending this event!