BITE OF THE MOMENT: Experiencing Omakase at Astoria’s Gaijin

[All photos by Conor Rose]

When I was invited to try omakase at Gaijin, a fairly under-the-radar spot off of Astoria’s Steinway Street, I was getting myself into an eating situation I knew practically nothing about besides it being Japanese and typically expensive. A quick Google search led me to the word’s Wikipedia page, stating that “omakase” is a Japanese phrase meaning “I’ll leave it up to you” – “you” being the chef, and here, being Chef Mark. Technically an outsider to the sushi world (Gaijin translating to “outsider” in Japanese, along with co-owner Jay Zheng) the pair have crafted a sleek, elegant eatery combining traditional omakase traditions with their own creative innovations.Β What followed was a meal more accurately described as a performance engaging all the senses.

To kickstart the meal, we enjoyed a glass of white wine crafted specially to be paired with sushi, plus an IPA chosen from a list of Japanese craft beers. For starters, we were served a teapot filled with broth, mushrooms, and chicken, with an accompanying small plate and sipping cup. We were meant to finish off the preparation on our own, squeezing a wedge of lime into the teapot, leaving it to meld with the soup for 30 seconds, then pour into our drinking cup, taking sips at a time of the tangy, woodsy broth. We also enjoyed a small bowl of fish (the type escapes me!) that practically melted in our months, it was so delicate.

 

Then, nigiri happened. With our front row counter view, each piece was crafted meticulously in front of us, then placed on a waning (or waxing, depending on what hand you use – once our server noticed my lefthandedness he hastily rearranged my place setting accordingly) moon shaped slab of black stone for us to pick up with our hands – well appreciatedΒ from this Filipino girl.

Nigiri appeared in waves, dressed with unique combinations of toppings, and clearly so fresh and high quality – the fish is flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market. There was Japanese baby snapper brushed with soy and topped with grated daikon, followed by amberjack dressed in shiso and plum sauce, then a gorgeous piece of golden red snapper.

 

 

Courses appeared in various forms – there was a butterfish tempura, a sliver of wagyu ribeye draped over rice, and even octopus and a dab of rice sprinkled with sea salt came tucked in a piece of seaweed and handed directly to us. Chef Mark was happy to explain the details of each piece, especially the fish I was unfamiliar with – I’m very basic when it comes to sushi, sticking to your typical salmon and tuna rolls, so diving headfirst was both a treat and a learning experience.

 

 

A scoop of delicately flavored ginger gelato in a cone rounded out our meal. By this point on that Wednesday night, Gaijin was close to packed, an unexpected sight in this neighborhood and at this time of the week. Truly a hidden gem, Gaijin showcases the passion and creativity of its owners and chefs, and is a restaurant to watch while it flourishes in Astoria.

 

This meal was provided by Gaijin, a restaurant we truly love, however all opinions are our own.