Sekai Omakase—Lower West Side


By Lotus Belle-Glover

Translated to English, Omakase means “I leave it up to you.” And “leaving it up to you” is a wise decision when it is 16 pieces of fresh fish and you, Eddie Yang. Sekai is a fourteen-seat Japanese restaurant in the basement of 96 Houston Street that serves Omakase, a style of dining that leaves the menu in the hands of the chef. It is traditionally composed of individual pieces of Nigiri (with rice) or Sashimi (fresh fish) and utilizes what the season and fish market have to offer.

SEKAI OMAKASE OFFERS EVERYTHING TO MAKE DINNER FEEL LIKE A COMPLETE EVENING. Clockwise from top: the chef prepares the first course for diners, one part of the Ngiri course, and an iPad used to show the different fish. Photos by Lotus Belle-Glover.

Dinner at Sakai unfolds not entirely unlike a performance. After browsing the drink menu–ranging from traditional to modern, sake to beer, $40 bottles to those over $200—the show begins. Each chef serves two or three customers at most, hand curating each piece before presenting it with a full explanation of the fish, preparation, toppings, and any other notable features. At several points, the staff walks around with an iPad exhibiting pictures of the fish we are served. The meal, which often goes from light to dark fish, raw to cooked, begins with two appetizers, the first with uni (sea urchin) and crab “salad”, and the second, citrus topped sashimi. Then come twelve meticulously packed Nigiri, seasoned and shaped sushi rice topped with sliced, fresh fish. We have the traditional: Otoro (fattiest part of tuna), Hotate (fresh sea scallop), house marinated Ikura (salmon roe), and were pleasantly surprised with Kamasu (barracuda), Kinmedai (golden eye snapper), Sayori (halfbeak), Saba (mackerel), among others. Guests look on as chefs prepare hand rolls, wrapping generous scoops of toro with crisp seaweed, before handing one to each waiting diner. Don’t wait for your neighbors—eat it before it gets cold, we are encouraged. The encore comes in the form of a thin, sparse menu with five items: additional pieces to add on, available to order before the dessert course of sesame pudding. To pay tribute to the creativity witnessed—or possibly just because it is my favorite—I decide to forgo the menu and craft my own: an Ikura hand roll.

At Sekai, each piece is more creative than the previous, and yet, each retains its traditional Japanese roots. Unlike other recent additions to the New York omakase scene, sauces, garnishes, and combinations have been kept to a minimum, instead focusing on the quality of rice and fish. With the exception of a course topping Ikura with shaved truffle, the flavors are kept to the most basic, Japanese profile. This is intentional, according to chef Eddie Yang, a practice instilled by Yang’s own teachers over his 20+ year sushi career. Yang grew up training under several of the most lauded, Michelin-star sushi chefs, where he was taught the importance of maintaining the integrity of the fish and mastered traditional methods.

When I ask Yang about his motivation for opening the restaurant, he tells me the goal is to offer a more accessible omakase experience. He is referring to Sekai’s only menu option, the Signature Omakase, priced at $108/pp. While this may shock those who are otherwise unfamiliar with the Omakase scene, a meal at Nakazawa, Azabu, or Masa, New York hot-spots and Yang’s previous employers will put a diner back $180, $180, or $750/pp before drinks, respectively. Yang wanted to expand the audience without sacrificing the high quality standards associated with the traditional experience. Every piece of fish is sourced from Japan, picked up from a market in New York, hand cleaned, broken down, and prepared prior to meal-time. Dinner extends for nearly two hours. Sake is kept and poured by a dedicated server. It is a meal and more; Sekai offers everything to make dinner feel like a complete evening.
SEKAI • 96 Houston Street