I recently had the pleasure of dining in the Omakase Room at MF Buckhead for a media preview of an updated version of their famed most expensive meal in Atlanta. I was utterly flattered that I was invited to take photographs and join a group of professional writers for this gratis five hour marathon meal. I did the best I could with the bright LED lighting, I hope they came out well enough for everyone to appreciate the aesthetics of these dishes.
I first read about the Omakase room on John Kessler’s blog over a year and half ago, and the meal remained in the upper echelon of my fine dining wanderlust list ever since. At the time that John attended, my understanding is that the meals occurred once a month, by invitation only, and the bill could range from $200-400 a person, depending on the ingredients and the number of courses selected by Chef Chris (“Magic Fingers”) Kinjo. As it was put during my visit, Chef Kinjo hand picked customers that “understood what he is trying to do” to join him in his ultraprivate and extremely comfortable private sushi bar, which casts a shadow over the main dining room of he and his brother Alex’s crown jewel restaurant.
But MF has not been recession proof, and the list of sushi passionate clientele willing to drop that kind of dough is clearly not what it might be during fat times. So under the new Omakase room dinner format, the meal will be offered consistently twice a month, every other Friday, and the price is a firm $250 per person for 16-20 courses with small sake pairings (I enjoyed a couple of beers and sochu between courses too).
This post is already long, so I’ll get right to the point I thought about often after the meal, and what you may be wondering when you saw the price tag – is it worth it? As is the answer for many questions, it depends. On you.
I’ve stated many times on this blog, I’m a sushi snob, in part due to my history with fish. I hated it growing up, couldn’t stand to be around it, and only now enjoy it when it’s of excellent provenance and quality, particularly when raw. Stringy, spongy, lifeless and tasteless fish is not in my repertoire, no matter the price. For this reason, I don’t really eat sushi more than a few times a year. I don’t eat sushi to “get filled up”. A sentence that sends chills down my spine? “All you can eat sushi”.
Good fish is expensive, and even more pricey is the rare fish MF flies in from the Tsukiji market in Japan, the largest fish market in the world. Fatty bluefish tuna belly may cost $400/lb in some cases. But it can be a tough sell to justify “value” or worth when asking the question – is a single bite of nigiri that effectively costs $20 worth the price of admission? To me, I think the answer is, yes, but with my budget constraints probably only once a year, and it will be in the Omakase room at MF.
It’s not just that the sushi was fantastic, it was ethereal and transcendent in some cases, but because of the overall experience, starting with the toast of champagne poured by pastry chef Lisa Ito, Chris’ only assistant in the Omakase room. Yes, we tasted wonderful and often creative sashimi, perfectly formed nigiri, and more uni than I’ve eaten in my lifetime, but there are other aspects that made it fun and memorable.
There’s the showmanship of Chef Kinjo, who is never short of an entertaining opinion, but who also has some of the most incredible knife skills I’ve ever seen. I could watch him do food prep for hours. His nigiri creation was a performance art show.
Then there’s the profound nature of a meal where there are eight oft-silent individuals, mostly unknown to each other, all taking in the performance and chef interaction that a real sushi omakase ought to be. I might call this the most interactive and personal meal I’ve experienced. Look at it this way – Chris begins thinking about this meal up to a week in advance, detailing the dishes he’d like to make, seeing what’s available at market in Japan, and then the fish is flown over. The day before, he begins breaking down the fish and preparing all the little details. The day of, the staff is stocking the omakase room, preparing everything exactly as chef will need it for the final push. Then you arrive, and the filets of fish are cut, formed, and handed directly to you, which you then promptly throw into your mouth and enjoy. All of this for just 8 people, all of this for a single meal of fish and rice. It’s so…direct and intimate.
As my meal was comp’d, I asked myself for days, while the memory faded, would I do it again, on my own dime? Yes, but it will be just as rare as a meal at Quinones is for me, a special occasion destination that I get to day dream about until the time finally arrives.
All these acclaims being said and before I run through the photos, I will mention a few caveats, things that I think could sway the opinion of this meal. The dinner is very long, and it is often twenty minutes between small bites. We were there from 7PM until 11:30PM, and it would have longer except for a technical malfunction, which caused a fire alarm to go off. We actually missed out on tuna cheeks, foie gras, and Kobe beef cooked dishes, which would have certainly added to the meal. Also, it’s sort of quiet in there, and I felt like it would be rude to talk too much. And the experience is going to be with strangers, unless you rent the whole room. This can be fun, but could also be an annoyance if you are stuck next to someone you don’t like. And while’s it a special occasion type of meal, it’s not really the same private experience that a couple may be looking for in an anniversary meal or something of that nature. There’s a lot of interaction, a lot of chatting coming from Chef, and the people next to you are going to hear most everything you say.
Phew…that was long, so if you want to hear more about the meal, or have more questions, buy me a beer and I’ll tell you all about it. :)
If on the other hand, you’ve been, I would love to hear what you think. I spoke with Foodie Buddha, as he went last year, and I wanted to compare notes. We had very similar experiences.
real wasabi root, grated numerous times for us throughout the meal.
Chef Lisa Ito, starting us off with some champagne. She provided lovely service
chawanmushi – a hot custard with shrimp, mushrooms, and uni
just watching the knife skills was a treat
king crab wrapped with cucumber and Moromi miso
kinmedai (golden eye snapper)
shima aji (striped jack fish)
chef applies drops of yuzu juice to razor clam
taira gai – large razor clams from Japan, served with chile threads, really, really good
bisho tamago, sweetened egg around salmon roe, topped with caviar, Japanese fava-like bean, purple potato threads
wild scallop with yuzu
chef Chris Kinjo
steamed hamo (eel) with ume (plum) sauce – wow!
avocado wrapped around spicy tuna, white truffle cream, caviar
yellow tail nigiri
magura akami (tuna)
otoro with mustard, chile, caviar = crazy, crazy, crazy
tempura fried uni in shiso
grilled aori ika (type of squid) with butter poached lobster and uni
uzu gelee, gold leaf, sorbet (I think)
the cheeks we didn’t get to due to the firm alarm; chef was teasing us, or rather, enticing me to return