This year, my birthday dinner (which was supposed to be at Campagna, one of my longtime favorite restaurants) got snowed out. So instead of two expensive dinners, this year we chose to combine them into one *insanely* expensive dinner, and went to O Ya downtown.
TL;DR: OMFG, one of the best dinners I've ever had, definitely added to my recommendations list. But also the most expensive meal I've ever had with Kate or Jane, and probably one of the five most-expensive per-head, period. This was very much a "you get what you pay for" experience.
O Ya is basically the high-end gastronome's version of a sushi restaurant. Half of the menu is nigiri and sashimi; the rest is Japanese-ish. All of it is very much "Asian fusion", with complex flavors taken from wherever strikes their fancy. Even the sashimi typically involves tiny little piles of complex toppings and a dash of flavored oil to kick it up. And as you'll see from the below, much of it is Just Plain Strange. But Kate liked most of it, and I liked pretty much everything. (And loved a considerable fraction.)
We decided to get the "basic" Omekase menu -- 17 courses, selected by the chef from their fairly enormous base menu. They also have a "Grand Omekase", which is around 21 courses, a dozen of them unique to that menu and based on rare ingredients flown in from Japan. But the Grand Omekase costs another hundred dollars per persion *more* than the basic Omekase (which is itself over $200 each after tax and tip), so we decided that that fell squarely into "gilding the lily" territory.
Note that each "course" is basically a single piece of nigiri or sashimi. So 17 courses is a lot of food, but not *entirely* insane. I came away full, Kate slightly over-full.
The Omekase is chef's choice, but *very* strongly influenced by your preferences. So our waitress (who, like the rest of the staff, was friendly and excellent) did a fairly long interview with us about what we liked -- not only was the result tailored to our common preferences, they split it in a few cases so that we would each get what we liked more.
Kate helpfully took notes on the menu, and transcribed the list of what we actually wound up with (with my notes in parentheses):
1 - Kumamoto Oyster with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette (basically an oyster shooter -- not usually my thing, but tasty)
2 - Hamachi nigiri with spicy banana pepper mousse
3 - Salmon nigiri with unfiltered soy moromi (very much up my alley, with that strong earthy soy flavor)
4 - Warm eel nigiri with thai basil, kabayaki, fresh kyoto sansho (very different from typical eel nigiri, with a strong shot of basil flavor)
5 - Homemade fingerling potato chip nigiri with perigord truffle (yes, potato chip. Possibly the strangest nigiri I've ever had, but delicious.)
6 - Wild Santa Barbara Spot Prawn nigiri with garlic butter, white soy and preserved yuzu
7 - Bluefin Maguro with soy braised garlic and micro greens
8 - Fried Kumamoto Oyster with yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles
9kate - Scarlet Sea Scallop nigiri with white soy yuzu sauce and yuzu tobiko (the one thing she specifically asked for was scallop, which is a favorite sushi of hers)
9me - Arctic Char sashimi in a yuzu cure with sesame brittle, cumin aioli, cilantro (this was a fascinating presentation, in a steamer basket that released smoke when opened. We had mentioned that she doesn't like "smoky" flavors, and I love them, hence the split course. The smoky flavor was actually pretty subtle, but the aroma was *strong*.)
10 - Shima Aji sashimi with coconut dressing and spicy green mango slaw
11 - Scottish Salmon sashimi with spicy sesame ponzu, yuzu kosho, scallion oil (a particular favorite -- truly excellent salmon, with a slightly subtler topping that didn't overshadow it)
12 - Hamachi sashimi with viet mignonette, thai basil, shallot
13 - Bluefin Tuna Tataki with smoky pickled onion and truffle oil
14kate - Grilled Miso-Marinated Wild Black Cod with lemon zest
14me - Grilled Shiitake and King Oyster Mushroom Sashimi with rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, and soy (quite good but not quite as brilliant as much of the rest. Again, split course since Kate doesn't like mushrooms.)
15 - Seared Petit Strip Loin (Wagyu) with potato confit, sea salt, and white truffle oil (OMG, possibly the best beef I've ever had. But it drives home the pricing: on the menu, this is listed as $70 for *two ounces* of steak.)
16 - Foie Gras nigiri with balsamic chocolate kabayaki, claudio corallo raisin cocoa pulp, sip of aged sake (brilliantly strange -- the perfect midpoint between savory and sweet, as the transition to dessert. We each got a small glass of the sake on the side -- the aging results in a rather sherry-like variant of sake.)
17 - dessert. This isn't on the menu, but as I recall, one was a sake mousse like thing with mango sorbet and biscuits and the other was some other mousse thing with blackberry sorbet and sauce (a rather Journeyman-like presentation, each plate painted with dabs of fruit flavors and little crunchies to go with the primary flavors)
For drinks, Kate stuck to bubbly and white wines, which is her usual preference. I decided to go for a sake flight, since I like sake but don't know it all that well. It mostly confirmed my preferences in style: my favorite was a bone-dry Takasogo Junmai Daiginjo, which exemplified what I think of as sake. I also had the Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo, the Shichi Hon Yari Junmai, and the Dassai Junmai Daiginjo Nigori, all of which were a bit sweeter than I prefer. So not all overwhelming wins here, but well worthwhile clarifying what I like.
Overall: as good a dinner as I've ever had. *Highly* recommended if you ever have an excuse to spend an awful lot of money on a fabulous meal...