Greenpoint’s newest Japanese dining destination, U Omakase (173 Greenpoint Ave.), opened to the public on Sunday, September 4. The restaurant is the result of a decades-long friendship between sushi chef, Yasu Hirashiki, and his customer, Luis Durand. Durand frequented Yasu Hirashiki’s Forrest Hills sushi restaurant, and after it closed during the pandemic, Durand and his wife Kate teamed up with Hirashiki and another partner, Arnon Magal, to open U Omakase in Greenpoint.
Greenpointers spoke with Kate Durand about U Omakase’s successful first night. “We hosted 13 perfect strangers who by the end of the night were exchanging phone numbers,” gushed Durand. “The true testament to communal seating was that 30 minutes after closing, they were still outside chatting.”
Durand and her partners were very happy with opening night, calling it “amazing.” She went on to say, “Our goal, of course, is a special, surprising meal but also to create a space where people are connected — we all need more of that.”
U Omakase encourages an intimate, communal experience with one table in the center of the space that seats 13 guests. There is little signage outside the small restaurant. When walking inside, off of busy Greenpoint Avenue, it feels like entering another world with flattering low lighting and upbeat music.
However, the thing that will keep customers coming back is the food. Each guest receives 13 courses of small, sublime dishes. Chef Durand told Greenpointers that the menu will constantly change based on what can be flown in from Japan and sourced seasonally from local farms. But based on what Greenpointers experienced during U Omakase’s first seating, no guest will ever be disappointed.
On opening weekend, the 13-course experience began with a first course of a Kumamoto oyster topped with salmon roe. The dish had a fresh, salty flavor, allowing guests to taste the “ocean to table” flavor that Durand and Hirashiki were striving for.
The second course was a miso bouillabaisse with shrimp and lobster. This was served by the chefs’ partner Magal, who said he doesn’t love traditional miso soup and wanted to try the soup with a Mediterranean twist. This second course tasted very different than traditional miso soup, but was extraordinary.
The third course was smoked salmon topped with salmon roe and presented in a glass container. When the lid of the container was opened, smoke with a pleasant smoky smell, wafted out into the air. The chefs explained that the smoke is artificial, created by a torch and does not affect the taste of the dish. In fact, surprisingly, the “smoked” salmon was cold, not hot. In addition to the roe, it was topped with fried shallots that gave it a nice crunch and chili oil that left a jolt of spice in the aftertaste.
The fourth course was a fried soft shell crab with cauliflower purée. The crab was presented with a small “salad” as Chef Durand called it, which was basically just a couple of tiny cucumbers that added a light fresh flavor to the dish. The purée was creamy and delicious, and the crab was surprisingly light and not overly fried.
The fifth course was the start of more traditional sushi dishes. It was king salmon with ikura, avocado and salmon roe, and a touch of soy sauce. The sixth course consisted of fluke with radish and radish flower. It was salty, but in a very pleasing way with flavor that really popped.
The seventh course was called Shima-Aji, which is a type of Japanese mackerel, served with crispy ginger. It had a very light ginger flavor with crunch from the crispy ginger. The eighth course was another mackerel dish served with hot mustard from Japan, cilantro flower, and wasabi on side. The ninth course was yellowtail with jalapeño and marigold flower. It had a light clean taste and wasn’t spicy even with the jalapeño.
The tenth course was a Japanese sea bream that was flown in from Japan that morning. It was served with crispy garlic flakes and was excellent. The presentation of the sea bream itself was an experience. Chef Hirashiki walked around the communal table with a torch again and used the flame to sear the fish on each plate. He told guests that this brings out the flavor, while Chef Durand said that the sea bream is “such a good fish you don’t have to add anything.”
The eleventh course was Chef Hirashiki’s specialty. It’s called the Marilyn Monroe and consists of a scallop that melts in your mouth with an incredibly smooth and light flavor. It was a favorite among the 13 guests.
The twelfth course was uni, which is Magal’s favorite fish. And last, but definitely not least, was the thirteenth course, consisting of buttery Wagyu beef. It was prepared with a seaweed butter and tasted incredible. It was a wonderful way to finish the meal.
U Omakase is reservation only. The owners explained that this is because the prep work for the 13-course meal takes a whooping seven hours. It is impossible to prep for someone coming in off the street without a reservation. Each seating lasts about an hour and 15 minutes.
Reservations can be made on OpenTable for two seatings Thursday through Saturday evenings and one seating on Sundays.