The “Sushi Whisperer”, Kevin Yanaga speaks, as his Omakase by Yanaga debuts in an intimate space in the back of Izakaya by Yanaga.
In anticipation of debuting his Kaiseki styled Omakase by Yanaga one year after he, and the GLU Hospitality team, opened its Izakaya on Fairmount Avenue, Kevin Yanaga – the noted “Sushi Whisperer,” an acclaimed chef who does magic with raw fish – welcomed a small gathering of local food writers to watch him spin aquatic gold. This new brand of alchemy, performed in a small, private space in the back of Izakaya by Yanaga is a couture experience, a self-created menu left completely in the hands of the Chef. For $195 per person and a total of 25 courses, prepared by Yanaga before his customers’ eyes, Chef’s offerings aren’t solely about 12 courses of nigiri, 3 non-traditional sushi, 9 amuse courses, and 1 dessert. It is about an interpersonal experience.
I spoke to Yanaga following the debut of Omakase by Yanaga which opens officially on August 12.
A.D. Amorosi: You now have two spaces under your name. What does that mean to you, especially considering that you have been in the business in Philly for a minute and worked with other chef-owners such as Stephen Starr and Michael Schulson?
Yanaga: It is very exciting and humbling to have two concepts with my name on them. I really love that we have two totally different experiences under one roof and can offer our guests multiple different things that are happening at the same time. We are thrilled to finally have the Omakase room open.
A.D. Amorosi: When you and your Glu Hospitality partners at Izakaya were deciding on how the Omakase was to be created and crafted, what were your thoughts on the matter? Its design? What you would serve?
Yanaga: We wanted to create a very unique look and feel in the room that you don’t see in the majority of Omakase rooms. We went with a darker aesthetic as opposed to the traditional modern look in Japanese restaurants. We are very pleased with the way it turned out and hope our guests really enjoy it.
A.D. Amorosi: Along with the heightened level of intimacy and eye-to-eye communion between you and the customer-diner, what is the heightened level of Omakase’s menu? How would you describe it?
Yanaga: Omakase literally means “the chef chooses,” so I am really excited to be able to provide our guests with a very unique experience and ultimately create a guest connection with them. I don’t have the opportunity to create dishes in front of guests on the Izakaya side so this is very exciting for me.
A.D. Amorosi: Can you tell me a little bit about how and where you are sourcing your fish and other delicacies? You can use last night’s menu, as an example.
Yanaga: We source our fish from local vendors out of NYC and Philly. We obviously serve a very wide range of fish from Japan especially and a lot of domestic fish.
A.D. Amorosi: I watched you roll around some of the fish, the scallop, for instance as if you were treating it like a person. Can you tell me why and what is the relationship between the fish and you?
Yanaga: Ultimately any food we are serving we treat it as art and want our guests to really like the way it looks before they consume it. In Omakase I really enjoy watching the guests’ faces while I prepare the fish. I’d say the majority of guests don’t get the opportunity to butcher fish, so it’s cool that they get to see us prepare it right in front of them.
A.D. Amorosi: Going forward, can you tell me what are your plans for the Omakase apart from the Izakaya? How you will continue to make it even more about you and your relationship with the diner and what you serve, including any special menus or events.
Yanaga: The two sides are so unique and different. Izakaya is meant to be the casual side which our guests can consume on a daily basis while Omakase is really intimate and special and a much higher-level experience. I really love that we can offer both of these things under one roof.
Images: Eddie Marenco, Anthony Sojo