In February of 2022, I was hoodwinked into dining at a fancy sushi restaurant that ended up costing me $479 (and some of my pride). This restaurant was the talk of the town and I had heard from multiple people that it was one of the best meals they’ve ever experienced, I had to try it out. The restaurant is consistently booked out for months in advance and at one point it had a 20,000 person wait list so it had to be good, right? Ha…….Hahaha.
One night I happened to take a gander at their reservation schedule and by the power of the Holy Spirit there was one single reservation open at 9:30PM on a date far in the future, so I took it. I don’t want to actually name the restaurant and blow up their spot because they were incredibly nice and the experience itself was unique, it just wasn’t for me. It was an omakase style restaurant with only 10 seats in the entire building, hence the huge waitlist. Omakase is a chef-selected meal where they choose the pieces of sushi to feed to the patrons. This particular meal was 17 courses and the price was $145. Woof, yeah. But it was a “treat yourself meal” for me after my busiest season of work. I figured that $175 after tip isn’t too terrible as a Christmas gift to myself. So how did this meal go from the expected $175 to the whopping $479 I mentioned earlier? Well, I was swindled and let me tell you how.
Fast forward to the week of the reservation, I got a text from the restaurant asking for my guest’s name.
“My guest?” I said. “I don’t have a guest.”
Then I was told my reservation was for 2 people, not one, and there are no cancellations seeing as there are only 10 seats in the building. It was either pay double for nothing or find a victim to tag along with me, so I ended up dragging someone along for the ride.
To set the stage the restaurant is in a small converted house in East Austin, which is the breeding ground of the standard Texas hipster, and this place was the perfect representation of that. I showed up to the restaurant and the maître d’ pushed me into a poorly lit, cramped sitting area that clearly used to be a living room to join some of the other patrons as I waited for my guest to arrive. The tables were practically on top of each other so I had the pleasure of being forced to eavesdrop on the happenings of the group next to me. If the topic of conversation being had wasn’t a giveaway that I was wildly out of place, the number of top hats present in the room certainly was.
A few minutes later my guest (who I had never met before*) had arrived. It was a friend of a friend and this will be semi important to this story coming soon. The maître d’ returned to the table and said,
“Excuse me, the chef would like me to let you know that we have just received a shipment of black truffles from the Tuscan region in Italy. She feels they would be a wonderful pairing with course 8 of your dinner tonight. Would you be interested in including them?”
I had never tried truffles before and with how highly they are regarded in the culinary world I figured they have to be magical. So we both said yes. Immediately after answering in the affirmative the host says,
“Great! That will be a $40 upcharge per person.” and walked away.
“You devil lady. How could you do this to me?” I thought to myself as my blood pressure approached an unhealthy level.
She pulled a fast one on me. Now usually I would have no problem calling the host to return and saying I take it back and you’ll never get a cent out of me but the combination of me wanting to eat truffles for the first time plus trying to act like a normal human being in front of someone I had never met before stopped me from doing so. But trust me, I thought about it for a split second.
*Unrelated to the story but I realize this sentence is supposed to use whom to be grammatically correct. I can’t even begin to explain to you how dumb I think this is. I have never used the word whom in my life and I won’t for as long as I shall live. Everyone knows what you mean when you say who and that is how people talk. Zip it.
A short time later everyone in the waiting area was corralled into the dining room for service. The room was small with 10 seats in a U shape surrounding a raised prep station with three chefs waiting behind. Each of the seats had a name plate for the patrons with their assigned seats. Once everyone was seated the chef brought out the waiter to take drink orders. It was almost 10PM at this point and I was ravenous so I was antsy to get this show on the road. It has been somewhat of a running bit in my friend group where someone has to be the person who says “waters all around” when the waiter comes for the drink order and it took everything in my power not to let one of those loose at the community table. I also have a bit where I ask for chocolate milk because 1. I want it. And 2. I think it’s funny to watch the face of the waiter once they realize I’m not joking. No restaurant ever has it anyway. I really should have chosen either of those because it could have prevented and/or lightened the harrowing experience that followed soon after.
The waiter starts explaining the drink menu and the two options they have available, a sake pairing or a wine pairing. He was explaining the specifics about what kind of wine or sake, its age, where it’s from, blah blah blah who cares. Then he goes,
“The sake pairing will be $120 a person and the wine pairing $220 a person.”
I almost laughed right in his face.
Thank god he started to collect orders toward my end of the table cause I told him I wanted water before he even took out his pen and paper. I had to be the first to order so I could set the expectation because if my guest had ordered one of the pairings I would have had a stroke (sorry). Luckily being the fine lass she is, she spared me the expense and went off the ala carte drink menu. It still cost me probably $40, but fine. The damage could have been way worse. I can be a cheap ass, sue me.
The dinner was an interactive experience that involved the other strangers at the table and the chefs. The chefs would prepare each piece of sushi and explain what they were doing, what was going into each piece and some information about the ingredients. Each patron gets a piece of the sushi at the same time and you all eat it simultaneously to provide a feeling of community amongst the table to foster discussion. If you know anything about me this is my seventh circle of hell, being forced to enter into vapid, meaningless conversation with strangers who I will never see again.
The combination of my dry sense of humor paired with the collection of fellow diners that clearly have wildly different world views than me was a recipe for disaster. Thankfully my social awareness hasn’t yet deteriorated to the point where I am completely oblivious to this so I whispered to my guest that code word: Oklahoma means this piece of sushi is shitty so I didn’t have to say it out loud. She was obviously in.
The sushi starts getting made and we begin eating. The first few pieces are incredibly mediocre and hard for me to grade them as anything greater. I think the best way to explain them is by saying “Yup, that was a piece of raw fish, for sure.” Completely unremarkable. Already at this point, the conversation at the table following each piece of sushi was beginning to annoy me. People were acting like they were eating the single greatest thing that has ever been put on a plate after each piece. I hadn’t needed to work Oklahoma into a sentence yet but the talk of the table certainly didn’t match the level of what was being served.
Among the next couple of pieces was a slice of hamachi served over rice topped with a miso soy glaze and some lime zest that was the single best piece of sushi I had ever eaten in my life. The flavor from this piece was finally what I was looking for from such a highly anticipated dinner. If I was going to pay $145 for a meal I wanted to eat something rememberable and that I had never tasted before. A few courses following we were served a piece of unagi (Japanese eel) topped with melted bone marrow that was torched straight from the bone. It was another wonderful piece of sushi. But worth the cost? Eh, probably not.
Of the 17 courses, those 2 pieces were the two best pieces of sushi I have eaten, 13 of them were marginal, and 2 of them were straight up bad with one being in the top 5 worst things I have ever put into my mouth. After almost every piece of sushi my immediate thought was “would it kill you to toss a little salt on top?” but I didn’t have the foresight to create a codeword for that one so I had to bury it deep within my soul. We were instructed at the beginning of the service that these are not to be eaten with soy sauce and wasabi which would have solved the salt issue. I’m guessing the reason is because you are supposed to appreciate the freshness and characteristics of the actual fish but shouldn’t making the thing you are eating taste as great as possible be the goal of it all? I think yes.
Course 14 was a piece of uni (sea urchin roe) over rice. It was talked up by the chef being among her favorites of the night. She went into great detail about how Maine uni is the best uni on earth for reasons I don’t remember and it doesn’t matter because this piece of sushi was repugnant. Similar to how some gross vegetables can be described as earthy, this uni was sea-y. And not in the nice, salty kind of way. It was in the gross smell from a dirty beach transported to a flavor kind of way. The worst part about it though wasn’t even the flavor, it was the texture. It was like placing another persons refrigerated lougie into your mouth and almost every other person at the table was talking about how much they loved it. They were gasping and ahh-ing at how great it was. I can assure you that it was not. They are all liars and frauds.
Following the final course of the standard dinner portion the chef’s asked if some of the patrons would like any additional courses of sushi that were off menu. Because this was the final dinner service of the night they weren’t in a rush to push us out of the dining room since no one was coming in after. I was still starving seeing as how each piece of sushi was the size of a thumb tack but when the chef informed us that the additional courses would require me to take out a second mortgage on my house, I called her a crazy person and sat quietly while everyone else finished.
The coup de grâce that cemented the dinner into the most annoying meals I’ve had in all my days was the dessert course. It was a homemade strawberry ice cream. I hesitate to put any blame on the restaurant because I wasn’t eating here for the dessert, it isn’t their specialty. What I was served was by no means ice cream and a blatant show of disrespect to every dairy cow in history. It tasted like water that happened to have a some strawberries soaking in it for a couple of minutes. Again, these are sushi chefs, not dessert people and I wasn’t even expecting a dessert at the end of the meal so I can’t destroy them for it. However, what made it so incredibly infuriating was that, once again, the table couldn’t stop talking about how great it was. At least 3 of the people claimed that it was the best ice cream they have ever eaten and that pissed me off.
“What are you people even saying? It’s not even in the top 1000 ice creams in the county. How dumb could these people be?” I thought to myself as I stared off into the void.
The “mmmms” and “oh my gods” coming from them made me want to blow my brains out. The ice cream was so bad. These weasels I shared a table with were tricked into believing that the food was top tier because they had to justify spending multiple hundreds of dollars on a subpar dinner. Fools.
The checks finally came around and I was presented with the damage, $479 United States dollars after tip. Roughly $300 more than I was expecting and $329 more than I’ve ever paid for a dinner in my life (and that previous most expensive dinner was for 3 people, not 2). I thought my bill was a nightmare but the couple next to me got taken for $1300 DOLLARS. FOR 2 PEOPLE TO EAT DINNER. $1300 DOLLARS. What the funk. They both got the truffles, the wine pairing, and additional courses after the dinner service. For $1300. No amount of coping would be able to convince me that the dinner was good if I was taken for $1300. Thinking about $1300 on a dinner used to keep me up at night until I recently discovered that when people go to those nightclubs in big cities and drink all night they have to pay thousands of dollars just to sit at a table and thousands of more dollars on alcohol. Talk about a waste of money. You can’t convince me that anyone, regardless of wealth level, can afford that.
I have a remarkable desire to numerically rank many things in my life. Restaurants are one of them. I think that in order to have a true ranking system there needs to be a range from two numbers where the worst input gets scored a zero, the best should receive a perfect score, and the remaining data follows somewhat of a normal distribution. I do not frequent fancy restaurants like the one I have described here. In fact, it’s the only one I’ve ever even been to. Something that I take into consideration in my rankings is value. An equivalent experience and meal from a cheap restaurant gets a better score than from an expensive restaurant. Why would I want to pay more for something that is equally as good at the cheaper place? I refuse to be psychologically influenced into believing something is better simply because it is more expensive. Too many people fall into this trap, including the muppets I shared this dinner with.
This restaurant got a 4.2 out of 10 from me. Two of the pieces of sushi were amazing, one was so god awfully bad that I thought it may have been a joke, and the remaining ones were a whole lot of nothing. A score of 4.2 to me means that of all of the restaurants I’ve been to, roughly 58% of them were better than this one. If it weren’t for the experience the score probably would have been quite a bit lower. The value just wasn’t there. Had the meal cost $60 a person I would have been inclined to score it closer to a 7 out of 10. Those two great pieces of sushi did a lot of the heavy lifting in my score to offset the destruction that the uni and the ice cream created. The experience and interaction with the preparation that went into each piece was unique to any restaurant I had ever been to and it’s likely how they justified the strong price tag. It certainly wasn’t for me and to be frank I was traumatized by the bill to the extent that I didn’t dine out for months following.
P.S. The truffle course wasn’t good. They grated the truffles over a piece of fish and rice. I don’t even remember what was on that particular piece of sushi other than the truffles because the tiny little amount of grated truffles on top cost me $40. I grabbed a little pinch of the truffles off of the top so I could taste them on their own. They tasted exactly, and I mean exactly, like a regular white, raw mushroom. That is what people lose their mind over? I wouldn’t pay a penny for that. Why do I want raw mushrooms on top of my sushi?