Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review: Craft Omakase

This elite, 22-course omakase menu is exactly as filling as it sounds ... but we wouldn’t skip a single course


Daikon at Craft Omakase (Photos courtesy of Craft Omakase)

The omakase boom in Austin has been fast, furious, and more than a little overwhelming. How many minimalist tasting counters with $150+ coursed meals of sushi, sashimi, and nigiri can one medium-sized city sustain? It’s honestly gotten to the point where my first reaction to “there’s a new omakase opening this week” inevitably becomes “... really? Another one?”

But I’m delighted to report that my eyerolly instincts were no match for the exceptional meal served at Craft Omakase, now open in Rosedale.

Helmed by Charlie Wang and Nguyen Nguyen – both alums of Uchiko – Craft Omakase occupies a quiet and easy-to-miss space at the back of a nondescript North Lamar shopping center. After entering from the parking lot, I found myself in a chic but inviting waiting area that combined the spare aesthetic expected from a high-end omakase with some very welcome homey touches. Cognac leather sofas and bar stools, scalloped shades on the lighting fixtures, tasteful floral arrangements, and wide windows give the space enough personality to keep it from feeling too clinical or austere.

The restaurant staff proves similarly successful at blending two potentially contradictory styles. Front-of-house leader and co-owner Tim Boyer and general manager Julianna Fry are masters of efficiency; the check-in process at Craft is quick and simple. But several warm touches – like a pleasantly chatty review of dietary needs and restrictions and the offer of a welcome cocktail – keep the human side of the hospitality equation front and center.


Chef Charlie Wang

Speaking of the welcome cocktail, Craft offers a complimentary version of one of their three house libations, and they have options for both alcohol drinkers and NA guests. The Paola, which consisted of cava, Meyer lemon, and a touch of thyme, was well-balanced and refreshing. I appreciated the lightness of the drink, as I was determined to go into the omakase with zero taste bud interference.

Boyer and Fry guided each party into the dining room one by one, which added to the already personalized feel of the overall experience. Craft hosts two omakase seatings per night, and each can accommodate 12 guests. Designwise, the room gives off an intimate yet lively “house party” energy; the long table features seating on three sides, so diners can easily make eye contact with all of their fellow guests. The warm-toned and fairly bright lighting also feeds into this theme, especially when compared to the cavelike darkness of some other omakases in town. Might sushi enthusiasts on a romantic date prefer a slightly dimmer light scheme? I imagine so. But if you want to get a clear look at every single bite and also want to make friends with your neighbors, Craft Omakase’s setup will suit your needs quite well.

On the fourth side of the table, Wang and Nguyen provide omakase service that’s smooth and precise yet down-to-earth. They don’t lean on the theatricality or “party tricks” that have become regular sights on Foodie Instagram; they let their dishes speak for themselves. Their dish intros are informative and the chefs are more than willing to answer questions from the group, but they train the spotlight firmly on their beautifully composed plates.

While it’s tempting to suggest that Craft do some trimming and streamlining of their menu, these courses are so expertly arranged that I can’t bear the thought of disrupting the dramaturgy of the meal.

And they have a lot of plates to compose. Craft Omakase’s menu consists of a whopping 22 courses ... and if you’re hoping that I’ll tell you, “Don’t worry, it doesn’t feel like 22 courses,” I’ve got bad news. Before you head to Craft, just know that you will be consuming a great deal of food and that you will leave almost uncomfortably full.

But I don’t think that you’ll regret the experience. While it’s tempting to suggest that Craft do some trimming and streamlining of their menu, these courses are so expertly arranged that I can’t bear the thought of disrupting the dramaturgy of the meal. Wang, Nguyen, and their team never waver in their attention to detail; they dry age all of their Japanese-sourced fish on-site (from my position on the left side of the table, I had a clear view into their aging chamber), they cook fresh batches of rice for every service, and they add garnishes and accoutrements with impressive restraint.


The flow of the meal relies on a contrast between dishes that feels purposeful rather than just-for-funsies. For example, a piece of kurodai (black snapper) sushi boasted a luxurious and creamy texture that coated the tongue, an indulgent flavor backbone, and a welcome touch of salty funk from fish sauce. Its immediate follow-up was a different form of snapper, ishidai, which featured a more toothsome bite, a clean marine flavor, and a delicate hint of citrus to play off of the saline notes. The distinction between these taste profiles kept my palate engaged and excited, and the consistent elements of Hokkaido rice cooked to ideal tenderness and fish served at room temperature to maximize its flavor help diners find a consistent through line and remain confident that the entire (lengthy) meal will deliver from start to finish.

Craft rotates ingredients and dishes out based on seasonality and availability, but if you visit in the near future, a few items deserve special praise. Aguachile with sweet Gulf shrimp, mellow Japanese sweet potato, and a bold leche de tigre with limey tang, aromatic cilantro, and a touch of fish sauce umami bursts with brightness, and I found myself craving it days after my chopsticks hit the empty bottom of my bowl. Having lived through the inescapable truffle craze of late 2000s, I will openly admit to being a truffle skeptic, but Craft’s chu toro proves that, when used judiciously, truffle can add a trace of aromatic intrigue that plays well with soy and wasabi and heightens rather than obscures the bluefin tuna’s richness.

At $175/person (with the option to add sake or wine pairings or à la carte beverages for an additional charge), Craft isn’t a casual neighborhood hang. (That price point is also why I only visited once for a review, rather than the customary two visits.) And because reservations book out a month in advance, Craft won’t work for a spur-of-the-moment sushi outing. Most of my dining compatriots were celebrating special occasions, from birthdays to engagements to promotions. And after experiencing the care of the staff and the quality of the fish, each composed dish, and the meal overall, I understand why Craft would be a natural choice for a big-deal celebration.

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t worry about Craft in Austin’s current restaurant landscape. Not that I’m concerned about this spot going under – the speed with which their reservations get snapped up makes it clear that there’s ample demand. But I fear that the trendiness of omakases in Austin might make it easier for cynics to assume that Craft is just another bead on the string rather than what it really is: a clear, low-flaw, expensive – but worth it – diamond.

Craft Omakase

4400 N. Lamar #102

craftomakase.com

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Craft Omakase, omakase, Charlie Wang, Nguyen Nguyen, Tim Boyer, Julianna Frey

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