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Chow Hound: Omakase at Next Door Bar & Grill 

Full disclosure: I have never been an adventurous sushi eater. I am that person that sheepishly orders the California Roll while my dinner companion is ordering the roll with four different types of fish and topped with colorful roe. When I learned that Next Door Bar and Grill had started to offer Omakase (translated from Japanese: "I will leave it to you," i.e. the chef chooses the courses) on Thursday nights, I decided to go leaps and bounds outside of my comfort zone and try it. I brought along my boyfriend, Cody, for emotional support and because he is a more adventurous sushi eater than I, and could offer a more balanced perspective if needed.

In charge of our fate for the night was Chef Loi, who introduced himself to us as soon as we sat down at the sushi bar. We were offered a sake pairing which we both took advantage of, and which provided me with the liquid courage I needed. Seating is limited for the Omakase and we had a group of about 12 people sharing the experience with us. The first bite we had was an amuse bouche in the form of a Tempura Shishito Pepper stuffed with shrimp. The pepper was lightly fried in a tempura batter and topped with a delicate sprinkle of flaky salt. Not too spicy, it was balanced well with the flavor of the shrimp nestled inside.

click to enlarge Chef Loi Pham. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Chef Loi Pham.

The first course was a Kabocha Tofu with Sunomono salad. Kabocha is a Japanese variety of winter squash and here was made into a tofu that was a like a silky, sweet custard. It was topped with a small piece of raspberry, a dollop of wasabi, and surrounded by a dashi-based broth that created the perfect sweet-salty bite. Sunomono salad is a Japanese dish typically made with cucumber that has been marinated in rice vinegar. On top of the salad was a slice of smoked salmon and fluke, as well as egg yolk. I'm typically not a fan of salmon, raw or cooked, but the smokiness of the salmon really worked well with the sweetness of the rice vinegar. I was leaving my comfort zone and I was okay with it.

Our second course was a cold somen noodle dish that included mushrooms, ginger-marinated tomatoes, shrimp, and the thin, wheat-based noodles. The dish was topped with what appeared to be Rice Krispies, and were in fact fried Rice Krispies, which magically kept their crunch and provided a fun texture for this dish. The third course (my companion's and my favorite) was a piece of stuffed steamed snapper with a truffle dashi sauce. The fish was stuffed with an egg omelet, and had it been appropriate to pick up my plate and lick the remaining sauce off it, I would have.

It was time for the fourth course, which was to be an assortment of nigiri, a one-bite salmon poke, and a piece of coconut shrimp roll. Honestly, this was the part I was dreading. Leading up to the experience, I kept asking Cody: "What if they make me eat Uni!? What am I going to do if it's gross!?" For those unfamiliar, Uni is sea urchin roe, looks like an orange-yellow tongue, and has been hailed by chefs like Anthony Bourdain (RIP) as "food porn."

Chef Loi started us off easy with bites of Chutoro tuna, Kampachi, Fluke, and Snapper, which were all delicious. And then I saw it. He pulled small pieces of the Uni out of a package designed to keep it fresh, and placed the Uni in a piece of Nori (seaweed used to wrap sushi) like a little, terrifying, taco. I took a deep breath and took a bite and I did not die. I did not want to spit it out, either. Fresh Uni tastes like the ocean, it's briny and creamy. I was very proud of myself.

click to enlarge Omakase at Next Door Bar & Grill is offered only on Thursday nights. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Omakase at Next Door Bar & Grill is offered only on Thursday nights.

Our night finished with a small bowl of miso soup, which was light and warming and the perfect topper to my belly full of sushi. For $45 per person (plus gratuity), Omakase at Next Door is something you must experience. Omakase elsehwere could run you more than $100, but the owners of Next Door want people to be able to enjoy it at an affordable price.

Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to food@rochester-citynews.com.

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