In Toro We Trust

Not long ago omakase was unheard of in Miami. Now, thanks to a contingent of pioneering restaurateurs, it’s everywhere.

11 min read
Mx Blog (Secret Menu) In Toro We Trust (4)

Miami is a town infatuated with all things indulgent, exclusive, and, well, expensive. An omakase experience offers all three at once, so maybe it’s no surprise that one of the fastest growing dining trends in the city are spots specializing in theatrical, menu-free feasts that can include up to 20 courses and cost $300 per person.  

“What’s happened, and what’s really satisfying, is that we’ve seen the city’s palate expand over the years." — Mahmood Abousalem, Vice President of PDS Hospitality

From the Japanese word meaning “I leave it to you,” omakase at its most traditional consists of a variety of meticulously prepared sushi and other small plates chosen by the chef and presented with reverent panache. For the adventuresome diner part of the thrill comes from relinquishing control and putting your trust in an expert wielding a very sharp knife. For the intrepid restaurateur, meanwhile, the business model offers some potential perks, like not needing to install a costly kitchen hood and fire compression system (if you’re sticking to a raw menu) and mitigating food waste through limited seatings and set menus.

To meet those behind some of Miami’s most unique—and routinely packed—omakase mainstays is to come away understanding what it takes to introduce the city to a whole new way of dining out. 

Mx Blog (Secret Menu) In Toro We Trust (2)

The Den 

Five years ago, when The Den opened as a hidden omakase speakeasy within the Azubu restaurant at The Stanton Hotel in South Beach, there was only one other place in town serving omakase. “We looked at the market and figured that the timing was right,” says Mahmood Abousalem, vice president of PDS Hospitality, the Tokyo-based group behind the concept, which focuses on Edomae-style sushi, a preparation that originated in Tokyo during the 19th century that emphasizes simplicity and high-quality ingredients. “We had a location in New York, which already had a lot of omakase restaurants, and given that Miami has always had a big New York clientele it just made sense for us to be the trendsetters. Looking back and seeing all the places that have since opened, our timing was amazing.”

The intimate space, built around a sleek, U-shaped wooden counter that seats 18 guests, is truly a world unto itself, designed to transport The Den’s diners to Tokyo the moment the door closes behind them. Yet while tradition is the cornerstone of the restaurant, which last year was awarded a Michelin star, the team found that in the beginning some adjustments were needed to cater to Miami’s tastes. “Sometimes the palate of the clientele did not like something very traditional, so we found ways to make it work,” Abousalem says, offering the example of an early dish called shirako that’s made from the sperm sacs or milt of cod and served with very little sauce. “It took some time to get some of the Miami crowds used to it—we had to tweak the recipe by adding more ingredients.”

But rather than drastically changing the menu, and risk departing from the original idea, they have instead emphasized making the experience at Den one designed to broaden horizons and—delicately, elegantly—nudge diners into new culinary territory.

“We hear the feedback and adjust, but we are very careful. We want to make the guests happy, but we don’t want to ever dilute the premise. We want it to be an educational experience.” — Mahmood Abousalem, Vice President of PDS Hospitality

To that end, head chef Atsushi Okawara greets diners the moment they sit down, preparing them for what lies ahead: a kaleidoscopic mix of sushi and sashimi flown in from Japan along with assorted cooked plates like thinly sliced wagyu and grilled mackerel. “Sushi is best when it is served piece by piece, slightly warmed by the hand—chopsticks are not required,” the chef will tell guests, playfully encouraging them out of their comfort zones. For a presentation of tuna, diners are shown the loin before it’s sliced so they can understand the difference between chutoro (the medium fatty section of the belly) and otoro (the fattiest and most succulent)—and, in the process, feel more knowledgeable and less intimidated. 

“What’s happened, and what’s really satisfying, is that we’ve seen the city’s palate expand over the years,” says Abousalem. That once-feared shirako, for instance? It’s now back on the menu. “And the guests love it!” 

Sushi | Bar Miami 

Amberly Ouimette, the chef at Sushi | Bar Miami, is one of the country’s only women omakase chefs—and, one hopes, the precursor to more. Her resume includes captaining the teams at iconic destinations like Matsuhisa Denver and Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar in San Diego. At Sushi | Bar Miami she provides an interpretive take on the traditional sushi counter experience, preparing unexpected riffs on long-standing classics with irreverent moxie. 

Mx Blog (Secret Menu) In Toro We Trust (3)

“If traditional sushi is considered an art form, I want Sushi | Bar to be looked at as the Banksy of the industry—illustrious, impactful, and cutting edge,” says Ouimette of the concept, which debuted in Montecito, California in 2018, expanded to Austin, Texas in 2020, and arrived in Miami in 2022, where it sits in the ground level of the Esmé Miami Beach Hotel. “People come to Miami for the fun and exciting experiences found here,” says Ouimette, whose fully tattooed left arm sets the tone for the experience as she works her magic on the fish. “I think that Sushi | Bar brings something unique to the sushi options available in the city.”

Each evening she welcomes a total of only 36 guests—12 per seating—to enjoy a $175, 17 course extravaganza showcasing fresh fish flown in weekly from Japan, Australia, and California. While the omakase menu shifts almost daily, Sushi | Bar Miami features some of Ouimette’s maverick signatures: aged bluefin akami with dehydrated red miso and everything bagel spice; Hokkaido scallop with white truffle salt, shaved black truffle, and truffle caviar; and kanpachi with pineapple, passionfruit, shishito vinaigrette and shaved coconut. In a nod to the Miami lifestyle, guests are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes before their selected seating and enjoy a welcome cocktail.

Rather than drastically changing the menu, and departing from the original idea, The Den has instead emphasized making the experience one designed to nudge diners into new culinary territory. 

“Each location should have its own identity, especially as it relates to look, feel, and design,” says Ouimette, who worked with her team to ensure that, in expanding to Miami, the restaurant offered flourishes distinct for the city’s culture.

“We have unique flavors and ingredients in some items that are native and more specific to the region— guava in Miami and local olive oil in Austin. It’s important to be familiar with the markets that we enter and important to us that we adapt to the nuances that come along with that.” 

Mr. Omakase and Miss Crispy Rice 

“Our whole philosophy is that we want to deliver an incredible omakase experience without killing your wallet,” says Andrew Mayer, who with his partner, Ryan Leto, unveiled Mr. Omakase in 2020. Located Downtown in a laid-back, 15-seat space, the restaurant offers diners a tiered menu: 10 courses for $89, 14 for $109, and 18 for $149. “People who work a full-time job can come in here once or twice a year without draining their whole paycheck. And for someone who’s a bit intimidated by the whole idea of omakase? The 10 course option is both a great meal and a great introduction.” 

Mx Blog (Secret Menu) In Toro We Trust

Located next to Poke OG, the grab-and-go spot the two founded in 2017, Mr. Omakase represents a unique pivot for the duo. Where many high-end restaurants often branch out to fast-casual, they’ve done the reverse in creating Mr. Omakase. “We both come from fine dining, and we applied that first to Poke OG in terms of creating something that was quick but super high quality,” explains Mayer. “Now we’re ratcheting it up a bit, but still keeping the casual vibe that we feel is quintessential Miami.”

“We throw tradition out the window there—like sometimes churros might make an appearance after a crazy crispy rice topped with toro. All we care about is flavor and making sure you have a memorable experience.” — Andrew Mayer, Owner of Mr. Omakase and Miss Crispy Rice

The venture has been so successful that it inspired another of their restaurants, Miss Crispy Rice, to create an omakase menu. Located in a cavernous, loft-like space in Wynwood and originally conceived as a hand roll and crispy rice bar, they now offer two omakase options, 14 courses for $87 and 16 for $125.

We had guests who’d been to Mr. Omakase and when they came to Miss Crispy Rice the only complaint was that they didn’t leave full enough,” says Mayer, who owns two other restaurants in the same space, Sushi OG and Papi Churo, allowing for whimsical experimentation with the omakase menu.

“People who work a full-time job can come in here once or twice a year without draining their whole paycheck. And for someone who’s a bit intimidated by the whole idea of omakase? The 10 course option is both a great meal and a great introduction.” — Andrew Mayer, Owner of Mr. Omakase and Miss Crispy Rice

Both restaurants are open late, with a last seating at 10 p.m. and a raucous vibe taking over as the night wanes—an intentional wink to Miami’s dining culture that has long blurred the line between eating out and partying. “Miami is our home, and we open all our restaurants in Miami for Miami,” says Mayer. “We feel like we know what our community loves and that these places, while not traditional, embrace that.”

About Secret Menu

We created Secret Menu, a print and digital magazine from DoorDash, on the belief that one restaurant’s story can help or inspire another. We’re proud to elevate stories that connect local restaurant communities and celebrate the craft and ingenuity that makes them so vibrant here on the Merchant Blog. Read more Secret Menu stories here.

logo subscribe to blog

Subscribe for insights to help you run a great business, delivered weekly to your inbox.