photo credit: Nicolai McCrary
Everyone remembers their first concert, their first kiss, and the first time they successfully parallel parked on the first try. They’re probably all a little awkward, but they’re moments we look back on fondly—little bookmarks in our memories. And while it may not have the same sex appeal as that first time seeing Weird Al Yankovic live on stage, the moment we took our first bite of sushi at Tsuke Edomae is something we won’t soon forget. A meal here isn’t just an excellent, intimate dining experience—it just might ruin sushi for you forever.
Reservations are difficult to get here, generally involving some combination of luck, intense planning, and probably something about Mercury being in retrograde. Be patient, it’s worth it. When you finally arrive, the front doors will be locked until your dinner begins. Use those few minutes to take in the sights of the convenience store next door, the apartment leasing office Tsuke Edomae shares its other wall with, and the large roundabout in Mueller that nobody knows how to properly use. But once you step through those doors, the real (and even more confusing) journey begins.
The entryway feels a bit like the lobby of a dentist office that spent some time picking up zen gardening tips from an IKEA catalog. You’ll be asked to remove your shoes, allowing your feet to fully absorb the prickly astroturf covering the floors. Then, you’ll hobble over to a small, minimalist sushi counter with eight seats, each decorated with a piece of slate and a small Hermès plate that costs more than your entire meal. And through the speakers, you’ll hear an oddly-somber playlist made up mostly of songs from The Legend of Zelda, Spirited Away, and Octopath Traveler.
The first 20 minutes of your meal consists of no food at all, but it’s one of the most satisfying parts of the experience. Large slabs of fish get portioned into thin pieces in front of you, while the chef cracks jokes to ease the silence. Every piece is delicately placed onto a large plate, slowly building out what looks like a pristine paint palette of colorful fish.
The omakase—$99 at the time of this review—consists of a few small plates and about 8-10 pieces of nigiri, with the option to add a few extra bites at the end (which you should absolutely do). Most of the fish is aged and cured using Edo-era techniques, subtly pumping up the umami flavors and giving it a unique texture that causes audible “holy sh*t” moments from nearby diners. But as special as the fish is, it’s the rice that takes center stage. It’s truly unique—a rare, mutated grain that’s more plump than typical sushi rice. And a new batch is made every 45 minutes, just to ensure it’s at its best. You’ve never had rice like this before, unless you happen to have dined at one of the three restaurants in the world that uses it.
Between the aging, the prep, and the rice, there’s a lot that’s involved with every bite, and as a result, there are rules here. Every piece of nigiri is served individually to one diner at a time, and must be eaten at its optimal temperature, within 15 seconds of hitting the plate. It creates a sense of suspense as you watch faces light up and dance a little, one at a time, like a single-file conga line. Unlike some omakase spots in town that serve basically a Full English breakfast’s worth of garnishes on top of each piece, here, every piece is dressed in nothing but wasabi and soy sauce, giving the fish and the rice a chance to shine.
Eventually you make your way through the multi-hour meal, humming along to a lo-fi remix of the Pokemon theme song playing on the speakers. Ask the other seven guests what their favorite bite was and prepare to hear the words “chutoro,” “akami,” “uni,” “otoro,” “anago,” “madai,” “aji,” all shouted back in near-unison from seven different mouths. There aren’t a lot of places doing classic Edo-style nigiri in Austin, and certainly none operating on this level—this might even be more exciting than that first time you successfully parallel parked.
At $99, this is one of the most affordable sushi omakase meals in town. And considering the quality, we think it’s a steal. The fish changes regularly—so try not to get too attached to any piece—but you can generally expect about 8-10 pieces of nigiri, plus a few small plates that feature everything from horsehair crab and uni to seared Hokkaido scallops. At the end of the meal, you’ll get a small cup of some mind blowingly-good miso soup, and a few small bites of dessert, including a small slice of imported Japanese melon that sets a new standard for melons everywhere.
As the end of the meal approaches, you’ll have the option to revisit any of your favorite bites, or add on more bites from the a la carte menu. You’ll also be given to try the “everything menu” which consists of an additional eight pieces of nigiri and a tuna hand roll for $60. Skip lunch if you have to, because these were some of the best bites of the night.