Luis Durand and Yasu Hirashiki first met in October 2006 when Durand’s work for the New York City Health Department landed him in Hirashiki’s Forest Hills fish market. Durand eventually became a regular at Hirashiki’s in-market restaurant, Sushi Yasu, drawn to the chef’s wanderlust-inducing plates.
Hirashiki, who was raised in Okinawa, grew up diving for sea urchins, providing the uni for his dad’s restaurant. As a 13-year-old, he took on a sushi apprenticeship. At 22, he moved to New York, eager to bring next-level sushi to the outer boroughs.
By 2014, word had gotten out about Hirashiki’s tiny but mighty eight-seat sushi spot. Even the restaurant’s no-reservations policy didn’t deter New Yorkers. In the dead of winter, people lined up to sample Sushi Yasu’s swordfish toro and artistic omakase lineup, crafted with seafood shipped from Japan.
Eventually, Durand helped Hirashiki scout out a larger spot in Forest Hills, which remained popular until the pandemic forced it to close.
“I couldn’t see this guy not making sushi,” Durand says. In 2020, along with his wife, the two decided it was time to formally join forces with Hirashiki. They hosted dinners at Brooklyn yoga studios that Durand’s wife, Kate owned. Attendees were so impressed with the meals that they hired Hirashiki for private dinners. The success of those sushi feasts led Durand to a third partner, Arnon Magal. In September 2022, the four debuted U Omakase, an intimate, multi-course restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
U Omakase’s menu channels the transportive plates that chef Hirashiki served at his modest Forest Hills spot, featuring 13 to 15 courses centered on fresh fish from Japan.
“It’s kaiseki meets omakase meets French tasting menu,” describes Durand. To wit, every meal at U Omakase kicks off with an oyster topped with chile oil and ponzu, followed by bouillabaisse-style soup, seasonal seafood tempura, and sashimi. It’s not unusual for a menu’s plan to shift by course five once Durand and Hirashiki are familiar with the diners’ preferences.
The ever-changing menu may feature king crab in beurre blanc and leek oil, Spanish mackerel with watercress sauce topped with microgreens, a slice of seared wagyu gilded with caviar and more intriguing bites, based on seasonality and some à la minute inspiration. Guests don’t know what’s coming next, and that’s part of U Omakase’s distinct appeal.
“We don’t want to be perceived as a Japanese restaurant alone,” Durand says. “We’re just two guys from different countries, doing something fun in Brooklyn.”
Whether you want soft drinks or sake with your meal, you can pour any beverages yourself. U Omakase is BYOB with no corkage fee.
After viewing a series of potential spaces in Greenpoint, Durand finally found one with an open kitchen to distinguish U Omakase from the area’s other sushi bars. “We really wanted to capture the feeling of our private dinners,” he explains. “[We wanted it to feel] like guests are eating at someone’s home.”
A 14-seat, u-shaped sushi counter lends a warm and unpretentious ambiance. “We wanted people to really watch us cook,” says Durand. “People can see everything we do, mistakes and all.”
High ceilings with exposed beams and a white-washed exposed brick wall offer an industrial-chic backdrop; a chandelier hanging above the counter fuels a sense of feasting in an elegant dining room.
Instead of the hushed, tranquil vibes that usually characterize sushi spots, U Omakase delivers a lively and communal dinner party, courtesy of a playlist that features reggaeton and 80s rock. Durand serves Hirashiki’s plates from the center of the counter. It’s cozy enough so guests can interact, even if they have to occasionally shout over the familiar tunes of Bad Bunny or Rod Stewart.
U Omakase currently operates on a limited schedule. Dinner is served from 6 pm to 8 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk