On my recent trip to Las Vegas I dined at both Alex and Okada. I have dined at Alex 3 times now and had the tasting menu with wine pairings all 3 times. I dined at Okada for the first time on this trip and had the Omakase. Although these are obviously different types of restaurants the comparison of their tasting menus raised some questions in my mind.
First Alex. The tasting menu is well-known to me. I've had it 3 times. It is obvious that they follow a general template in designing their menu but somehow it is new and unique each visit which keeps me coming back to pay the big dollars that it costs. The tasting menu seems very well-thought and each course seems to flow smoothly and build on the previous course. The tasting items are also not found on the regular menu making it seem unique and fit for an occasion. Along with the wine pairings and flawless service, each evening there has been special.
Okada was different obviously, French vs. Japanese. In ordering the Omakase menu I was expecting some of the same principles that make Alex special. These would be well thought, good flow, building on the previous course and special items fit for an occasion. First course was yellowtail sashimi. Next was the Okada roll (elaborite Americanized roll with lobster, avocado, roe, etc), then sampling of the robatayaki grill, then a lobster dish, kobe beef, unmemorable desserts. There were a few more courses that I'm forgetting. Everything on the Omakase was something I could order straight from the menu. Portions were actually large which would definitely please many in and of itself. My problem was that I left feeling like I had not received anything special. I could have ordered all of those items straight from the menu. I don't feel like someone put a lot of thought into this. Everything was very good including the service, but nothing was special or memorable. I was not expecting Okada to be on the same level as Alex, but I was expecting special and memorable at the very least.
This brings up a few question for me about tasting menus. First, are all Omakase menus like this? Okada is a pretty high end place and I worry that other Japanese restaurants will do the same. If so, I would rather just order what I want from the menu. I see tasting menus as a way to get into the chef's brain as well as his heart. Alex succeeds each time in that at least in my perception.
Second, what does the Chowhound nation think of this? What do you expect when you order a tasting menu? Did I have unrealistic expectations? Am I being overly critical of Okada?