Early last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing David Tsan's intimate 8-seat omakase concept inside Soupa Saiyan 3 called Soupakase. I said it was "the best value of any omakase in town" and at $65 for 10 servings of high-quality nigiri along with a handroll and soup, it certainly was. But Tsan had bigger plans, so when Soupakase morphed into Norigami and moved into the Plant Street Market in Winter Garden, I was there with bells on, dinga-linga-linging along the way to all the sushi snobs I know. What really impressed — apart from the eight-seat Japandi bar festooned with a custom-made noren that somehow made us forget we were dining in a food hall, or how lesser-found seafood gems like geoduck, needlefish and blackthroat sea perch find their way onto the menu, or how Tsan and chef Shane Birdsell apply precise detailing onto every one of those half dozen or so cuts and slivers — was the price of Tsan's omakase.
I know, I know, it sounds a bit crass to bring cost into this comparison but, c'mon, $62 is $3 cheaper than the omakase at Soupakase. Oh, and you don't have to order the omakase — there are nearly 25 items on the menu of apps, crudo and nigiri/sashimi/temaki from which to choose. Just don't go looking for California rolls, fry rolls or cream cheese. But if you're like me, and don't live anywhere near Winter Garden, you'll want to make the most of your trip, so the omakase is the way to go.
You'll start off with, uhh, cream cheese! It's a tongue-in-cheek adornment to Tsan's signature popcorn hamachi plate also prettied with carefully placed slices of yellowtail, dots of avocado puree, radishes and popped sorghum. Then you might be served wee firefly squid with strawberry, cucumber and a key lime vinaigrette akin to leche de tigre.
But what follows is Norigami's bread and butter or, rather, its fish and rice. Each bite of the piece-by-piece carousel of nigiri carry its own flavor profile — sweet madai (sea bream) topped with umeboshi, fleur de sel and lime juice; delicate shima-aji (striped jack) with matcha salt and scallion puree; buttery New Zealand king salmon with a coronet of truffle cream and miso sauce; clean and rich kanpachi with peppery yuzu kosho; and on it goes. Every offering feels like the tastiest, until you eat the next one.
Two more faves: colossal shrimp sheened in Cajun mayo, lime and Maldon salt; and a blinged-out "Big Mac" nigiri with A5 wagyu, bluefin tuna belly (otoro), Siberian Osetra caviar and uni. Pretty baller, but just as noteworthy is how Tsan and Birdsell aren't the least bit ruffled when we unexpectedly throw them a curveball.
One recent visit to Norigami coincided with baseball's opening day and the Local Butcher & Market inside the food hall were grilling ballpark franks. My dining comrade bought a couple of dogs and presented them to the chefs to see what they could muster. And with that pitch, Tsan and Birdsell hit it out of the park.
We got nigiri featuring a rectangle of that ballpark frank nori-wrapped around sushi rice and topped with pickled mustard seeds and kimchi hot sauce. And about that sushi rice — it is extraordinary. It's no wonder Tsan has been employed by some of the city's heavy hitters like Kabooki Sushi and Morimoto Asia.
Tsan ends with a handroll — the blue crab with yuzu mayo and cucumber goes down real easy — and a sweet, delicate castella made from madai. It's a capper that really showcases the great variety of bites Norigami offers. "The forms are endless, just like origami," it says on the restaurant's OpenTable page and it's hard to disagree. As far as omakases in this city are concerned, I certainly hope this is the shape of things to come.