This December, lots of things are taking Philly by storm—holiday cheer, Gritty, and that’s sweeping the nation. In case you’re not a sushi expert, omakase refers to an intimate dinner curated entirely by a sushi chef. The word itself directly translates to “,” meaning that for the duration of your meal, the chef is in control. To Executive Chef Todd Lean, this doesn’t give him permission to have the Chef Ramsey–style freak out of his dreams. Rather, it allows him to do something more noble, more creative, and more meaningful—“paint a picture on a plate.”
Chef Lean, the mastermind behind the menu at a Family Weekend favorite, knows how to craft the perfect omakase experience. First, it involves the freshest seasonal ingredients, often the focal point of an exceptional omakase. With similar culinary experiences, "the ingredients shape the chef, not the other way around," he says. At restaurants like Pod, which are putting their own spin on this Japanese tradition, it means “starting with the ingredients first, and then working [your] way outwards.” It means keeping in constant contact with the premiere fish and vegetable purveyors, ensuring that customers leave with a dining experience baked in freshness.
Second, it means eating your meal with a cadence. Good omakase is intentional; it follows an order that takes the customer on a gastronomic journey between decadent hot courses and refreshing, light sushi ones. To Lean, omakase “is kind of like reading a poem. You have your ups and your downs and then your boom,” which clearly refers to a climax so intense you can’t help but crave more.
At Pod, this climax is the omakase’s fifth course, a seafood hot pot composed of lobster miso, scallops, and a whole smorgasbord of other seasonal findings. According to Lean, this dish has —that illustrious fifth taste that leaves your tastebuds all tingly and invigorated. The rest of Pod’s omakase menu invokes this same feeling.
Unveiled on Nov. 6, Pod’s menu puts a spin on omakase that’s distinctly Philadelphian. The menu, much like the city we love, follows its own rhythm. Rather than alternate between hot and cold courses like some traditional omakase, Lean opted to bookend the menu’s apex—the fifth course—with sushi handcrafted by the restaurant’s Executive Sushi Chef and omakase purist, Kevin Yanaga. Over the course of two hours, Lean and Yanaga create a novel best savored slowly.
The menu, which will alternate biweekly, began with chawan mushi—a savory Japanese custard topped with caviar, truffle, and a petite rice cracker. To me, this was the omakase’s exposition, laying out a flavor profile that was both familiar yet entirely new. The caviar’s sharp saltiness complemented the custard’s creaminess, making it taste a little bit like a blended everything bagel. As a New Yorker, this is the highest praise you can get.
The second course soon followed, presenting not a plate of sushi, but of Pacific Northwest oysters dolloped with Keluga caviar. This is where the meal’s rising action began, contrasting the oyster’s subtle, buttery flavor with a deliciously harsh and salty caviar aftertaste. Obviously, this course reminded me of the city I’ll come to call home over the next four years. Pod's best trait is that it's secure being a little rough around the edges, creating indelibly exciting experiences.
Courses three, four, and six are a mix of sushi and sashimi served —or one–by–one with a theatrical flourish. Highlights include a meaty bluefin tuna, a salmon zuke marinated to perfection, and a foie gras temaki that is exactly as bougie and delicious as it sounds. Each piece of sushi and sashimi evokes an exciting duality. They taste simple, like you can’t imagine these fish existing in any other form, which allows you to appreciate the work behind them.
For a dining experience to celebrate one of your biggest achievements—graduating, landing your dream internship, studying without checking your phone six times an hour—look no further than Pod’s omakase menu. It demands attention without asking for it, unlike other tasting menu concepts, allowing Lean and Yanaga do what they do best—let the food shine.
Location: 3636 Samson St.
Hours: Dinner service only; Tues—Thurs; 5:00—9:30 p.m.
Price: $85 per person
Special Notes: Available only at the Conveyor Sushi Bar