The city's omakase game has gone banzai over the past couple of years, and the artistes over at Kadence – Jennifer Bañagale, Mark Berdin and Lordfer Lalicon – have certainly had a hand in leading the charge. At their all-black, sign-free Audubon Park nine-seater, the trio carve and cook to the beat of the OGs, bobbin' and weavin' to Biggie, Dre and Cypress Hill before their pseudo-gangsta postures give way to a routine that's focused, technical and, dare I say, traditional.
They work the white-oak slab, slicing, dicing and plating with such extreme care and precision you might not notice the sexagenarian next to you cringe at the lyrics of "The Next Episode." You wouldn't think it, but watching A5 Miyazaki beef being chopsticked onto a giant Pacific oyster shell, or seeing rinds of kaffir lime knifed into bowls for ... wait for it ... cod sperm soup, can be downright mesmerizing.
Eventually the sounds of silence envelop the room as the nine patrons assault these purist creations with extreme prejudice. And with names like Blue Hill, Aquavit, Morimoto, 15 East, Oak Room and Umu lining the collective résumés of the three in charge, not to mention the several trips Mark, Lo and Jen have made to the Land of the Rising Sun, it lends a legitimacy to the proceedings here and justifies the $155 price tag (plus tax and gratuity) charged for the superlative, multicourse omakase dinners.
Oh, there's a fair amount of flair, but pizzazz takes a back seat to minimalist aesthetics, quality ingredients (fish is flown in from Japan twice, sometimes thrice, weekly) and an adherence to longstanding methods and rituals. You see it when served a bowl of ikura (salmon roe) wading in Japanese egg custard; or aji (Japanese horse mackerel) crowned with a pristine mess of kolrabi threads dressed in ginger and dashi and colored with chrysanthemum; or, yes, cod sperm soup with shiitake mushrooms cooked for eight hours, napa cabbage, dashi, kaffir and a kumquat rind tied in a knot as a symbol of unity.
Indeed, it all comes together during the nigiri courses, where Kadence showcases their quality ingredients: medai (blue nose), uni from Hokkaido, hata (Japanese grouper), baby kanpachi (Japanese amberjack), kinmedai (goldeneye snapper), iwashi (Japanese sardine) and on and on. But that's not to say they don't get creative. Hell, when 18-plus courses are presented (seven-plus during the $85 Sunday lunch), you're going to get some artistry and innovation from these three.
On one visit, as Run-DMC's "It's Like That" gave way to the dramatic opening of Beethoven's Fifth, out came an equally dramatic dish: a scallop shell holding scallops and charred cuttlefish topped with uni and dotted with egg vinaigrette, all sitting in a thick scallop jus; the scallop shell itself rested atop a hollowed-out sea urchin shell. Pretty bomb-ass. On another visit, "noodles" fashioned from baby cuttlefish came topped with caviar and shiso. It looked better than it tasted, but I appreciated the effort. A notable meat course saw a beautiful piece of pork belly sided with slow-cooked kohlrabi, carrots, daikon, porcini and hon-shimeji mushrooms in a tofu crema. One Sunday lunch visit saw a plating of mucilaginous natto (fermented soybean) atop rice with tuna, yellowtail, salmon and nori flakes.
Sorry, natto ain't my thing, but Jen's sake recommendations (she's a certified sake pro) certainly are. So are her desserts: The soba buckwheat cookies are killer, as is her miso-caramel macaron and Fernet ice cream with roasted brown rice and Lineage coffee grounds. My favorite, though, has to be her deconstructed Mont Blanc. It's a lavish ending of chestnut-rum mousse, chestnut puree, red bean cream, candied orange peel, roasted green tea meringue and, yeah, fresh chestnut.