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The Short Version: Sushi by Bou has made omakase sushi more accessible to the modern foodie by speeding up the dining experience. This sushi bar offers counter service only and has options for 30-minute or 60-minute meals. Guests are on the clock at Sushi by Bou, and that’s perfect for professionals on a lunch break, tourists enjoying a quick bite, and couples on a first date. Sushi by Bou attracted a dynamic crowd when it opened its first location in New York City, and now it has expanded across the U.S.
Omakase is a Japanese phrase that translates to “I’ll leave it up to you.” In the restaurant business, this term refers to a style of dining where customers let the chef decide which sushi dishes to serve them. Chefs typically offer multiple courses of sushi for a set price and surprise diners with each selection.
The omakase experience appeals to diners who enjoy trying new things together, but it can be a pricey and time-consuming experience. That is, until Sushi by Bou came on the scene in 2017.
Chef David Bouhadana honed his sushi-making skills in the Kansai region of Japan and then came to New York City to shake up the culinary world. He got the idea to make omakase sushi more affordable and accessible by putting it on a timer.
“When you serve certain pieces on a schedule, everyone wins because you get your favorites at an affordable price,” David explained. “That has always been my goal.”
Sushi by Bou opened in Midtown to much fanfare, and it has become a go-to date spot for New Yorkers who want to treat themselves without blowing their monthly budget. Now Sushi by Bou has several locations throughout New York City, and David has opened similar omakase restaurants in Chicago and Miami.
The Sushi by Bou team has planned and timed its sushi courses precisely so the restaurant literally runs like clockwork. Guests have a 30-minute or 60-minute window to dine at the counter, and the meal ends when the timer goes off.
This fast-paced system is the secret behind Sushi by Bou’s low prices. Guests can enjoy multiple courses of sushi, sample original cocktails, and choose some à la carte options during this guided dining experience, and they don’t have to keep an eye on the clock because the hands-on staff members let them know what to expect each step of the way.
The Sushi by Bou menu offers high-end cuisine with classic sushi flavors and some original creations as well. David said the O-Toro — a fatty tuna roll — is a crowd pleaser, and many diners want seconds of the Wagyuni — aka millennial surf and turf.
At the end of the meal, diners have the option to order sushi à la carte. David recommends getting The Big Mac, which is a sushi roll combining wagyu beef, toro, scallops, and uni. “We have fun challenging people to try something new,” he said.
Each Sushi by Bou location has a slightly different vibe to suit its surroundings. David told us it’s important to him to set the proper mood for each neighborhood and give locals something that speaks to them. For instance, the Chelsea restaurant caters to an artsy crowd, while the Time Square location is more geared toward busy professionals, tourists, and theater goers.
One thing all Sushi by Bou locations have in common is the fast and friendly service that keeps things moving and gives diners a lot to talk about, share, and enjoy.
“We always joke that it’s like speed dating because of the timing,” David said. “It’s perfect for a first date, and you can always hang out longer in the lounge area.”
The traditional omakase experience can intimidate newcomers because of its high price tag and unfamiliar dishes, but David has made an effort to remove those barriers and make Sushi by Bou a place everyone can enjoy.
The intimate atmosphere and personable service can help set first-time diners at ease, and the servers are always ready to explain the menu items or the omakase process, if needed. Sushi by Bou employs around four staff members for every eight seats to make sure each guest is well looked after.
Many couples have written positive reviews saying they had a great date experience here and enjoyed trying something a little different together.
“As a Masa alum, I didn’t want my boyfriend’s first omakase dinner to be stuffy,” said Jennifer N. in a Yelp review. “Also, I didn’t want him to faint looking at the bill.”
Jennifer said her boyfriend is the type of guy who likes eating $1 pizza for lunch, so she sought out Sushi by Bou as a birthday treat to show him that omakase could be affordable, intimate, and fun. The couple enjoyed interacting with the chefs behind the counter, and Jennifer said the relaxed party atmosphere was perfect for setting the mood.
“The quality lived up to my stomach’s pickiness, and my boyfriend got to try something new,” Jennifer said. “A year later, countless omakases we’ve been through, he is still asking to go back.”
Jaclyn C. said she booked two seats at Sushi by Bou expecting a fancy date night, and she wasn’t disappointed by the quality food and speedy service. “Your taste buds will dance, sing, shout, and beg for the night not to end,” she said.
“It’s a great date place because it’s all speakeasy-style counter service,” David said. “It’s a very intimate setting so you’re going to learn how a person is and see their personality.”
When David opened Sushi by Bou in 2017, he transformed the upscale omakase experience into something unique and affordable for the average sushi lover. Now Sushi by Bou is famous for its fast turnover, innovative menu, and trendy atmosphere — and it’s a great place to take a date.
Sushi by Bou’s New York locations have been closed since March due to the 2020 pandemic, but the team looks forward to reopening once the city enters Phase Two and allows restaurants to open with outdoor seating. In the meantime, David said he’s arranging a pop-up venue in the Hamptons where people can order sushi al fresco and take it to go.
As the country opens back up, Sushi by Bou will continue to provide unique dining experiences that bring people together over a plate of sushi.
“I love being a chef and seeing people on first dates or proposing — it really warms my heart,” David told us. “It’s amazing to be part of people’s lives in that way. That’s what we all strive for.”