Omakase-style imbibing has found its way to Palm Beach County.
The customized cocktail experience is an option for visitors at Saxon/Sushi in Boynton Beach. Here, longtime bartender Brett Hart offers his take on the traditional Japanese method of preparing offerings "omakase shimasu," a phrase that translates roughly to: "I trust you, the chef." The personalized imbibing experience has been available for the past few months, but officially started last year when Hart decided he wanted to create a more immersive interaction with his patrons.
He did so by emulating the idea of omakase — similar to well-known cocktail bars like New York City's Attaboy — a style of serving that is often mistakenly interpreted as a set tasting menu. In Japan, however, omakase can be any experience where the chef decides what to serve based on the patron's preferences and the ingredients available. Unlike traditional dining, adjustments can be made along the way based on the guests' immediate feedback, presenting a more one-on-one approach.
At Saxon, the sushi and cocktail concept accessible at Sweetwater, Hart's 7-seat omakase is offered Tuesday through Saturday. Here, a cozy corner of bar offers a dedicated lounge that makes for a personalized, interactive, and intimate experience.
"My philosophy is just [to] make good drinks," said Hart, who took his inspiration from the Japanese TV series Midnight Diner, a show highlighting a chef's relationship with his guests. "If I'm doing my job right, I'll never make same cocktail twice."
For this reason, you won't find a cocktail menu at Hart's bar. Instead, a sheet of brown paper hangs behind the bar, a short list of drink profiles he changes from day to day. Or, the mixologist will offer you the option to partake in his $40, 4-course omakase, a fully-interactive experience where he'll decide what you're drinking. (Still want a Sweetwater cocktail? You can order any of the restaurant's drinks here, too.)
A typical omakase begins with a few questions: Hart will ask you to pick a color, a mood, and name your favorite spirits. You can even offer an emoji from your phone as inspiration, or you can ask to see his copy of Ted Saucier's Bottoms Up for inspiration. From there, Hart will begin the process of assembling a cocktail on the spot, a process that often includes fresh purees, juices, syrups, and garnishes he'll whip up à la minute.
Hart has more than two decades of bartending experience under his belt. Most know him from his four years at Hulabaloo in West Palm Beach. But his own style of off-the-cuff mixology has its roots in his work consulting for Paradiso in Lake Worth. The gig turned into a full-time job, and Hart spent two seasons behind the restaurant's six-seat bar, one small enough to offer him an opportunity to indulge guests in a more intimate, customized cocktail experience.
"I saw an underutilized space and decided I wanted to create something cool," said Hart, who built up a regular clientele with his unique cocktail omakase. "I wanted to give people a truly personalized experience. My drinks are based solely on the guest's palate, rather than forcing them to like something on a menu. There's not many places offering that right now."
On a recent night at Saxon, Hart procured a bottle of salted sour orange shrub he recently created using fresh blood orange; it was used to make his first cocktail of the evening — a daiquiri — a simple combination of white rum and the shrub. In the past, he's also offered cocktail flights featuring only one spirit, creating the same cocktail using different styles of rum, whisky, or tequila to present a new way to explore various spirits.
"What I'm doing is a very private and quiet experience, with absolutely zero pretenton," said Hart. "A lot of people don’t get it at first. It's not something most people are used to around here. I just tell them, 'you have to be willing to trust your bartender,' and just have fun."
Saxon / Sushi. 1507 S. Federal Hwy., Boynton Beach; 561-509-9277; omakase hours are 6 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 6 to midnight on Friday and Saturday; sweetwater33.com.