Stephanie and I went to O Ya last night, one of the items on the Laniel 2K10 Post-Full-Time World Dominance (aka Y’All Just Rentin’ This World From Me) Tour. [1] [2] I hope it’s not gauche of me to sum it up as “good, but not $267.56-per-person-with-drinks-and-tax-and-tip good.” I mean, a meal has to be pretty over-the-top good to be worth that. I’ve not yet had a meal at that price range that justified itself.

The last time I was in that price range was at L’Espalier, where the meal ended up costing about $750 in total for two people — so far above and beyond the realm of the comprehensible that we could only laugh. In fact Stephanie and I laughed about that one for the next 20 minutes as we walked away from the place. And the food wasn’t even that outstanding: of the 10 or so courses that L’Espalier brought us, two were really outstanding; they overwhelmed us with tastes and textures flowing over our palates more quickly than we could process them. There was smoky, crunchy, popping, astringent, smooth, fatty, liquid, and dense, all at once. This little one-ounce morsel was something I wanted to spend the next hour eating, though it would still have left me in the same dazed state.

But still, I must return to the moral: $750 for a meal that was 20% overwhelming?

O Ya was similar, though less absurd for a couple reasons. First, I knew going in that it would cost about what it came to. Second, O Ya doesn’t try as hard to make you think that you’re having a Fine Dining Experience: rather than L’Espalier’s sumptuous opulence, O Ya looks like a relaxed Japanese bar. O Ya’s exterior door is, on first glance, so dingy-looking that I assumed it was the entrance to a run-down warehouse rather than to an exalted restaurant. (On closer inspection, the door is supposed to remind you of the entrance to a humble Japanese home. It’s a very nice touch, in retrospect.) Inside, they’re playing rock music, and the chef is bouncing his head in time with the music.

The chef, I should note, isn’t doing all the things you expect a sushi chef to do: he’s not assembling rice balls or cutting large filets of fish from a newly dead animal; those jobs are left to the servants, who are off in a mostly obscured kitchen. They would periodically come out and receive a scornful glance from the chef, who clearly functions as the [foreign: prima donna] in this opera.

Anyway, to the food: 16 courses, each two bites (one for me, and one for my lovely dining companion). Most were standard sushi-sized pieces of fish, drizzled with oils, topped with preserved Japanese oranges, and so forth. They were delicious. But (and again, I feel like a clod for saying this) not $500 delicious. One particular dish was a few pieces of Japanese beef, seared, dressed with just the right amount of salt, and served atop a special (artisanal? heirloom? [foreign: sous vide]?) potato chip. This dish on its own was $61. There is just no reason for that.

I wish I didn’t have to spend this much time discussing the money aspect. I actually didn’t spend much time during the meal thinking of it: I knew going in that it would cost that much, and I didn’t want to spoil the mood. Plus I was there with my girlfriend, who is my favorite dining partner in the world [3]. And in one or two cases, the dishes were so good that my eyes actually rolled back into my head. But for $500, your eyes should do something even more awesome, like evaporate and re-coalesce, or colonize Mars.

Honestly, if you’re looking to have a really special meal around here with a loved on, there are better bets: Craigie on Main for extraordinary food (Excuse me? 10-course *vegan* tasting menu?) in a boisterous atmosphere with some of the best cocktails in the city; Oleana for a more subdued, self-consciously exquisite meal; or Number 9 Park if you want to go all out.

When O Ya sets its prices that high, it gives itself an entrance exam that it then proceeds to flunk.

[1] – Uh, yeah, I might could have mentioned that they hired me full-time.

[2] – We’re going to the Bahamas at the end of this month — the second bullet on the Y’all Be Rentin’ Tour.

[3] – You also will never find a better person with whom to watch a movie on the big screen. There’s a particular “Stephanie’s jaw agape” photo that I’ve surreptitiously taken five or ten times now in the theatre; it never ceases to make me smile.