Sushi Zo Omakase

inside sushi zo
inside sushi zo

Does the high-end sushi omakase market in NY seem a bit crowded to you? Shuko, Yasuda, Nakazawa, Neta, O Ya…and now there’s a new one to add to the list. Sushi Zo, a highly acclaimed LA based restaurant that tops all the best of lists in that city, seems confident that it has something new to offer with its $200 a head omakase. Chef Masa made the move on behalf of the LA team to run the east coast franchise, which is curiously located on the scrappy streets of Greenwich Village. The space has the standard minimalist look and feel of a serious sushi restaurant run by a control freak chef, but Masa-san is not one of those martinets who demand that you eat something in a particular way. He seems a lot more Americanized than most sushi chefs and hence engages comfortably with his customers like a peer, which makes for a relaxed atmosphere. No tense exchanges for mistakenly dipping your fish in soy sauce or not using your fingers.

tuna from north carolina, yellow jack mackerel, horse mackerel and red snapper with yuzu pepper
tuna from north carolina, yellow jack mackerel, horse mackerel and red snapper with yuzu pepper
halibut from long island
halibut from long island
spanish mackerel from long island with ponzu sauce
spanish mackerel from long island with ponzu sauce
amberjack from japan
amberjack from japan
flame grilled sea perch from japan
flame grilled sea perch from japan
sea bream with roasted shishito pepper
sea bream with roasted shishito pepper
medium fatty blue fin tuna from north carolina
medium fatty blue fin tuna from north carolina
scallop from hokkaido
scallop from hokkaido
monk fish liver from maine with ponzu sauce
monk fish liver from maine with ponzu sauce
chawanmushi
chawanmushi
black sea bass from long island
black sea bass from long island
uni from hokkaido
uni from hokkaido
salmon roe from alaska
salmon roe from alaska
white clam from washington state
white clam from washington state
live shrimp from japan
live shrimp from japan
anago sea eel from japan
anago sea eel from japan
sea urchin from maine hand roll
sea urchin from maine hand roll
tamago
tamago
clear soup
clear soup

In my opinion, what makes Sushi Zo different from other places is its technique of pre-seasoning its sushi with sauces beyond the typical soy, as well as a local approach to sourcing its fish. A lot of the fish was from Long Island or North Carolina, which I found to be very interesting, as other restaurants seem to fly in everything from Japan. And the quality of these domestic fish was very good and made me rethink the whole Japan is better mentality when it comes to raw fish.

I’m usually on the fence when it comes to pre-marinated sushi, especially when they get a little non traditional with the ponzu and the yuzu, because shouldn’t the fish be good on its own? But the sea bream with roasted shishito peppers convinced me otherwise. It’s definitely ok to dress up your fish a little bit. And I’m always a stickler for a great anago, a creamier and flakier eel than its fishier, freshwater counterpart unagi. I first had anago at Nakamura in Tokyo, and the one at Sushi Zo was just as dreamy.

By the end of the meal, I was completely stuffed and felt like I was suffering from gout. There were a lot of pieces in the omakase, but at the same time, it cost $200 a person, so you should be getting the whole sea at that price point. It’s hard being the new kid in town, especially one that’s full of more established sushi restaurants. I’m not quite sure if Sushi Zo’s style is distinctive enough or significantly better than the competition’s to consistently draw business its way, but Masa-san and his staff definitely deserve a closer look.


Sushi Zo
88 W. 3rd St (between Sullivan and Thompson St)
New York, NY 10012
(646) 405-4826

YUJI Ramen Omakase

entering yuji ramen
entering yuji ramen

Nestled on a quiet residential stretch of Ainslie St. in Williamsburg is Okonomi, a tiny Japanese restaurant that is known for its traditional ichiju sansai breakfast sets. At night it operates as Yuji Ramen, which features the creative ramen bowls that chef Yuji Haraguchi served at pop-ups in Smorgasburg and Whole Foods Bowery. On the weekends, Haraguchi takes even bigger risks with his broths and noodles in an intriguing ramen omakase dinner that will hold your attention for hours.

in the kitchen
the yuji kitchen

As I mentioned before, the space itself is small and cozy, seating at most 12 people. The Danish word hygge comes to mind as the way to describe the atmosphere. It feels very warm and inviting in here, and with the jazz music on the background, it’s festive without being frenetic. I could sip sake the whole night and never want to leave.

place settings
place settings
house sake
house sake

I initially thought that I would be served 10 bowls of ramen in the omakase, but luckily it wasn’t that boring and literal. Soup and noodles were certainly inspirations, and Haraguchi seemed especially intent on rethinking the broth. There was a fragrant, lemongrass broth made from fish bones which was especially memorable and made me wonder why fish wasn’t incorporated more prominently in more soup bases. One that seemed really out there was the muscat grape broth, yet somehow the fruitiness paired remarkably well with the naturally unctuous mackerel meat. All of these unexpected broths made the finale course of a traditional shoyu ramen bowl seem downright conservative.

course 1 - roasted japanese vegetables chilled in a sweet soy dashi
course 1 – roasted japanese vegetables chilled in a sweet soy dashi
course 2 - ika somen, squid noodles and seaweed in a squid broth with watermelon and radish
course 2 – ika somen, squid noodles and seaweed in a squid broth with watermelon and radish
course 3 - miso risotto with six grain rice and ginger
course 3 – miso risotto with six grain rice and ginger
course 4 - boston mackerel sashimi lightly torched in a muscat grape broth
course 4 – boston mackerel sashimi lightly torched in a muscat grape broth
course 5 - shio ramen with onigiri rice ball
course 5 – shio ramen with onigiri rice ball
course 6 - bonito sashimi with grated cucumber and plum sauce
course 6 – bonito sashimi with grated cucumber and plum sauce
course 7 - buckwheat ramen in a mussel broth with peppers and dragon bean
course 7 – buckwheat ramen in a mussel broth with peppers and dragon bean
course 8 - seaweed ramen with Maine uni and thai basil
course 8 – seaweed ramen with Maine uni and thai basil
course 9 - shoyu ramen with scallions and nori made in a fish broth from previous courses
course 9 – shoyu ramen with scallions and nori made in a fish broth

The most memorable course, in my opinion, was the smallest one, but by no means the least. It was a spoonful of seaweed ramen paired with uni and Thai basil, arguably the most perfect bite of food to be had. Who knew the waters of Maine were home to such treasures? The ingredients were pure and prime, but it takes a master to arrange them at their full potential, and Haraguchi has got the skills.

the perfect bite
the perfect bite


YUJI Ramen
150 Ainslie St (between Lorimer and Leonard St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 302-0598
Email ramenomakase@gmail.com for omakase reservations.

Sushi Azabu in Tribeca

sushi azabu

Sushi Azabu is one of those restaurants so under the radar that you can’t even see it on the street. For awhile, it used to be in the basement of the Greenwich Grill, and now it’s underneath an izakaya place called Daruma-ya. You might wonder how a restaurant with such a low profile can survive in this town, but with sushi this good, strong word-of-mouth will keep them coming.

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appetizers: asparagus in miso mustard, eggplant in soy sauce and homemade tofu and salmon roe

You can either choose one of the omakase options, or you can order dishes a la carte. We opted for an abbreviated omakase titled the “omotenashi course”, which featured a different assortment of sushi, sashimi and small hot plates, as well as a hot bowl of soba at the end. We supplemented that with the nigiri special, a chef’s selection of 10 pieces of sushi, a maki roll, an egg omelet and some miso soup.

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amberjack, salmon, medium fatty toro, japanese mackerel and octopus
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an assortment of nigiri–my favorite was the scallop, fatty tuna, shrimp and uni
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5 pieces of sushi, chef’s selection

The fish truly has that soft, melt-in-your-mouth quality that can only be found in the freshest catch. I was also struck by how much I liked the sushi rice. The rice was a bit al dente, but with some cohesion between the grains, and there was a subtle sweet and tangy flavor aspect that was very appealing. According to their website, Azabu uses a unique blend of sushi rice imported directly from Japan and from a prior year’s crop so that it avoids the overly-high water content that you find in fresh harvests of rice. They always say the difference between sushi places is really the rice, since all the best restaurants source fish from the same places, and I didn’t really appreciate that until now.

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tofu with salmon roe and uni
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deep fried taro potato with duck
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yellowtail collar with radish and mountain peach
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miso soup and steamed egg custard
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hot seiro soba

The cooked dishes were just as good as the raw courses. The dreamy blend of rich, briney uni and salty salmon roe in our tofu dish was just so effortlessly good, and the yellowtail collar had been cooked perfectly so that the crackling skin unearthed a plethora of tender, mild meat. The deep fried taro potato with duck was certainly rich but also very clean. so that any sense of heaviness was very much contained.

Really, the only thing I didn’t like about Azabu was the physical space. The booths were arranged along the walls so that there was an odd, open space in the middle. The atmosphere felt a bit cold and impersonal, and it didn’t help that with all the mood lighting and clubby music, that you felt like you were in a hotel lobby. Obviously there are worse things in life than eating fantastic sushi in a nice hotel lobby.


Sushi Azabu
428 Greenwich St (between Vestry and Laight)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 274-0428

Day 2 in Tokyo: Omakase at Sushi Nakamura

Our second day in Tokyo was a lazy one. The early morning sushi wake-up call and the jet lag were wearing on us a little. We decided to do as few planned activities as possible–a visit to the Meiji Temple, and then an open itinerary for the rest of the day.

After a peaceful walk through the Meiji Temple, in which we witnessed a traditional wedding ceremony take place, we made our way to Shibuya to check out potential sightings of crazy Harajuku street fashions (of which there were none), as well as to eat gyoza at this highly popular place Harajuku Gyozaro. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed for renovations, so we decided to eat at a nearby Southeast Asian restaurant called Chao Bamboo. Judging by the line of locals out the door, we figured that the food must be pretty good. Eating pho and papaya salad in Japan might sound a little weird, but our meal was very tasty, and that Indonesian fried rice was outstanding.

chao bamboo food stall
chao bamboo food stall
chao bamboo - pho
spicy pho noodles
chao bamboo - papaya salad
blue papaya salad
this mutton tasted like curried lamb
fried mutton with cumin and fennel (tasted like curried lamb)
indonesian fried rice was so good, we almost ordered another
indonesian fried rice was so good, we almost ordered another

After more window shopping, we went back to our hotel to freshen up and met up with some friends for pre-dinner cocktails at the historic Hotel Okura. It was pretty clear that this hotel was from another time, probably in the 1950s where well-dressed Japanese people would come here for cigars and a classy cocktail or two. I ordered a moscow mule, which was well mixed and very refreshing.

hotel okura lobby
hotel okura lobby
a well-stocked bar
a well-stocked bar
moscow mule with a side of japanese crackers
moscow mule with a side of japanese crackers

But really we were biding time until the real highlight of the evening, an omakase at Sushi Nakamura, a Michelin star establishment in Roppongi. As soon as 9 pm arrived, we took a taxi over to the restaurant, which was housed behind a set of non-descript wooden sliding doors. Once inside, we were seated around a small sushi bar managed by a very zen-like chef whose shaved head and simple robe enhanced the monastic vibe that he gave off.

Sometimes omakase dinners aren’t the most relaxing experiences, in which the sushi chefs call you out if you aren’t consuming the dish properly, and they sort of point-blank ask you if you liked each piece. This chef, on the other hand, was low key and non-confrontational, which I liked. He gave you something, you’d eat it, probably love it, and then move on. The only exchange of words needed is if you want extra pieces of the courses you especially enjoyed, which is an option at the end of the omakase, and something you’ll likely take him up on. The eel here is amazing, it’s nothing like the tough, salty, boney strands that are slapped on rice beds in your run-of-the-mill sushi place. You can’t taste any bones here, the meat dissolves in your mouth like foam, which is pretty unreal and fantastic. The toro of course was excellent, as was the Santa Barbara uni and the egg custard, which was very similar to the Jiro kind. Here are some pictures of each course in the omakase.

nakamura - 1 menu
the omakase menu – not sure what it says…
nakamura - 2 clam soup
clam soup
nakamura - 3 clams from the soup
clams used in the soup
nakamura - 4 octopus
octopus
nakamura - 5 abalone
abalone
nakamura - 6 seaweed salad
seaweed
nakamura - 7 pike and radish
a very oily fish (i think pike mackerel) and radish
nakamura - 8 the requisite sake
the requisite sake bottle
nakamura - 9 white fish
some sort of white fish
nakamura - 10 squid
squid
nakamura - 11 toro
toro
nakamura - 12 shrimp
shrimp
nakamura - 13 uni
santa barbara uni
nakamura - 14 fatty toro
fattier toro
nakamura - 15 roe and rice
roe and rice
nakamura - 16 seared toro
seared toro (delicious)
nakamura - 17 miso soup with meatballs
miso soup with meatballs
nakamura - 18 sea eel
this eel was like a dream
nakamura - 19 uni
uni roll, this time from japanese waters
nakamura - 20 tamago
egg custard

Rather than trying to follow up this grand finale with another epic meal and risk disappointment if it didn’t measure up, our last supper was a simple bowl of ramen noodles at Gogyo. Japan is obviously the ramen epicenter of the universe with endless varieties to choose from, many of which we’ve never had, including the burnt miso ramen, which Gogyo is known for.

burnt miso ramen
burnt miso ramen
gyoza
gyoza
pork over rice
pork over rice

The burnt miso gets its name from the charred bits of lard residue that are poured into a miso flavored broth, resulting in a thick and savory tar pit that is more sauce than soup. There’s no way you can actually slurp the broth, since it’s probably 100% fat and extremely dense. It’s meant to just coat the noodles like a tsukemen or mazemen, which was disappointing because the broth is one of my favorite parts of ramen. But I got over it, because there were many more epic meals to look forward to on the rest of the trip…onwards to Hakone


Sushi Nakamura
7-17-16 Roppongi, Minato-ku,
Tokyo, 106-0032, Japan
03-3746-0856

Chao Bamboo
6-7-12 Jingumae, Shibuya
Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
03-5466-4887

Gogyo
1-4-36 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku
Tokyo, 106-0031, Japan
03-5775-5566

I Dream of Sushi Nakazawa

Sushi Nakazawa needs no introduction. Everyone knows the story about how Jiro apprentice Daisuke Nakazawa broke down crying after his 200th attempt at making egg custard was finally met with approval by his boss Jiro Ono. Now Nakazawa runs his own sushi restaurant in the West Village, and he has to cry no longer, because all of the hard work paid off. Sushi Nakazawa lives up to the hype, and the 21-piece omakase is one of the best in the city.

nakazawa hamming it up with shrimp
nakazawa hamming it up with shrimp

In my opinion, what sets this omakase apart from others is the lighthearted, playful interaction between Nakazawa and his guests. Omakase can be a bit of a serious and intimidating experience, in which the relationship between the chef and guest is one marked by taciturn compliance. Of course, if you are a sushi bar regular, then the relationship can get more personal, but getting to that point takes a bit of work.

chef prepping his egg custard masterpeice
chef prepping his egg custard masterpiece

Nakazawa, on the other hand, is always cracking jokes, dangling live shrimp in the air, accompanied by the sounds of manufactured screams to dramatize their approaching fate, and then requesting $10 for any guest who takes a picture. These ice breakers created a relaxed environment that also facilitated mingling between the guests, in which recommendations for favorite places in Tokyo were traded freely throughout the 2 hours.

This is only if you are seated at the 12 person bar, which I highly recommend. It’s quite something to have Nakazawa personally serve you a gleaming piece of Santa Barbara uni as soon as he makes it. And really, there’s not much to critique here. Every piece of fish is extremely fresh, and while I enjoyed some pieces more than others, the degree of difference between my favorites and the rest was extremely minute. The creamy, buttery uni is insanely good, the undisputed highlight of the meal, and that famous egg custard doesn’t disappoint. What follows is a slide show of each of the 21 pieces, with stars in the captions for the best ones.

[portfolio_slideshow id=6495]


Sushi Nakazawa
23 Commerce St (between Bedford and 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 924-2212
$150 per person at the bar, $120 in the main dining room
Make reservations here