It’s always nice to see that a restaurant you really love but haven’t been to in awhile is still killing it several years later. I did a recent status check on two of my 2014 favorites, Sushi Nakazawa and Cosme, and I’m happy to report that both of these places are just as good as ever.
What are you willing to do for cheap sushi? That’s a relative term, so to be clear, I’m not talking about sushi you get from a market or an average take-out place, I’m talking about freshly caught, high quality fish comparable to that served in a good restaurant. Would you be willing to give up good service, as long as the food comes out in a timely manner? Never mind the high strung host whose nerves seem to be getting the best of him from the moment you arrive and who keeps reminding you that you were 5 minutes late and were ruining their overwhelming operations of serving 4 other people. Or the fact that the same host with the stanky attitude who never offered you water and wanted you to leave as quickly as possible tried to upsell you on a $12 hand roll that you could take to go? What about your physical comfort? Are you okay with sitting outdoors on a small stool? It’s only 30 minutes, so not a big deal, right? This is how they do it at the Tokyo train station and the Tsukiji fish market! And speaking of 30 minutes, is this brevity something you can live with? It might even be quicker than that, maybe 25 minutes, I Dream of Jiro style, even though this is no Jiro, but as long as the sushi is tasty, it’s all good, right? You only paid $50 (only?) for such 12 premium pieces, what a steal!Read More
You might describe a sushi omakase as luxurious, long and expensive, but rarely is it ever fun. At Shuko, sitting through 29 courses of the sushi kaiseki is the most fun you’ll ever have. With rap music blaring on the background, the friendly staff plying you with drinks, and the sushi chefs answering questions like, “what’s your guilty pleasure?”, there’s no way you won’t have a good time. Read More
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.
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.
88 W. 3rd St (between Sullivan and Thompson St)
New York, NY 10012
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.
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.
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.
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.
150 Ainslie St (between Lorimer and Leonard St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 302-0598 Email email@example.com for omakase reservations.