Category Archives: Japanese

Nut-Free Chicago: A Travel “Guide”

Last month, I spent a week and a half in Chicago, where I did just about everything I do in NYC. I wandered aimlessly. I people watched. I browsed clothes I couldn’t afford. I watched way too many late-night Cops reruns. And to my surprise, I dined out a whole hell of a lot. Last time I ventured to Chicago, I subsisted on literally nothing but McDonald’s, Subway, pretzels, Cup Noodles, and water. But that was pre-blog. Now, I’m a practiced diner-outer, and I have a much harder time settling for such a repetitive and high-trash diet. It’s probably a good thing.

But before I got there, I didn’t expect to find all that much in the way of safe restaurants. It took me months to compile even the very beginnings of the NYC-specific list that’s now my pride and joy (half-serious about the whole pride-and-joy thing), so I didn’t expect to get all that much done Chicago-wise in the 10 days I’d have there. I figured I’d bark up a bunch of wrong trees, find maybe a restaurant or two, then resign myself to a week of fast food and Airbnb-home-cooking—but I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Chicago’s not at all a difficult city to eat in, and with the help of a list compiled by the No Nuts Moms Group of Chicago, I ended up with plenty of options.

So here they are—all the non-chain restaurants I ate at, and some I called, but couldn’t make it to—in brief-ish (yeah, right), because we’ve all got things to do. And please, pardon the iPhone photos. I didn’t bring my camera.

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KazuNori

A crab hand roll from KazuNori

Here we go again. But not really. I’ll behave this time. Promise.

If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that I have high standards for sushi. You’ll also know that Sugarfish—which Pete Wells quietly lambasted in March, and which I very noisily lambasted a few weeks prior—doesn’t come close to making my cut. Why, then, have I so willingly chosen to dine at its hand roll–hawking cousin? There are, I suppose, many reasons: I’m forgiving. I’m hopeful. I believe in the power of low expectations. I can’t afford better Japanese. I like to trash bad restaurants on my blog. Oh, and Sugarfish’s hand rolls, made up mainly of their top-tier sushi rice, were by far the best thing about the place.

Like Sugarfish’s, KazuNori’s kitchen is entirely nut-free—as it ought to be, because it churns out nothing but hand rolls. Also like Sugarfish, KazuNori doesn’t take reservations. To get a spot at the counter at an unridiculous mealtime hour, you’ll have to play it smart: stop by early to case the joint, and be prepared to wait in line, though probably not for anywhere near as long as you’d have to wait for Sugarfish. (The first time I went to Sugarfish, their waitlist was full, so I rerouted to Sushi on Jones. The second time—the time I actually made it to a table—I waited 3 hours. Last Saturday night, though, I was seated at KazuNori within minutes of walking in. So that’s something, I guess.)

KazuNori's interior

For all intents and purposes, KazuNori is Sugarfish Lite. The two restaurants fall into the same price range, and their hand rolls are virtually identical. Nearly everything else about the two places lines up, too. KazuNori’s ambiance is basically a more casual version of Sugarfish’s: loud-ish, dark-ish, and desperate to be cool-ish. Of course, neither restaurant is actually all that cool, and both are perpetually filled with goofs in the habit of doing terrible things to their servings of fish—but I’ll leave that one alone for today. Still, both restaurants are wasabi-averse; both restaurants seem to have some sort of ideological problem with flavorful fish; and both restaurants are insurmountably disappointing.

Still, KazuNori is by far the better establishment—and by the end of this point, I might actually end up recommending it, if only through gritted teeth and after issuing a boatload of disclaimers.

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Anyway. For my KazuNori meal, I went with the largest of the set tastings. (To my enormous relief, the words “Trust Me” don’t appear anywhere on KazuNori’s menu.) That got me six hand rolls—toro, yellowtail-scallion, salmon, bay scallop, crab, and lobster—for $28, or around $4.50 per roll. Reasonable, I thought. Especially given the fact that it would’ve cost me a total of $38 to order those same six rolls à la carte. An easy decision. So I pencilled in my order—no, there are no waitstaff—and got to looking around.

Pictured immediately above is KazuNori’s roll-prep area. (They might have more than one. I’m not sure. That was the one I sat by.) You’ll note that it doesn’t look like something a restaurant-restaurant would want to put on display, but rather like those funky vats of fast-casual glop you’ve probably seen at places like Chipotle or Uma Temakeria. And while I really don’t have any problem with seeing (or eating) fast-casual glop at, you know, a fast-casual restaurant, you’d better believe I have a hell of a problem with it at what’s supposed to be a nice-ish place.

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Still, the rolls themselves are perfectly executed, and only some of the fish within actually tastes like fast-casual glop. The toro, literally flavorless, just isn’t passable as toro, and the yellowtail, marginally tastier, only makes for a decent roll because of the scallions that accompany it. Salmon (above, top left) is all right—it’s moderately flavorful, and unlike the toro and the yellowtail, it isn’t fucking minced—and blue crab (above, bottom left), though too sweet and too heavy on the mayo, is fine, too. Lobster (above, bottom left) is good, but would be much better in chunks than in shreds. But it’s bay scallop, of all things, that’s best, by far.

I don’t know what it is, but that scallop is damn good. Unlike the rest of the Nozawa Group’s various offerings, it’s actually interesting, flavor-wise. Present in actual fish-like chunks, KazuNori’s bay scallop is actually sort of perfect: subtly sweet, pleasantly thick, and covered with just enough mayo-coating to keep things moving. For the first time, I’m not mad at a Nozawa creation. In fact, I seriously considered ordering another. (I held my horses, though. There was no forgetting where—or who—I was.)

So. Is KazuNori a great restaurant? A good restaurant? A restaurant anyone who knows his fish might walk away from satisfied? No! But the prices are low. The nori is crisp, the rice warm. The fake wasabi is avoidable, and from here, the lines appear manageable. There’s less hype, less praise to rage against. The menu’s smaller, so there’s less to object to. No waitstaff, no mention of a “Trust Me”—just the palatable concept of a set tasting. And on the whole, patrons are about three iotas less clueless than their Sugarfish-eating counterparts. It helps.

KazuNori is an option. I’ll give it that.

Find it at 15 West 28th Street, between Broadway and 5th.

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TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie

A bowl of US wagyu shabu udon from TsuruTonTan

Every summer, I have to impose a moratorium on broth, and every summer, I’m sad about it. Right now, it’s 87 degrees outside. There’s no wind. Humidity’s at about a million percent. This morning, I took a cold shower. Now, I’m sitting two feet from the air conditioner. I’m still sweating. So for the foreseeable future, at least: fuck soup. Barneys, Ganso, Kung Fu, Sao Mai—for the next three months, I don’t care. I can’t care. I’m hot. Get away.

TsuruTonTan, though, is exempt. Maybe because my obsession with the place is still in its infancy, or maybe because the space itself is relatively large and dim and cool, or maybe because Tsuru’s cold dishes are just as good (if not better) than the hot ones. I don’t know, man. All I can say is that this place is (a) nut-free, and (b) home of some of the absolute best udon in the city. It’s only natural, then, that I can’t seem to stay away—even in this heat.

Located in the space that once housed the old Union Square Café, TsuruTonTan is the first American location of a Japanese mini-chain. And normally, I wouldn’t care about that—in fact, I’m usually rather skeptical when elsewhere-only chains open outposts in NYC—but Tsuru is no L.A. transplant. This is a real-deal Japanese restaurant, with ingredients flown in from Japan and noodles made fresh, by hand, every single day. The only concession to us Americans is the back of the menu, where you’ll find a whole bunch of flashy, buzzy, udon-unrelated Japanese-restaurant fare. But as concessions go, that’s hardly one to complain about.

A negi-toro roll from TsuruTonTan

It’s a trendy restaurant, but it’s a nice one, too. Inside, it’s dark and loud. Everyone’s young and hip and chatty. The amusical music of consumption—pounding, plodding Club Music Lite, the kind you’ll hear at H&M and Barneys alike, and the kind you probably associate with all sorts of spending—poses a threat to conversation, but isn’t quite overwhelming. It’s loud, but it’s fine. And the decor, though a little too similar to Gap’s, is actually rather nice. If the food were worse, Tsuru’s ambiance might come off differently. But it isn’t, so it doesn’t. (Yes, it’s that simple.)

Still, some sections of Tsuru’s menu are much stronger than others. The udon’s the clear winner, of course—but I maintain that there’s some good stuff on the rest of the menu, too. In his review of the restaurant, love of my life Pete Wells writes:

Rather than describing each [of Tsuru’s non-udon dishes] individually, I’ll share a handy method I came up with for dealing with all of them at once. Unfold the menu and place it on the table so that you see the noodle dishes. The reverse side, with the appetizers and donburi, will be face down. Now, never turn the menu over. If you have accidentally learned the name of a dish printed there, don’t say it out loud.

And he’s not wrong. (He’s never wrong, that Pete Wells.) I’ve done my fair share of dabbling, but I’ve yet to come across anything special. The uni-and-wagyu sushi is good, but not $22-for-two-pieces good. And both the salmon-and-ikura roll and the salmon-and-ikura don are on the boring side, even given my ardent love of both salmon and ikura.

Pork katsu over rice from TsuruTonTan

I will say, though, that I love the negi-toro roll (second above). Strictly speaking, it’s a special, not a back-of-the-menu offering—and while the toro itself isn’t the most flavorful, there’s something about the roll as a whole that I really, really like. I’m also pretty into the katsu don (immediately above). The rice is perfect; there are plenty of scallions; the pork’s nice and tender; and the egg, though sweet, isn’t at all overwhelming. If it’s between the katsu don and an order of udon, going with the katsu would be a mistake. But if you’re at Tsuru with a share-happy group, or you’re into competitive eating, or you’re on a date with your particularly voracious boyfriend? Go for it.

Enough odds and ends, though. Let’s talk noodles. Tsuru offers two types: thin (below), recommended for the cold preparations, and thick (top of this post), recommended for the hot ones. The thick noodles are exactly as they should be—soft and sort of fluffy, yet strong enough to hold their form—but it’s the thin ones that are worth a special trip. They’re so dense, so springy, so resilient; truly, I’ve never eaten a thin noodle quite like these. (I’ve never eaten any noodle quite like these, but their thinness makes their textural feats all the more impressive.) Just the other day, my dad described them as “fascinating,” and he’s right—they are. I’ve reached the end of my descriptive rope, though. You’ll have to see for yourself.

A bowl of uni udon from TsuruTonTan

As for the question of what you should order, I can’t claim to know the answer. All I know is this: of all Tsuru’s noodled offerings—the soups, the curries, the crèmes, everything—I have two decided favorites: the uni udon, pictured immediately above, and the wagyu shabu udon, pictured at the top of this post. The former, though the uni itself is a wee bit hit-or-miss, is an incredible dish. It’s perfect for summer—sweet, wet (almost juicy, even), and cold—and the sliminess of the uni is the perfect complement for the firmness of the noodles. When it’s a little colder out, though, I sometimes have to ditch this ditch in favor of the wagyu shabu udon, whose wagyu tastes like butter and whose broth has a depth of flavor unlike any other I’ve tasted. Seriously: As broths go, this one’s particularly compelling.

There are, of course, other good dishes. The unprecedentedly rich uni crème udon is lovely. The duck udon is about 80% as good as the wagyu shabu—which is to say that it’s pretty damn good indeed. The ikura oroshi udon, though a bit too sweet (and a bit too reliant on some underwhelming ikura), is fine overall. But you know what? Order what sounds best to you. I’m sure it’ll be great.

Find TsuruTonTan at 21 East 16th Street, between 5th Avenue and Union Square West.

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Hanamizuki Café

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I love omusubi, but I hardly ever find myself going out of my way for any. Usually, I’ll just wait to scoop some up until I happen to be near one of my handful of favorite Japanese markets—so imagine my delight upon finding out about Hanamizuki, an omusubi-centric Japanese café that originally seemed like it might finally give me enough excuse to make an outing (and a meal) out of a few balls of rice.

Hanamizuki’s menu is small (and entirely nut-free, per a conversation with a cashier and a phone call I made before showing up). Aside from the expected café fare (coffee and tea; sake, wine, and beer), they offer 10 sorts of omusubi—some with vegetables, some with meat or fish, one with Spam—and a few miso soups and side dishes, too. After 6pm, the menu widens (just a bit), but there’s still hardly anything on it; of course, that’s all right, because this place isn’t about breadth. Hanamizuki’s focus is on omusubi. They’re one of those places that pays careful attention to one thing and one thing only—something I love to report, given how allergy-friendly these sorts of single(-ish)-concept menus tend to be.

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Unfortunately, though, Hanamizuki is not the game-changer it at first appears to be. It’s a nice space—very cute, very cozy—that feels totally cut off from the decidedly un-cute, un-cozy block it’s on, but that’s about all this place has going for it. The staff aren’t particularly friendly, nor are they very allergy-aware: the cashier I spoke with initially dismissed my question of whether there might be any nuts in anything, and when I pushed, it came out that she thought soy was a nut. (I asked, too, whether the nut-containing [wrapped] cookies at the register might’ve been made on-site—a rather standard double-check-type question that the vast majority of like employees are happy to answer—at which point she seemed to get annoyed. I didn’t need her cooperation; the cookies are made elsewhere, so there really are no nuts to avoid in Hanamizuki’s kitchen. But it wasn’t a pleasant exchange.)

Contrary to what the previous paragraph might’ve led you to believe, though, I don’t care all that much about staff friendliness. What I do care about is the quality of the food, and—it’s time to come out and say it, I guess—Hanamizuki’s just isn’t very good. The omusubi, meant to serve as the main attraction, are extremely underwhelming. The rice is fine, and most of the other ingredients are admissible, but these things just aren’t worth going more than a block or two out of your way for. They’re light on the fillings, and most taste like they’ve been sitting around all day. They’re cute, though. Ridiculously cute. I’ll give them that.

Three omusubi from

I’ve tried a handful of the rice balls (all that have been available when I’ve stopped by, actually), but I can’t quite say that I’ve enjoyed any. None were horrible, but absolutely all were dull—especially the sweet potato, which is made with chunks of Japanese sweet potato, hijiki seaweed, and (ostensibly) deep-fried tofu and white sesame, too. For all I knew, though, those last two might not have even been there. I tasted the sweet potato—it might as well have been raw—and I saw the seaweed, but really, that was it. And the sukiyaki (“Japanese premium beef, burdock root, konjac and scallions”) was even worse: comically little beef, and next to no flavor, other than that of…well, an antique store. (Dumb, I know. But for real, that’s the most accurate comparison I have…and that thing really did leave my mouth tasting as if I’d just licked a very expensive armoire. Just telling it like it is, y’all.)

The unagi, though not particularly fresh-tasting, was all right—it tasted distinctly like eel, at least—and the wakame (“wakame-seaweed, yukari, shisonomi-pickles and shibazuke-pickles”) was tolerable, but again, these omusubi are boring as hell. And as I’m pressing myself for something to say in their defense, all I’ve got—absolutely all I’ve got—is that the rice itself is rather decent. It isn’t cold or hard or funky or strange; in fact, it’s sort of good, and it goes a long way in keeping these rice balls away from the category of the outright bad. So thanks, Rice, for allowing these balls to join the ranks of the mediocre. 

To be clear, though, I don’t hate Hanamizuki; surely, I’d pop in for a rice ball or two if I already happened to be nearby. (I pop into lots of places for lots of mediocre snacks, mind you. I eat 7-Eleven taquitos, for crying out loud. Put a [nut-free] snack-like creation on my radar and I will crave it, sooner or later.) I’d just never, ever get on a train with the explicit intention of ending up at Hanamizuki ever again. Their omusubi just aren’t worth any sort of special trip. Sorry.

Stumble upon Hanamizuki at 143 West 29th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues.

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Tomoe Sushi

The Sashimi Deluxe from

Hi. Here’s a list of things I need to chill about:

Thinx ads. “Brinner.” People who brag about the fact that they “don’t read.” The Odyssey Online. Bob’s Discount Furniture. Feral food-allergy mothers. Fuller House. Students who interrupt class to ask questions for the sole purpose of getting attention. Sugarfish. Shitty writing, and especially poor grammar/usage. Black Mirror. Average-size people who take up multiple seats on the subway. KetchupRestaurants with stupid dish names. Steaks and burgers cooked past medium-rare. Calibri (the typeface). Nestlé’s discontinuation of Butterfinger BB’s. People who don’t like things I like. People who like things I don’t like. And high opinions of sub-par sushi.

I haven’t yet chilled, though. (I’m told it comes with age.) So right now, I’m still all lathered up and sudsy over my experience at Tomoe, not because the food was terrible—it wasn’t quite—but because of all the hype that surrounds this place. Few things (and zero in the world of food) piss me off as much as excessive praise and/or hype in response to undeserving fish, and…well, I’ll bet we can all guess where this is going.

Tomoe has lots of good reviews and a perpetual line out the door. Most often praised by Yelpers: the freshness of the fish, the size of the pieces, the low prices, and the restaurant’s “authenticity.” Normally, I’d wait to the end of the write-up to get into all this, but Tomoe has me feeling all sorts of scrambled, so…

Is the fish freshUh, yeah, I guess so. It doesn’t taste particularly fresh—what would that even mean?—but it doesn’t come off as old or spoiled or recently defrosted or whatever. (Congrats, Tomoe.) Are the pieces largeYes. Outrageously so. But whether that’s a good or a bad thing is another question entirely. Are the prices low? Low-ish for sushi, especially given the portion sizes. But really, Tomoe’s prices are on par with those of your average low- to mid-tier sushi joints. Nothing to stand in line for. Is the restaurant authentic? Authentic via resemblance to what…? Sushi as it’s served in Japan? Um, no. Sushi as it’s served in select American(ized) restaurants, to hordes of open-mouthed “sushi”-lovers? Yes! Yes, indeed!

Salmon ceviche from Tomoe Sushi

It wasn’t as if any of these revelations were all that surprising. Despite the crowds, and even from a distance, Tomoe’s mediocrity is glaringly obvious. So why’d I go? Well, aside from the fact that there are no tree nuts used in any of Tomoe’s food—and that’s a big fact, no doubt—I guess I’m just a glutton for bad-sushi punishment. And that’s not even just so I can hate on the food later. (Wish I could say it were that simple, but it isn’t. I actually have no idea why I so like to subject myself to bad sushi. But I do.)

Anyway. Time to do my thing.

I’ve only been to Tomoe once. That night, I (and Sam) ordered three appetizers—the salmon ceviche, the sake kama (“grilled salmon neck”), and the assorted tempura—as well as the pre-set Sashimi Deluxe and some à-la-carte sushi, too. I’ll just go in order, I guess.

The salmon “ceviche” (pictured immediately above) wasn’t quite ceviche, but I loved it regardless. The fish itself was good—buttery, almost—and the lemony, herby marinade did wonders for it, too. Granted, the plating was a little off-putting, but who cares? This stuff tasted good, and it actually managed to get my hopes up for what was to come. The other two appetizers, though, were about as bad as they could’ve been. The salmon collar (below, left) was hardly a salmon collar—more an un-sauced piece of salmon teriyaki—and it had no flavor whatsoever, either. And the tempura assortment (below, right) was a disaster. The shrimp itself was fine, but the batter wasn’t even a little crispy; and the sweet potato was dry and bland, while the broccoli just tasted off.

The sake kama and the assorted tempura from Tomoe Sushi

Still, the “ceviche”—the only raw fish I’d eaten—had me half-expecting some decent sushi. (It wasn’t as if I’d started to expect anything crazy, but I wasn’t expecting grocery store–level slop, either.) So: Hopes half-high, Sam and I ordered a negi-toro roll, a few pieces of sushi, and the 16-piece Sashimi Deluxe, too. And while not a single piece was particularly good, not one was straight-up awful, either.

The sushi came out first—two squid, two salmon, two ikura—and it was boring as could be. The salmon was all right, and the squid had nice texture to it, but the toro in the roll had no flavor of its own, and the scallions were the only thing that kept me taking bites. (Also, look at the photo right below this paragraph, and then tell me: Have you ever seen such an unkempt roll? I wouldn’t have cared if it’d tasted good, but, well…you know.) In general, the rice was about as good as the fish, and the (fake!) wasabi did nothing for me.

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And then came the Sashimi Deluxe, that hulking presence at the very top of this post. I couldn’t identify everything on the plate, and Tomoe’s servers aren’t the sort to give you the run-down, but I do know that we got some lean tuna, some chutoro, some negi-toro, some squid topped with spicy cod roe, some salmon, some scallop, some shrimp, some octopus, and some yellowtail. (There were maybe four other pieces that I couldn’t identify, too. It was a big dish.)

Again, the salmon was passable, as were the squid and the yellowtail, and the whitefish I couldn’t identify, too. The lean tuna was all right; the chutoro was pretty good; the negi-toro, jam-packed as it was with what really was insane amount of scallions, was probably my favorite thing on the plate. The scallop was bad. The shrimp was bad. The octopus was bad, as was whatever was next to it. That fin-like thing in near the center of the plate was…bad. And nearly every single piece of fish on the plate was way too big.

Seriously. What am I supposed to with a quarter-pound hunk of salmon? As I see it, I had four options: (1) attempt to force each GiantFish into my mouth and then suffer—truly, suffer—until I’ve tongue-wrestled it down my throat; (2) attempt to bite each over-sized piece in two, then act surprised when not one will split as I’d wanted it to; (3) take a chopstick in each hand and attempt, like a yahoo, to slice each piece into some more reasonably sized chunks; or (4) ask, like a yahoo, for a fork and knife before getting into an even worse sort of slicing.

None of those options are viable. #1 was disastrous—too much fish in the mouth at once turns sickening rather quickly, and I’m sure my behavior was pretty nauseating to those around me, too—but #2 was no better, because those pieces just weren’t bite-able. If I’d taken up #3 (the Poise-‘n’-Slice, as it’s called in the biz), I would’ve had to then apply the same method to my throat, and if it doesn’t go without saying, #4 just wasn’t on the table.

Why am I going into all this detail? So that it’ll be absolutely clear how little of a selling point these “generous” cuts of fish are. It’s a gimmick, and it’s a shitty one, too. The jumbo pieces just make the meal infinitely less pleasant, both because they’re too fucking jumbo to work with, and because that jumbo-ness makes each already-mediocre piece even less of a commodity, and thus even less enjoyable. Isn’t one of the best parts of good sushi the fact that there’s never really too much of it? Aside from the fact that the fish is ostensibly mind-numbingly, mouth-meltingly good, I mean. The portions are small; the fish is scarce. You savor what little you do have.

…Not so at Tomoe, though. Didn’t you get the memo? Less isn’t more—more is! After all, this is America, and something ought to be distracting me from the looming fact of my eventual death and decay. And what better than a plate piled high with mammoth hunks of fish?

Find Tomoe at 172 Thompson Street, between Houston and Bleecker. But be prepared to wait outside, to overhear some stupid shit, and to pay with either cash or American Express. Best of luck to you.

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Sugarfish (or, Alternatively: “The Serenity Now”)

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If you’re like me—and you probably aren’t, because I’m a little weird in this regard—you start to foam at the mouth each and every time some rando who once spent a weekend in L.A. starts to blather on about how much better and cheaper sushi is on the West Coast. For starters, it’s just not true—but what really drives me nuts is the self-righteousness that tends to back those sorts of statements. (I realize, of course, that my entire blog is a little self-righteous. But this is my blog on my little corner of the Internet, so it’s not as if I’m yapping away in an ever-so-slightly-raised voice in the middle of an otherwise quiet Japanese restaurant.)

Obviously, I love NYC’s sushi. I wouldn’t trade it for any other (American) city’s. Also obvious, though: I’m partial—and given that I’m aware of that partiality, I’m obligated to challenge it. But, um…continually challenging your long-held beliefs is Hard Work, and I’m usually not that good or motivated a person, so I’ll often opt instead for a little Self-Challenge Lite. Hence my meal at Sugarfish.

For the (lucky) uninitiated, Sugarfish is a sushi-hawking mini-chain that’s based in California but that’s recently reached out and wrapped a (12th) tendril around NYC. Over in L.A., Sugarfish is exceedingly well-liked; from here, though—and by “from here,” I just mean “from within my own head”—the place just comes off as obnoxious. Its cutesy name, its insufferable Hipness, its ENORMOUS EGO, its menu‘s outright refusal to use a single Japanese word…I mean, come on. Is “omakase” really too much of a mouthful for Sugarfish’s intended patrons? Must we call it a “Trust Me”?

Whether it’s meant to be cute or unique or just plain easy, the whole “Trust Me” thing just strikes me as an absurd instance of some sort of cutesy-sickly imperative to dumb-down. (I’m aware that it’s a little ridiculous for me to be so bothered by something so unimportant, and I’m also aware that my annoyance probably says a whole lot about me and my approach to food, too, but I stand behind that annoyance nonetheless. And while we’re between parentheses, I’ll add that this whole “Trust Me” really thing reminds me of that old Dunkin Donuts commercial that was bent on, like, endorsing and empowering American ignorance. Because all those people refusing to learn the names of the drinks they like is cute and endearing and relatable, right?)

See, here we go. I knew this would happen: I’m already getting carried away. Honestly, though, I really believed that Sugarfish’s food would save the place. There was no chance I’d like the restaurant itself; with all the bones I had to pick, revulsion was a given. But I figured the fish itself would be good enough to win me over—or to shut me up long-term, at least. I’d read absolutely nothing but rave reviews. And plus, I’ve found that sushi spots this confident in their methods, this openly rigid, tend to be pretty good. (Sugarfish is very adamant about their adherence to The Nozawa Way. No, they don’t call it that. But they do drone on about it.)

Of course, I was also drawn to Sugarfish by its prices. The most expensive Trust Me is only $51, and I’m always on the lookout for (relatively) affordable sushi, especially when it’s allegedly just as good as the more-expensive stuff. So I grabbed Sam, shouted a “serenity now” or six at Sugarfish’s pristine website, and made my way over to 20th Street. (After confirming that their kitchen was nut-free. It is.)

Two pieces of yellowtail sushi from Sugarfish

And that brings me to one of a few actually-significant things I hate about this place: the way they handle their popularity. They don’t take reservations. I don’t think they even have a phone that rings. So not only can you not book a table—you can’t even call to ask whether that day’s waitlist has any space left on it. You can’t do shit but show up, hope they’ll let you on the list, and then hope they’ll text you to come on back before you lose interest and/or starve to death. (Once you get the”it’s time” text, you’ll have 15 minutes to make it back to Sugarfish—which means that you’ll probably end up having to spend between 2 and 4 hours tethered to 20th Street. Nice.)

Now, I’m no stranger to annoying reservation processes. It took me weeks of nightly website-checking to book a table for three at Sushi Zo (I gave up on finding three spots at the bar), and I’m by now used to the text-us-and-we’ll-consider-giving-you-a-spot-but-we’ll-pretend-we’re-booked-if-you-happen-to-want-to-reserve-anything-after-7pm system at Sushi on Jones. But Sugarfish’s system (or lack thereof, really) is absurd to the extent that it comes off as disrespectful. I do almost nothing with my free time, and even I don’t have the time (or the patience) to bow to this stupid process. But of course, I did. Bow. To Sugarfish. For four hours a day, on two consecutive days. And on the second of those days, I was rewarded with a table.

Ambiance-wise, Sugarfish is a little weird. It’s incredibly dark in there (hence all these heinous photos), and it’s pretty cramped, too. The servers are unprecedentedly peppy, and the music’s not what I’ve come to expect of a sushi place, either. (I mean, I like The Strokes, but I’m not sure I like them alongside my toro.) None of that’s all that bad, though. I can get used to abnormality. I can get into abnormality. But the clientele? Oh, the clientele…

Let’s leave it at this: The woman sitting to my right dissected every single piece of food that came her way, and within 10 minutes, she had her husband following suit. For each piece of nigiri, she’d poise her chopsticks like fork and knife and proceed to slice the fish/rice combo in half, right into two bite-size pieces. Off each half, she’d eat first the fish, then the rice—and unfortunately, she was not the only person I watched implement some horrible tried-and-true method of Tackling Nigiri that night. This place is filled to the brim with slicers and/or separators. It attracts them. It caters to them—regardless of the fact that such behavior definitely isn’t accordance with The Nozawa Way.

Two pieces of salmon

Anyway—and that just might be the biggest “anyway” I’ve ever written—I should probably get to the food. So I’ll just go right ahead, then: It sucked. There were decent bites, but most of what I ate was surprisingly bad. It wasn’t worth the money, and it really wasn’t worth the trouble—but it took me some time to come to and realize just how not-worth-it my meal had been. I held on to some degree of hope until the very, very end of the tasting; but as course after course disappointed me, that hope began to morph into something much more like indignation. And by the time I was out the door, it’d dawned on me: Sugarfish is bullshit.

Sam and I both ended up with the regular Trust Me. We’d both ordered The Nozawa, which comes with a few more pieces of (the same) nigiri in addition to two extra pieces (of a “daily special”), but I guess there must’ve been some sort of mix-up. Like the other two tastings, the regular Trust Me begins with edamame, which was fine, though definitely too cold. (And too firm. It hurt my fingers. Not exaggerating.) Then came some tuna sashimi—pictured at the top of this post—which was covered with scallions and dressed in a sauce that I’d heard the girl sitting to my left describe as “this really weird sauce that’s the best thing you’ll ever taste.” I was curious.

…It turned out to be ponzu. Ponzu. (And it was also the only reason that dish was even half-decent. The tuna was flavorless. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ll enjoy almost anything that’s covered in scallions and ponzu.)

As for the sushi, not one piece was good. The salmon (pictured immediately above) was all right, but what little flavor it had was totally overwhelmed by the sesame seeds that topped it. Soy helped a lot, though we’d been instructed to stay away from it—but still, this stuff was so, so boring. Albacore (pictured above the salmon) was next, and it was passable, though certainly not noteworthy…and then came the yellowtail, easily the worst bites of the night. Truly, it was awful: watery, bland, and somehow still a little funky—and it wasn’t even close to restaurant-quality. (In fact, it really reminded me of all the unpleasant fish you’ll find in the freezer section at Whole Foods. That, and all the fish I’ve all-I-can-eaten at godforsaken Mika.)

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The snapper (pictured immediately above) might’ve been fine, but I wouldn’t have known, because it was coated—not brushed, but coated—with a peppery glaze that was literally all I could taste, and then came some sea bass, which I can’t for the life of me remember. It’s safe to say that it, too, was bland and boring. I’d remember if I’d come across something tasty. Promise.

And that was it for the sushi. But before I’d had any time to process my disappointment (and shock!), we’d moved on to the hand rolls, which were better than the sushi, but not by enough to have saved the meal. We were given two—one with toro, and one with blue crab—and both were pretty good, but only because of the rice, which is actually some of the best I’ve ever had. (In fact, Sugarfish’s rice is the only thing that really sets the place apart from all those low- to mid-tier sushi joints that suck so much.) The toro was bland and watery—if the lights had been any lower, I wouldn’t have been able to tell it from grated daikon—but the blue crab was one of the tastiest things that showed up at my table. (Do remember: That’s saying very little.)

As soon as we’d finished our last hand rolls, our server showed up to tell us that our tasting had ended. Wholly unsatisfied, and in an attempt to find something worthwhile at Sugarfish, Sam and I each ordered a lobster hand roll, which we’d heard the servers recommend to just about everyone, and which we kept hearing all the regulars order, too. And while that hand roll was all right, it really wasn’t anything special. Lobster’s lobster, but…I don’t know. It just didn’t do it for me. Boring, again.

Obviously, Sugarfish’s food left me disappointed. But more than just disappointed, I was annoyed. And it took me a while to figure out just why. The reason, I think, is that Sugarfish just feels so…flimsy. So feeble. So lame. The atmosphere’s a very lackluster sort of trendy-bland; the menu’s Dunkin-Donuts dumb; everything comes without wasabi; even the fish itself is weak and watery. I don’t want my hand held. I don’t want to be coddled. I just want good fish at a reasonable price.

But Sugarfish isn’t that. It’s straight out of the middlebrow. It’s Snapchat Story fodder, good for very, very little beyond personal advertisement, beyond filling the frame of an Instagram post or two meant to broadcast a Personal Brand of Luxury—and it really isn’t even good for that, because, you know, the food in the picture doesn’t even taste good. So I guess I’ll be sticking to Zo for my L.A. sushi. (Just kidding. I can’t afford Zo. But you get my point.)

…Find Sugarfish at 33 East 20th Street, between Park and Broadway. But don’t show up unless you’ve hours to spare—and don’t forget to Snap the entirety of your meal.

(Sorry for the length of this post, by the way. I might’ve gone a little nuts. Lloyd Braun was right, I guess: serenity now, insanity later.)

[Edit: Told you so!! This just came out: a better-written (and less-angry) version of what I’ve written. What I’d give to write about food as deftly as Pete Wells…]

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Sushi Zo (!)

Salmon roe from Sushi Zo

Sushi Zo is so ridiculously far out of my price range, it’s not even funny. But there are no nuts in their kitchen, and I did eat there safely, so…I’m afraid I have no choice. It’s time for another half-apologetic post on a jarringly expensive meal!

But first, the details. Sushi Zo started in Los Angeles, and you sure can tell. Theirs isn’t the classic, super-traditional sushi of many of NYC’s other top-tier restaurants; rather, it’s prepared “Zo-style,” according to chef Masashi Ito (click at your own risk; Kat Odell is…annoying, to say the least).

At Zo, there is only one option: a $200-per-person omakase, available only by reservation (which you’ll have to make well in advance). Don’t ask for a California roll; don’t ask for spicy tuna; don’t even ask for soy. Your chef knows best—that’s the idea, at least—and you’d be wise to do as he says (and only as he says).

If it weren’t for my dad and his undying love of sushi, I never would’ve dreamed of going to Zo. (Actually, had it not been for his undying love of sushi, I’d probably be sushi-ignorant enough to be content with, like, Kikoo, and thus never would’ve dreamed of dreaming of going to Zo.) But the man loves sushi, and he’s in frequent need of a dining partner or two—and that‘s how I managed to afford (well, to escape having to afford) such an expensive meal.

When we arrived—that’s Sam and me, as my dad was 15 painful minutes late—we were seated immediately at one of the restaurant’s two tables. (We all would’ve preferred the bar, but I wasn’t able to get three seats on a day that worked for us all.) Immediately, I fell in love with was the decor: bare brick, lots of wood, sparse greenery, Eames-ish chairs…it was perfect. Even the chopstick holders appealed to me. (I don’t have photos, because I felt like a real jackass pointing my camera every which way in such a nice restaurant. But I’ve linked the few I could find online, because Sushi Zo’s decor is probably my favorite out of all the restaurants I’ve ever been to.)

As soon as my dad arrived, a server approached our table to ask whether any of us had any food allergies. And as soon as I’d corrected my dad’s “nope, none” with an “actually, yes—I’m allergic to nuts,” the omakase had begun. (As I mentioned above, there are no nuts in Sushi Zo’s kitchen. It’s that simple. I haven’t included any further allergen information because there isn’t any. No nuts, no complications, no causes for concern.)

Onto the omakase itself. But first, a confession: I have absolutely no idea what I ate at Sushi Zo. I mean, I know what I ate—sushi, and lots of it—but I don’t really know what was what. Certain pieces (the uni, the shrimp, the tuna) were obvious, but others…well, the servers told us what they were, but I didn’t write anything down, and my memory’s failed me. So I’m sorry for the vagueness that’s to come—and I hereby promise to start taking notes on any subsequent many-course meals. (Really.)

Anyway. First came the sashimi, all at once, on a lovely little platter. There was lean tuna, two pieces of whitefish (that I can’t name), some octopus, and an oyster. I most enjoyed Whitefish #1 and the octopus, which was firm and chewy, though not tough—but the lean tuna was good, too. I wasn’t all that enamored with Whitefish #2 or the oyster, but overall, the sashimi platter was good, and by the time I’d finished mine, I was really looking forward to the rest of the tasting.

Four pieces of sushi from Sushi Zo

Within maybe two minutes, we’d already entered the next phase of the meal: sushi time. Piece after piece just kept showing up; as soon as we’d finished one, a server would clear our dishes and bring out the next—and like that, we got through more courses than I could count. (Literally. I lost track. 20-something? Not sure.)

The first piece—I know this one!—was halibut, topped with something yuzu-related. I think it’s the piece pictured in the top-left of the above photo, but who knows? In the top-right photo, there’s a mystery fish, and in the bottom-left, there’s sweet shrimp. That’s uni, of course, on the bottom-right—and fortunately, that’s all the identifying I’m obligated to do for the moment.

Of the sushi, my favorite pieces were the uni; the torched otoro; the torched something-or-other, topped with truffle salt (!!!); the halibut; and whatever’s in top-left photo below (Sam says trout, so trout, I guess). Also wonderful: the sweet shrimp, despite its bitter aftertaste; the chutoro, though it wasn’t all that impressive, as chutoro goes; and the torched wagyu, though it wasn’t as good as the torched wagyu at Sushi Azabu (or Sushi on Jones, actually).

I do have a complaint, though. The fish itself was all incredible, but I really, really wish the folks at Sushi Zo weren’t so goddamn heavy on the toppings. I know, I know—it’s a high-end omakase, and I’m meant to trust my chef, etc., etc.—but constant toppings (beyond soy and wasabi) eventually end up making it supremely difficult for me to actually, you know, taste the super-high-quality fish in front of me. So there. I said it. I wish Zo’s sushi chefs would chill with the yuzu and the peppers and the whatever-the-fuck else it is they insist on placing atop nearly every single piece of fish. Sorry.

Time for more identifying. Here is, clockwise from the top-left photo, trout (potentially), torched otoro, chutoro, and seared wagyu:

Four pieces of sushi from Sushi Zo

After the sushi came one of the loveliest things I’ve ever eaten: a perfect little bowl of ikura and rice, topped with shredded nori (pictured at the top of this post). The ikura was some of the best I’ve ever had, and there was plenty of it, which is unusual. The rice was perfect, too—seriously some of the best I’ve ever had—and as a whole, the dish was easily one of my favorites of the night.

Then, there was chawanmushi, a sweet and creamy egg custard dish I’d never had before, and tamago, too (which was the best I’ve had, actually, since Honmura An closed in 2006-ish). And finally, there was a hand roll (we were each given the choice between tuna and blue crab—both were great) and a small bowl of soup (clear-brothed, with a big chunk of red snapper at the bottom).

Oh, and dessert. How could I forget dessert? Usually, I stay away, but at Zo, I didn’t have to. Our server assured me that everything, dessert included, would be safe for me to eat—plus, this dessert was about as simple as it could’ve been—so I dug in without (much) hesitation. Here it is, a (poorly photographed) house-made yuzu sorbet that I ate—and thoroughly enjoyed—sans issue:

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In all, I spent a little over two hours at Zo, though it didn’t feel like much more than 30 minutes. It’s a very fast-paced meal—and then, just when you think it’s started to wind down, out comes a whole other set of courses to down. It’s an expensive tasting, sure. Worth $200 per head, pre-extras and pre-sake? I’m not sure. But the service is terrific, the ambiance is exceedingly pleasant, and the food—which ranges from good to offensively good—is a lot of fun, to say the least.

Plus, there are no nuts in the kitchen. And, if you sit at a table, the other diners are far enough away so as not to annoy with their probable…extravagance. (Not so far, though, that you won’t notice said extravagance. Seriously: So many of the people of high-end sushi bars just love to show off, as much to their servers and chef as to whomever might happen to be listening—hence the opportunistic glints to their eyes and their ever-so-slightly-slightly-raised voices. “‘It’s a thing,’ as you all say,” as my British Literature professor says.)

Anyway. The Zo experience is perfect.

…Near-perfect. Too many toppings. That aside, though, that omakase really was something special, and I hope one day—one day—to return. Maybe.

Find Sushi Zo at 88 West 3rd Street, between Sullivan and Thompson. (And if you manage to leave with any sort of room left in your stomach, there’s a nearby Morton Williams that stocks both A La Mode ice cream and a ton of Vermont Nut Free treats.)

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Sushi Katsuei

Usuzukuri from Sushi Katsuei

When I think sushi—good sushi—Park Slope definitely isn’t the first (or second or third or eighth) neighborhood that comes to mind. But when I read about Sushi Katsuei—Michelin-recommended, and identified by The Infatuation as the home of the best sushi in Brooklyn—I figured it just might be worth a try. So one Sunday night, when the few nut-free Japanese restaurants that were open didn’t have anything available for three, I made my way to 7th Avenue, with Sam and my dad in tow.

Of course, before showing up, I called to make sure Sushi Katsuei was suitably nut-free. Everything I’d read had sounded promising, and I couldn’t really imagine nuts showing up in an omakase, but I’m not about to bet my life on an assumption, so I asked. Twice. And both times, I was told that Sushi Katsuei doesn’t use any tree nuts (or peanuts) in any of their food. So, while they aren’t explicitly nut-free, they’re close enough for me

When Sam and I arrived, we decided to sit at the bar (which is omakase-only). My dad was maybe 5 minutes late, but by the time he got there, we’d already been sorta-hounded by multiple servers to, you know, order. The restaurant wasn’t particularly crowded, so I’m not really sure why the urgency, but when my dad arrived and we finally placed our order, everyone chilled the fuck out, thank God.

We went with the omakase that included both sushi and sashimi, because why not—and we (well, I) got some usuzukuri, too (pictured at the top of this post). The usuzukuri was good—I especially appreciated the scallions, though I could’ve used some more—but it was hard to pay attention to the dish with such a well-reviewed omakase looming.

Tuna sashimi and an oyster from Sushi Katsuei

But as soon as the usuzukuri was gone, the omakase ceased to loom; our sashimi platters had arrived, and it was time to eat. The selection included fluke, Spanish mackerel, squid, chutoro, and—get this—an oyster, and, for the most part, it was pretty good.

The fluke, which had a little salt on top, was nice and fresh, though a little bland—but the mackerel, scallion-topped, was surprisingly tasty. I also really liked the squid, which was cut into strips and coated with spicy cod roe. It was just chewy enough (which is, I guess, what I always say about squid I like), and the roe added a nice, subtle heat to the whole ordeal.

The chutoro (pictured above, on the left), was very underwhelming, though, and the oyster (above on the right)…well, it made me reach for my water. It tasted too much of the sea, even for an oyster, and it was filled with debris. Not so great, then. (Not for me, at least. Not for me.)

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So the sashimi was a little hit-or-miss. Fine. But I still had hope for the sushi—which turned out to be much better, on the whole. There were quite a few pieces I couldn’t identify, though, so bear with me as I try to write about my ever-important opinions.

Two of the first pieces were yellowtail and sea bream (both pictured above, the former on the left and the latter on the right). Both were good, but I preferred the sea bream, if only because it wasn’t topped with anything (but salt!). I almost always prefer my sushi unadulterated, but Katsuei’s chefs are really big on topping their fish with this, that, or the other thing. As offenders go, Katsuei isn’t as egregious as, say, Sushi of Gari—but as the tasting went on, I found myself wishing I could get some plain, soy-brushed (or perhaps salt-topped) fish.

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We also had some otoro (left) and some Hokkaido uni (right, duh)—and frankly, neither was all that great. The otoro, while fine, was exactly as underwhelming as the chutoro (and to tell you the truth, I didn’t quite believe it was otoro), and the uni, while tasty at first, had an overbearingly bitter aftertaste, which definitely didn’t help things.

But forget those two pieces. My two favorite bites of the night were the salmon (below, left) and the torched something-or-other (below, right). The salmon, sufficiently, fatty, was topped with some sort of sesame-tasting nori-ish business, and I loved it—not despite its topping, but because of it. And the torched whatever was supremely buttery—not to mention the fact that it was garnished with the only topping I might just love unconditionally: scallions (!!!). So good.

Salmon and an unidentified piece of sushi from Sushi Katsuei

Anyway. While the the meal was certainly a little inconsistent, quality-wise, I did enjoy myself at Sushi Katsuei. The good bites were good enough to carry me through the bad ones—and the bad ones weren’t bad so much as disappointing, really. Our servers were doting, our chef was jovial, and the atmosphere, while not all that nice, was nice enough. So I had a fine time—and perhaps I’ll even return.

Find Sushi Katsuei in Park Slope, at 210 7th Avenue (between 2nd and 3rd Streets).

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Ganso Ramen

Traditional-style Miso Ramen from Ganso Ramen

Back in June, I published two Ganso-related posts: one on Ganso Yaki, and one on Sushi Ganso. To my absolute horror, both of those restaurants closed (out of nowhere!) at the beginning of this month…but the news isn’t all bad. One of the Gansos is still open, and I’m finally ready to complete the post-trilogy with a much-awaited (I’m lying) post on Ganso Ramen, the original Ganso that serves—you guessed it—ramen, and plenty of it.

Located near Fulton Mall, somewhere between an IHOP, a Cookie’s, and a Goodwill, Ganso Ramen feels out of place. Inside, it’s dark and intimate; outside, there’s an Applebee’s and, like, eight Burger Kings. (Not really. I think there are two.) Ganso’s doorway is like a portal to another world.

The allergen information in my post on Ganso Yaki applies to Ganso Ramen, too, but I’ll recap, in case you, whoever, are link averse. There are(/were) no tree nuts in the kitchen at any of the Ganso restaurants, and though they aren’t(/weren’t) decidedly nut-free, they don’t(/didn’t) have any nuts on-site. That, combined with the fact that Japanese food is generally pretty low-risk, is enough to make me feel right around 100% comfortable eating at Ganso Ramen (and the other two Gansos, too, when they were still around).

Traditional-style Miso ramen from Ganso Ramen

The first time I went to Ganso (and the second time, and the third), I ordered the Tonkotsu ramen (“rich, creamy twelve-hour pork bone broth and thin, straight noodles, with roasted pork belly chashu, ajitama egg, greens”), Kagoshima-style (i.e. with garlic and soy sauce). I liked it, sure, but it didn’t quite do it for me. I couldn’t put my finger on just what was wrong with it—the noodles weren’t as thick as I would’ve liked, but that couldn’t have been it—but something was, so I abandoned it in favor of the Braised Short Rib (“deep beefy broth, thick Sapporo noodles, Hatcho miso-braised beef short rib, ajitama egg, greens”). Same deal: pleasant, but not The One. Too salty. Not very creamy. Blah.

And then, finally, I found it: the Miso ramen (“savory Shiro miso-chicken broth of Japan’s Far North, thick Sapporo noodles, roasted pork belly, ajitama egg, fresh corn, greens”—pictured twice above). For real, it’s perfect; the noodles are chewy, the miso flavor is strong, but not overwhelming, the scallions (scallions!) are nice and flavorful, and the corn, just short of crunchy, is always sweet. Plus, the dish is made with butter (!!!), which goes a long, long way in creaming up the broth. And, of course, there’s the egg (satisfyingly gooey) and the pork belly (absurdly tender, and a little sweet, too). I’m in love.

Sizzling Gyoza from Ganso Ramen

For a while there, I was doubting Ganso. But when I found this dish, my confidence in the place skyrocketed. I started craving ramen—rain or shine, hot or cold, breakfast or dinner, it was all I wanted. And if my wallet had allowed it, I probably would’ve spent multiple nights per week at Ganso.

So high was my opinion that I even found myself willing to drop $9 on a plate of their Sizzling Gyoza (pictured above). That’s actually the only side I’ve tried at Ganso—I haven’t been that many times, and I’m somewhat of a cheapskate—but honestly, it’s good enough to make me want to try the others. The gyoza, sizzling indeed, are made with pork, garlic, and chives, and though they’re a little boring, they’re served with a chili-soy sauce that helps to liven them up. They aren’t terribly exciting (and they’re definitely a little overpriced), but they’re good nonetheless.

There are plenty of other Ganso dishes I’d like to try: the Ganso Wings, the Japanese-Style Fried Chicken, the Japanese Steamed buns, and maybe even some of the other ramens. But for now, the Miso ramen has me firmly in its clutches—and I’m all right with that, I think.

Find Ganso Ramen at 25 Bond Street, between Fulton and Livingston.

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Sushi on Jones

Sushi on Jones

Remember David Bouhadana, the sushi chef who got his restaurant shut down after a spat with the DOH over their rigid, rigid glove rules? Well, Bouhadana lost his job at Sushi Dojo—but he’s back, serving up fresh DOH-agita at his new open-air (read: outdoor as fuck) sushi spot. And yes, his chefs are wearing gloves.

Located in The Bowery Market, Sushi on Jones is not your average sushi spot. Sure, it’s home to a few recognizable motifs—a sushi bar, white-coated chefs, a mostly-classic omakase—but there are only six seats, and with a reservation (which you’ll have made via text), you’ll be in and out in under 40 minutes. Water comes in Poland Spring bottles, green tea comes in cans, and Kid Cudi just might form the soundtrack to your meal (if you can hear whatever their iPod’s playing over the sirens and motorcycle revs of NoHo). Strange dogs on those godforsaken extendo-leashes may sniff at your feet, and pigeons will probably feast upon your fallen ginger. Such is the Sushi on Jones experience.

Suffice it to say, then, that this place is a little offbeat. Unorthodox. Quirky, if you will. Fortunately, though, their sushi’s pretty traditional—which means nothing New-Agey, nothing cream-cheesy, and, of course, nothing nutty. I spent a week or two sporadically poking around online in an attempt to find an email address or (call-able) phone number at which I could direct my nut-related questions, but no such things existed, nor did their iPhone-manner ever respond to my message about allergens. So I resigned myself to just showing up, asking about nuts, and hoping for a promising answer.

Sam and I ended up stopping by one Saturday night around 8pm. Immediately, a woman—she was sort of a waitress, but there isn’t much waiting to do at Sushi on Jones—asked if she could help us. I asked my usual questions (“Any nuts? Shared kitchen? Reason to worry?”), to which she responded with the best answers I could’ve hoped for: no nuts, no shared kitchen, no reason to worry. She even sent the manager out to confirm, and that he did. Lovely.

Now, getting a seat isn’t hard, but it isn’t the easiest thing in the world, either. That night, we couldn’t get a reservation via text—I’d sent a text with a few times that worked for us, but all I received in response was a “sorry not tonight.” Fine. But when I asked in person 15 minutes later, they were happy to give me a reservation within a few minutes of one of times I’d originally asked for. Weird, but whatever. We were just happy to have gotten a spot.

When our time came, we made our way back to Sushi on Jones and were seated within 10 minutes of our arrival. Sam and I were the only two seated at the (two-stool) second counter, which is actually on Great Jones Street, rather than a few feet into the market, where the main counter is. Our little area was dark (really dark, hence the heinous backlit iPhone photos I’ve included with below, and the Google-supplied Grub Street photo at the top of this post—which was taken by Noah Fecks, by the way), but sitting off to the side was nice, if only because we were that much farther away from the loud-ass group of four sitting at the other counter. (They kept yelling—yelling—about “eel sauce.” Their chef looked tired.)

Anyway, as soon as we were seated—and as soon as the waitress had asked us if we had any other dietary restrictions—it was food time. At Sushi on Jones, there’s only one option: the 12-piece omakase ($50), though you can order additional pieces (as well as their signature WagUni—torched wagyu and uni—hand roll) à la carte once you’ve finished. In an attempt to be frugal (yeah, right) Sam and I stuck to the omakase—but by the time we left, we were both pretty damn satisfied.

That night, my favorite pieces were the yellowtail, the uni, the Arctic char, and the WagUni (sushi, not hand roll). The yellowtail was unbelievably flavorful, the uni was sweet and briny, and the Arctic char was pleasantly creamy. All were topped with a soy glaze, and some were topped with bits of pepper or crushed ginger—with the exception of the WagUni, which was topped with truffle salt, and which was probably my favorite bite of the night.

Maybe I’m biased—undercooked wagyu and uni are seriously two of my favorite things in the entire world—but goddamn, that thing was good. The photo I’ve included below does the WagUni absolutely no justice whatsoever, so here’s a better one from The Bowery Market’s official Instagram. (Drool away. I’ll be here.)

My least favorite bites were probably the scallop (not bad, but not for me), the eel (also not bad, also not for me), and the crab (fine, but boring). I was also a little underwhelmed by the medium fatty tuna, which seemed a lot leaner than it should’ve been. (Still, it wasn’t bad—chutoro’s chutoro, after all.) The weaker pieces didn’t bother me much, though. I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much everything about Sushi on Jones, and I’m already plotting my return. If only I could’ve talked myself into shelling out an additional $12 for a WagUni hand roll…

By the way, our sushi chef was wonderful. After we’d finished the omakase, he asked what our favorite piece had been so he could give us another set, on the house. (“I like you guys,” he said. “You’re quiet.” With a smile, he gestured to the sign above the counter: “Less talk, more eat. Mucho arigato.”) We went with the obvious choice—WagUni—and then he offered us another free piece each, at which point we asked him to give us whatever he recommended. A minute later, he presented us with another round of fatty tuna, which was noticeably better than our first serving. So good. Go figure.

By now, it should be clear that I’m a big fan of Sushi on Jones. I love the food, the location, the speed, the ambiance, the overall concept…I could go on. The sushi, while undeniably good, isn’t the city’s best, but it isn’t meant to be—it’s something else entirely, and it’s a whole lot of fun. The whole place is unique-as-can-be, but not in the nasty, off-putting way a lot of Unique™ sushi joints are so. Plus, it’s allergy-friendly. Let’s not forget about that.

…Actually, let’s. Sitting at Sushi on Jones, I don’t feel acutely like a Person With Food Allergies, which is how I feel at a lot of the places I frequent just because they’re safe for me. It’s a cool place, and I’d definitely still stop by if I could eat wherever I wanted. And that, to me, is incredibly exciting.

(Seriously, though: Do yourself a favor and read up on Bouhadana’s glove kerfuffle with the DOH. It’s genuinely interesting—and funny as hell, too—and everyone and their mother has weighed in. Plus, the debate prompted one of my my all-time favorite Anthony Bourdain quotes: “This is not Subway, for fuck’s sake. This is something people have dedicated their lives to. No. You know which team I’m on.”)

Find Sushi on Jones at the entrance to The Bowery Market, which is itself located at 348 Bowery, between Great Jones and 4th.

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