Tag Archives: omakase

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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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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Sushi Azabu

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It’s not often I get to eat like I ate at Sushi Azabu. For one, this restaurant is well out of my price range. To me, an expensive meal is any one that threatens to hit the $30 mark, and with omakase is priced at $100, $150, or $180 per person, Azabu is far past the point of threatening. Don’t get me wrong; I can definitely appreciate a high-quality meal. I’m not one to immediately cry “overpriced!” at anything that veers toward costliness. It’s just that I can’t afford to eat this way unless someone else is footing the bill (thanks, Dad).

A few months ago, in a fit of bitterness, I went through the menus of every single one of this city’s Michelin-starred restaurants, mostly in an attempt to prove to myself that fine dining can be nut-free. I had very little success—I ended up eliminating nearly every single restaurant before even reaching my call-and-double-check stage—but one of the few restaurants that made it through was Sushi Azabu, a one-star sushi bar on the edge of Tribeca.

Their menu looks nut-less, but there’s plenty of room for nuts to sneak in under listings like “2 kinds of starter” or “dessert,” so I called to double-check. The hostess, who was very friendly and very competent, explained that while there are no nuts currently used in Azabu’s food, there are nuts stored in their kitchen. She assured me that the nuts aren’t really handled, though, and that I didn’t really have much reason to worry, especially if I was planning on eating from the sushi bar. (Of course, I’d recommend double-checking on the whole nut situation before eating at Azabu, because I’m sure it’s subject to change.)

When Sam and I got there, the hostess confirmed that I was the one with the nut allergy—I hadn’t even had to remind her. She led us to the end of the sushi bar, took our orders, and then asked if we had any special requests beyond the whole no-nuts thing before relaying all the relevant information (in Japanese) to the sushi chef. Truly, I felt taken care of—she was just as helpful in the restaurant as she had been on the phone, and if I’d had any worries beforehand, they were gone by the time she and I were done speaking.

[By the way, Azabu is a very small and very quiet restaurant. Only an (a) jackass or (b) Actual Important Restaurant Critic™ would be comfortable subjecting the other diners to a shutter sound over and over and over and over, and (I hope) I’m neither, so I left my camera at home. The photo at the top of this post, though I wish it were mine, is from The Greenwich Hotel’s website. I’ve included a few of my own iPhone photos at the end of this post, but those are all I have. Find a few better ones here and here.]

Anyway, food. Sam and I ordered the less expensive of the two Chef’s Omakase options. For $150, we each got got two starters, an assortment of seasonal sashimi, an uni tasting, a grilled crab dish, an assortment of sushi, miso soup, and dessert. (At $180, the other Chef’s Omakase also includes a toro tasting.)

First came the starters: fluke topped with uni, and a piece of Japanese eggplant topped with seared fatty tuna. Both were great, but I particularly liked the tuna, because…well, it was seared fatty tuna. Do I really need to explain? The eggplant was a little too slimy for me, but I appreciated its flavor nonetheless, and it did go well with the tuna, so I couldn’t really complain. And the fluke and uni were both great—I’m a sucker for any (decent) uni, really, but that serving was particularly tasty, and I couldn’t wait for the rest that’d be coming my way.

Next was the sashimi: octopus, abalone, fluke, medium fatty tuna, sweet shrimp, and lean tuna. Both pieces of tuna were straight-up delicious; the fatty tuna melted in my mouth, as fatty tuna does, and the lean tuna, topped with a speck of scallion, was one of the best pieces of lean tuna I’ve ever eaten. Seriously: That thing blew me away, and if my eyes had been closed, I wouldn’t have known it was lean. I liked the sweet shrimp, too—it didn’t have any of that that sea flavor that I so hate—but the octopus was a little boring, and the abalone was way too tough and clammy (that’s clam-flavored, not damp) for me.

After the sashimi came the uni tasting, which I’d been looking forward to since the very first moment I laid eyes on Azabu’s menu. We were each given two types of uni, both from Hokkaido: one from the North, and one from the East. Sam and I both preferred the former—it was a little creamier—but both were great, and my only complaint was that there wasn’t more. For some reason, I’d imagined the uni tasting to consist of, like, three or four varieties, but you know what? These two were certainly good enough to satisfy me.

The grilled king crab came next, and honestly, it impressed the hell out of me. The meat was sweet and briny, and it came in a half-shell, so I didn’t have to fight to get at it. (What can I say? I’m lazy.) The best part, though, was the crab miso sauce, which was sweet, salty, and almost a little buttery. It complemented the meat wonderfully, but it was great on its own, too—and it was all I could do to keep myself from licking up the bits that’d spilled. (Sue me.)

And then…and then…it was time for the sushi. We had, in order: squid, salmon, lean tuna, medium fatty tuna, scallop, bonito, ikura, a mystery fish whose name I didn’t quite catch, sweet shrimp, uni, and eel—and a tuna, oshinko, and shiso roll, too. The scallop was dense and boring, and the shrimp was a little too bitter, but everything else was downright incredible. Both pieces of tuna all but dissolved on my tongue, and the salmon—usually a pretty boring fish—was some of the best I’ve had in a while. The squid stood out, too—it was perhaps the most tender piece of squid I’ve ever had—and the uni was just as good as the better of the two from the sampling.

The roll was the last of the sushi selection, and it was a lovely way to end that portion of the meal. I love tuna, I love oshinko, and I love shiso, so it was no surprise that I went a little crazy over that roll. Its flavors and textures just worked so well together…ugh. I was full enough, but I could’ve used, like, fifteen more pieces of that thing.

A few minutes later, after we’d downed some unusually good miso soup, our chef asked us whether there was anything else we’d like to order, or if we’d rather just proceed to dessert. Now, I’d been wanting to eat some near-raw wagyu for a while—I’m not kidding; it was an actual craving of mine—so we went for it: two pieces of torched wagyu sushi, please.

It. Was. So. Good. For real: It was all I’d dreamed of. It started out tender and greasy—almost like a good steak—but as I got past the torched exterior, it got chewier, sweeter and…er, bloodier-tasting. The rawest parts tasted just like the smell of the butcher section at my local Whole Foods: a smell that never fails to make me want to eat a pile of raw beef. (The way I’m describing this is probably making me come off as a total weirdo. Maybe I am, but trust me, the wagyu was damn good.)

After we finished fawning over the wagyu, and after the chef confirmed that we were satisfied with our meal, the hostess brought out our dessert. “Mango sorbet, no nuts,” she said—without having been asked (!!!)—as she placed our bowls in front of us. I’d been a bit worried about dessert, but the fact that she seemed to have taken it upon herself to double-check made me feel comfortable enough to dig in, and so I did. The sorbet was good (though it was nothing in comparison to the meal we’d just had), but I could’ve sworn it was Häagen-Dazs. Maybe not. I don’t know. But I would’ve bet on it.

…And then, just like that, it was over.

It ended too soon, but it really was a great experience. The service was impeccable, the food bordered on perfect, and the atmosphere was calm and pleasant (despite the couple next to me, who spent the entire meal trying to perform for an audience that didn’t give a third of a shit about them). I’d love to go back, but it’ll probably be a while. Until then, I’ll just have to keep reliving this meal in my head.

Find Sushi Azabu at 428 Greenwich Street, between Laight and Vestry. (By the way, the restaurant’s underground—underneath another restaurant, actually. There’s signage, but not much of it. Try not to trip down the world’s darkest stairs on the way down.)

[Edit: I’ve since returned. Twice. And I’m happy to announce that Sushi Azabu is officially my favorite restaurant. Ever.]

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