I talk a big game, but a lot of times – dinner is just dinner. My family is hungry and so we go out for Korean or order in pizza or I make a quick quesadilla with some fresh guacamole. We eat, we chat and laugh, and then the meal is over – we really don’t think about it beyond that.
However, every now and then, when all the stars align perfectly, I eat a dinner that is more than a meal. It’s a total experience. It’s transportive, it’s intoxicating, and it’s something that I think about for days and months to come. Occasionally, it even changes my life.
Such was my dinner at Sushi Nakazawa.
This restaurant, given four stars by Pete Wells, is the hottest restaurant to hit New York in ages. It makes NoMad look like a positive sleeper hit, that’s how hard it is to get a seat. I logged onto the website for days at exactly 12:01 am, trying to get a seat at the sushi bar, only to fail again and again. It’s easier to get a seat in the dining room, but that’s not where you want to be. You really want to be at one of those 10 seats at the sushi bar, where you get your fish mere moments after the chefs prepare it. I happened to get the seat from the kindness of a stranger on an internet forum who wanted to make my fiance’s birthday a special one. That’s right – I posted for help on an internet forum and someone actually gave me his reservation. I can’t imagine anything more kind and unselfish. HM, you are a gentleman and a scholar. I hope that I can one day repay your kindness.
Now, onto the main event.
You might recognize the head chef, Nakazawa-san from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. He is the apprentice who worked for years to make the perfect omelette,a dn when he finally made one fit to his master’s approval, he cried from frustration, joy, and gratitude. It is one of the film’s most moving parts. He is just as sweet and focused in person – not overly chatty, but if you speak a little of your rudimentary Japanese with him, he is so gracious and overjoyed at your efforts that you may feel like you just served him dinner instead of vice versa.
Much is made of the $40 sake pairing, but take my advice and go up a level for the $80 version. It is filled with so many delicious sakes that are both tasty on their own and paired ideally with the flights of fish. One is effervescent and bubbly, the next tastes oddly medicinal until it is eaten with the aged mackerel – then it becomes woodsy and cinnamon-y. It’s truly an excellent parings with a sommelier who is helpful and knowledgeable without being a know-it-all or overly chatty. In fact, when I mentioned that I liked nigori sake, he changed the entire sushi bar’s pairing to make sure that everyone could try this creamy, coconut-y type of unfiltered sake.
Once you are seated at the sushi bar, take in the serene black and white surroundings and relax into the comfortable padded chair.
It’s going to be a long and luxurious night.
The first bite of the evening – the bite that made my fiance look like he had never before used his taste buds. As his lips closed around the soft salmon and the chewy, slightly warm rice, his eyelids fluttered and he had a strange look on his face.
Oh great, I have created a giant sushi snob.
Hay smoked salmon from Hokkaido
The same soft texture with a slightly earthier, smoky taste.
Scallop with yuzu and sake sauce
Buttery but clean. The yuzu is slightly spicy, with a heat that keeps deceloping long afte the bite is gone.
Giant clam seared with soy
The only misstep of the night, and not because it isn’t repreared ideally -it is! But I do not like the crunchy texture of these large, slightly tough clams.
Black fin sea bas from Nakasaki with daikon
Mild and clean with a light snap from the daikon
Golden Eye snapper from Japan
One of my favorites of the night – like a less fishy albacore with the buttery texture of maguro and the light taste of white fish.
Sorry for the lack of notes here…I’m blaming those generous pours of sake.
A strong tasting fish – ideal for someone who loves briny, deep, metallic flavors. Notice how it is scored so it is the ideal texture.
Mackerel, aged 7 days with Japanese mustard
One of the best pieces of this fish that I have ever had. It’s scored so that it is tender, and though it has an oceanic taste it isn’t at all fishy. The Japanese mustard clears your nasal passages and wipes away any muddy residue. Beyond sensational. Worth the ticket price for this piece of fish alone.
Seconds before I ate this, it scampered across the counter in front of me. Then, deftly and without gore, Nagasawa-san and his sous -chefs deftly killed and cleaned the shrimp, ensuring that the taste was soft and sweet.
The best tasting shrimp in the world is Madagascar shrimp. The sweetest, the lightest, the most tender. This is the way that all shrimp should taste.
Yellowtail, aged 10 days
The ageing process is what is most interesting at Nagasawa. I always thought that the best fish was the freshest fish – that isn’t necessarily so! The best fish is sometimes the fish that has been cured, that has had time to develop its flavors and become tender. That’s certainly the case with this yellowtail, which taste deeper and fuller than its unaged counterparts.
Medium fatty tuna with spicy mustard
Slightly fattier tuna, with some of that spicy mustard to cut through its rich taste. Very good.
Exquisite. My fiance’s favorite taste of the night. Simple – fish so fatty that it literally melts upon the heat of your tongue. Served on slightly vinegared rice. No marinades, no garnishes. Just the perfect fatty, clean, singular bite.
Santa Barbara Uni
The queen of uni. Creamy, soft, with the mineral-y taste of foie gras. Balanced between toasty nori and the bite of the rice.
Ikura from Japan
Briny little jewels that pop in your mouth and release the taste of the ocean. Not too fishy, with the signature tense, hard bubble that means it’s fresh.
Anago from Japan
Not quite up to the level of Yasuda, but wonderful all the same. Meaty and rich, with just enough sweet sauce to emphasize its buttery texture and taste.
Perhaps the world’s most famous omelette. Fluffy and very sweet. I have heard that here are yams in here, along with shrimp…who knows? This is the best dessert on the planet – bread putting or egg custard in a fluffy slab. Ask for seconds and you will get it served on some of the expertly made rice. You can taste Nakazawa-san’s blood, sweat, and tears in this omelette. It is a revelation.
This meal is so expensive. It is hard to get a reservation and the dessert is just a sorbet. But its the best meal I have had in oh so long. It made me thing of focus, of passion, of how hard my parents worked to give me the life that I now enjoy. It made me think of my dreams and of how to achieve them. It made me think of how food is not just for filling the belly, it’s for filling the soul.
Oh, and how did it change my life?
Well, the old ball-and-chain and I are currently talking about our first trip to Japan together.
A totally life altering meal.