Kura – Hidden Entrance, Unforgettable Omakase

I had an awesome sushi meal the other night.

It was pricier than I thought it might be…but it was really good. In fact, I think that it was worth the extra cost.

If you see an unmarked door on St. Mark’s, don’t pass it by.

Unmarked doors are often the best kept secrets.

20150318_182838 Kura is a small restaurant that delivers big omakase. At 3 set price points – 85, 105, or 125 dollars – your only decisions are if you want sake (you do) and how many pieces of sushi you want (even the smallest set really delivers, thanks to amuse bouches and dessert). The vibe is casual and friendly but you can see that the sushi is serious. There is just one long, blonde bar and a single table. We walked in,but make a reservation to be sure that you aren’t turned away. The chefs are kind and jovial and the music is relaxing – a great place for dinner with a friend or loved one.

Though there were some dishes I’m not featuring here, including a wonderful amuse bouche of delicate samon roe over warm rice and crisp nori and a TO DIE FOR toro hand roll at the end of the meal, here are a few highlights:20150318_183453Medium fatty tuna

I was surprised to start the meal with this fatty fish, but I liked it! It wasn’t too fatty or full flavored – it was just fatty enough to be indulgent without overwhelming my tastebuds.
20150318_184029 (1) Scallops

An impeccable scallop. Buttery, soft, mild. Atop crispy nori for a textural contrast and vinegary rice. A big of sharp ginger to cleanse the palate and I was in heaven. 20150318_184331 Fluke

Cool and clean tasting with a zing of lemony, spicy yuzu underneath the fish. Delicious. 20150318_184806 Clam

The most tender clam I have ever had in the sushi arena. Usually it’s crunchy – not my fave. This is tender and smooth. It tastes gently salty and very fresh. 20150318_184901 Mackerel

Broiled mackerel atop warm sushi rice. More like eel than mackerel I have had before in sushi – meaty, rich, pleasantly oily. 20150318_185537 Eel

Excellent! No need to hide eel this succulent, soft, and buttery beneath a shellac of sugary sauce. This eel stands for itself and it’s phenomenal. 20150318_185753 Uni

My favorite sushi of the night. Simple, clean uni (must be Santa Barbara) brushed with soy and served on lukewarm rice and crispy nori. Cold, warm, salty, sweet, crunchy, soft. Beautiful synthesis of flavors and texures. 20150318_190428 Miso soup

Astounding, largely because it was unexpected. Miso soup at the end of a sushi meal is pretty common, but THIS miso soup isn’t. This miso soup tastes nothing less than gourmet. It’s gentle and deep, with an intense umami taste but nothing too salty or bitter. There are tender, sweet clams. Clouds of red miso. It’s just phenomenal and really filling. 20150318_191525Mochi with sweet soy glaze

Less of a dessert, but hey – it’s Japanese, right? Chewy, sticky rice balls in a sweet and salty teriyaki-esque glaze.

Kura is sensational. The fish is sublime, the service is lovely, and though it’s not cheap, it’s a great splurge meal.

Unmarked doors are ALWAYS the best.

Wasabi Doesn’t Bring the Heat

My sister and I checked out Wasabi for lunch the other day.

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It’s a cool, easy concept – pre-wrapped sushi, miso soup, katsu, and other assorted Japanese-y dishes that you put together to make your own inexpensive lunch or dinner. It’s very minimalist and modern without being cold – IKEA would do well here, and so would your co-workers.

Unfortunately, there was a weird, fishy smell to the place which turned us off trying any of the sushi.

20150312_112831Vegetarian gyoza

Surprisingly delicious. I haven’t ever had room temperature dumplings, but these are surprisingly delicious! Served atop baby greens and drizzled with a sweet and spicy glaze, these are crispy and stuffed with soft vegetables, toothsome soybeans, and a healthy dollop of spice. The gyoza are crispy outside and because they are both room temperature and vegetarian, they are refreshing – not often a word hat I associate with gyoza!

20150312_112932Chicken katsu

Nothing revelatory, but fine. A little dry, a little undersalted, but I love katsu of any sort. I actually also love cold friend chicken, so this pseudo-warm stuff works for me. The dipping sauce is a little too sweet for my liking, but the chicken is tender and tasty enough to enjoy all on its own.

20150312_112334I had high hopes that Wasabi would be the cheap sushi holy grail, but it really isn’t. It’s cheap, clean, and serviceable, but not much more.

It’s okay that I ate lightly, though, because I’m headed to New Orleans this weekend. LORDY, please help me maintain some cholesterol stasis there.

Zuma – Bring the Black Card and Expect Fabulous Food

I have been to Zuma in London and Hong Kong, so I knew what to expect.

Basically:

1)Wear your trendiest duds.

2) Have a reservation.

3) Leave your cash at home, just bring your credit card and prepare to pay a LOT.

4) The vibe is sexy. The drinks are really well made. And the food is mother-freakin’ fabulous. This is the perfect place for a blow out birthday meal or bachelor/bachelorette experience.

20150209_191953 Old fashioned

Whistle Pig bourbon and an entire shaved iceberg in the glass. I don’t even like old fashioneds and this was excellent. Side note – they need to stock their bar with all of the booze that’s on the menu. The one murky spot in otherwise awesome night. 20150209_195543 Soft shell crab

Where the hell do they get soft shell carb so great in the off season?  Creamy, crunchy, and buttery with the slightly salty taste of the sea. Flash fried and greaseless, well salted and served with a tangy yuzu dipping sauce. 20150209_202229 Wasabi scallion scallop sashimi

Light, soft, velvety and punctuated with sharp scallions and a tiny hit of wasabi. One tasty sashimi dish. 20150209_202647Negitoro maki

Excellent, though for the price, I would get another fusion dish, like the excellent miso black cod. This is really great, don’t get me wrong – I just prefer to do my sushi eating at the bar. I know, I know – I’m snobby and I like it that way.
20150209_204303Ginger-ponzu asparagus

Oh yeah, this was the night’s sleeper hit! Who would have thought that some simple, char-grilled asparagus could be so satisfying?! Meaty, fresh, crispy, and topped with a tangy-sour-sweet sauce that was so good that we ended up drizzling it all over everything else at the table.
20150209_211208Steak

A HUGE portion and a really satisfying steak. Grilled to a succulent medium – totally pink with no bloody red or overdone gray. Cut into bite sized pieces and served in a sweet teriyaki marinade. This really satisfies those red meat cravings.

Zuma is super pricey but also super beautiful with great service and an interesting, utterly crave-worthy menu. Think Morimoto with a location that’s more convenient to uptown with a sexier, darker decor. I would come here again as soon as I could either apply for another credit card or at least justify the expense.

How does tomorrow sound?

Jukai – Uni Donburi and So Much More

Many of my favorite Japanese restaurants in NYC are hidden in plain sight. Sakagura. Abiyura Kinnosuke. The sushi place which-shall-not-be-named.

And add to this list Jukai.

Down a small set of stairs on a busy Midtown East street, Jukai is like a lunchtime trip to Tokyo. It’s small and dark, with a light sushi bar and partitioned tables that offers ultimate privacy – so very Japanese.

I ordered the set lunch, which came with these lovely dishes:

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Salad

Simple, thoughtfully comprised, well executed. Tomatoes so sweet that I swear that they must have saved them from last summer. Crispy lettuce, a few salty shavings of Parmesan, and a tangy, shallot and soy dressing. An ideal amuse bouche.

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Uni Donburi

Swoon. A jewel box treasure trove of delicacies. I upgraded – for a pretty penny – to the Santa Barbara uni. This did NOT disappoint. Multiple tongues of uni, each fresher, creamier, and cleaner than the last. They are truly the foie gras of the sea – fatty, luxurious, and the more I eat the more I want. It’s scattered with briny salmon roe, fluffy cubes of tamago, and various pickled vegetables.

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Atop warm, sticky rice…it couldn’t be more delicious. A mosaic of tastes and textures that is – in a word – perfect.

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Crème brulee

Dense, rich, vanilla-y. A surprisingly delicious French dessert to a decidedly traditional Japanese meal.

Jukai is a lovely sanctuary of Japanese delicacies. The service couldn’t be more lovely or Japanese, nor could the food and surroundings. The prices range from bargain to quite a splurge, but I feel confident in recommending anything in this charming hidden restaurant.

Sushi Dojo – The Best Sushi Deal in NYC

Here’s the short version – if you want high end, expertly prepared, traditional sushi at a superb price, run, don’t walk, to Sushi Dojo. It isn’t the best in town, but it’s absolutely the best for your money.

Here’s the long version:

Sushi Dojo is somewhat of a renegade on the high-end sushi scene. It’s run by David Bouhadana, a young, Caucasian sushi chef who works behind the counter the whole night with his staff, kibbitzing with regulars and blasting current rock music that seems like it would be more at home at a hip Tribeca coffee shop than a hallowed temple of sushi and sashimi. The restaurant is quite small, with only a few tables and a long sushi bar, and the sushi bar’s seats are…wait for it…comfortable and wide, with tall leather backs. Now, this is something that I could get used to – how often have you emerged from an othewise delicious and luxurious sushi experience only to have a backache from the miserable, hard stools that the establishment provides?

The vibe was actually perfect for our girls night out – less so for a romantic date or quiet meeting. I’m telling you, the chefs were chatty  and jovial and we never once felt out of place with our boisterous laughter.

20140812_185944 Fried shisito peppers

Totally unnecessary but expertly made – the lightest, crispest batter I could imagine with very spicy, zingy peppers – these are only for lovers of spicy food. Some aren’t too spicy, but some are – so let’s not play Russian Roulette if you aren’t up for the game, okay?

And then the sushi begins – 10 pieces for $45. That’s right, 10 pieces of this glimmering, beautiful, sushi for $45. That is a fantastic price. Just look at this stuff:20140812_190435 Snapper

Light, clean, with a melting texture. This is the ideal appetizing bite to start a meal, and the vinegar-y, barely warm rice highlights the fish’s individual tastes. 20140812_190614Mackerel

Thick, richer than the fish before, buttery.
20140812_191127 Tuna

Lean, tender, mild. 
20140812_191710 Tasmanian trout

So much milder than salmon, with an almost sweet finish and buttery texture. 20140812_191848 Toro

Soft, lush, just rich enough without being too fatty. Beautifully cut.
20140812_192012Uni

Santa Barbara uni, the best in the world to my palate. Soft and airy, with the vaguest briny, sea-water aftertaste that leaves a clean, fresh finish on the tongue.
20140812_192431Eel

Steak like and rich. I could have used a little more eel sauce, but then – I love that sweet stuff. This is an excellent, meaty cut of eel. 20140812_192802 Aji

Always one of my favorite fish. Very clean and pleasantly salty, in super thin slices that fairly melt into the rice.

20140812_193233 Fried shrimp head

The hit of the night! We got this after an (unpictured) excellent raw shrimp nigiri, and were instructed to eat the whole thing. So, we did. The best fish and chips meets crispy potato chip tentacles. Yes, that’s exactly what it tasted like. Tender, crunchy, buttery, and salty. I could snack on these each and every day!20140812_193449 Anchovy

A little strong for my taste, but that’s just personal preference – the fish is presented beautifully and the wasabi is fresh and nasal clearing. 20140812_193851O-Toro

As rich as they come. Almost white with fat and so incredibly rich that we just sat in shock for a few moments after eating it. The perfect way to end any sushi meal.

We went for the 15 course sushi menu, which is $80 per person, and not quite the steal as the $45 omakase. On another night, I would absolutely get the $45 menu. That’s where we got the uni, the eel, and the toro – they don’t give you cheap or ill cut fish on the less expensive menu. It’s a tremendous value for sushi that might not be the best in the city, but is heads and tails above most places that charge at least as much, if not more.  It lacks the innovation of Gari or the “je ne sais quoi”  quality of the holy grail of fish that is Nakazawa, but it is really right behind them. I would call this a wonderful place to take someone who is already a sushi enthusiast – the atmosphere is so atypical and the chefs are so talkative and friendly that anyone who has spent a kajillion dollars on high end sushi in the past will appreciate this unique and ultra delicious experience.

So, long story short: Sushi Dojo could easily become a somewhat affordable obsession.

Benihana – Making My Birthday One to Remember!

Okay, so I indulged in one of my favorite, basest pleasures on the night that I turned 30.

It involved a ton of grease, a sweaty man performing tricks, and a private room.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

We went to BENIHANA!

I haven’t been here for YEARS. I used to love these sort of teppan yaki places – jovial waitstaff, food for days, onions that turned into volcanos (though sadly the volcanos these days have no real fire – seems that one too many drunk ladies set her hair on fire.

I really do miss those volcanos.

But everything else is totally the same as my suburban youth! I mean, it’s like time has stood still, from the dark interiors to the white clothed chefs!

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It’s still dinner and a show!

20140801_212404The chef flirts with you and your friends shamelessly and, yes, is very handy with a spatula.

20140801_204940Onion soup

Tasteless – totally limp scallions and raw mushrooms. The soup tastes really minerally and meaty in a rather abrasive way – this was really the low point. But it was included with the meal – I didn’t even remember that restaurants still included things with meals. We got this with the price of our entree…what’s the last time THAT happened to you?
20140801_205459 Ginger salad

Iceberg lettuce, a fluffy tangle of carrot shreds, and piquant, spicy ginger dressing. It’s JUST like I remember it!

I mean, am I listening to Backstreet Boys and wearing knockoff Juicy sweatpants again or am I just imagining this time travel?20140801_212605 Chicken fried rice

A $5 upgrade and well worth it. It’s made in front of you with fresh chicken, diced onions, and SO MUCH seasoned butter. Piping hot, marvelously greasy, and just enough soy. I dare you to finish the gargantuan pile of fried rice. 20140801_213457 Hibachi steak and mushroom

A lot of steak, cooked to a lovely medium rare. A little tough, but with wonderful salty, meaty flavor and juicy mushrooms. And so much of it – what’s the last time that I had this much steak for $25? My parent’s house in 1990?20140801_214337Scallops

Buttery, tender, and so delicious that the fair price will, again, surprise you. They lack the dense texture and slight briny taste of really high-end, dry scallops, but in this setting and with the other high fat, high salt food, this is ideal. It stands up to the other strong flavors. They are so mild and buttery – they are ideal for people who are skittish around seafood. The shrimp, which is included in each meal, isn’t quite as memorable, but it’s snappy and garlicky.

20140801_204927Benihana was possibly my favorite birthday night ever. It was tasty, well priced, and so, SO fun! Private room, birthday photos from the chef, and more nostalgia than I could shake a stick at. I can’t recommend this place enough for a celebration where the atmosphere and price point matter at least as much, if not more, than the food.

Next time, I’m bringing my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper and really making the theme work! 

Taka Taka – Tasty, Amusing, and Also the Grossest Thing I Ever Ate

Conveyor belt sushi is incredibly fun.

You just pick up plates off of the conveyor belt that flows around the tables and are charged based on the color of the plate – different colors for the more expensive and less expensive rolls. However many plates your rack up determines your bill. The sushi isn’t the same quality as, say, Sushi of Gari, but it isn’t as expensive either – plus, it’s fun!

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When I headed to Taka Taka, a Japanese-Mexican restaurant that was part kitchen entrees, part conveyor belt sushi, this is what I found:

Some great stuff:

20140730_132517Japanese ribeye taco

This tastes like Yoshinoya beef, aka my favorite comfort food on the planet. The beef is tender and juicy, with tender onions and just a bit of cumin to bring out the Mexican taste. It’s wrapped in a warm, soft tortilla and is delicious when dipped in the citrus infused Mexican soy sauce. It’s rich, tender, and juicy – I could easily down 6 of these myself.

20140730_12583511 – rice and chives with spicy tuna and cucumber

My favorite of the sushi conveyor belt items. Fresh, spicy, and exactly what I want in a spicy tuna roll.

There was also the less than great:

20140730_131452Towi roll – shrimp tempura, avocado, and chipotle sauce roll covered with grilled jack cheese

This is literally the most disgusting thing that I have ever eaten. I hope that other people enjoy it, and more power to them if they do. I can’t imagine anything more wretched than this warm, rubbery cheese over fried shrimp and too much creamy chipotle sauce.

And this comes from someone who has eaten pig’s blood popsicles.

This place is fun and the atmosphere is cool – perfect for an after work happy hour. However, the service is a little scattered and the food is way overpriced – I know that this is SoHo, but there are great restaurants all over the place offering more for the same price or lower. We ordered a bunch of food and still left sort of peckish.

This is a very fun novelty and some of the sushi rolls were quite good. I would get that japanese taco again for sure – I’m still craving it.

But that jack cheese thing scared the willies out of me.

Sushi of Gari’s Unexpectedly Whimsical and Wonderful Omakase

I like to plan my special nights out on the town. I research restaurants, read reviews, and select my meal ahead of time. I pick my outfit, eat nothing but miso soup the day of the dinner, and mentally prepare for an incredible night.

However, sometimes, a truly exceptional meal pops out of nowhere on girls night. When you just wander into a sushi restaurant with your favorite gal pal and end up not talking at all – a rarity on any night – because the food is so mind-blowing.

It might not be Nakazawa, but Sushi Gari is a celebratory, destination worthy meal for those who want a combination of excellent fish and total ingenuity.

20140529_202433 Toro with ginger and yam paste

What a start to a meal. I’m not used to such a fatty fish starting omakase, but then -I haven’t ever had an omakase like this. Buttery, lush toro topped with a zippy, piquant ginger paste. It’s fatty, savory, and tart – already, I was intrigued. 20140529_202705 Salmon with jalapeno and yuzu

I have had this at least a hundred times before, and yet I felt as though I had never tasted this combination before. After the toro, the salmon seems less fatty than usual and its oceanic flavors stand out. The bright, citrusy jalapenos cut through those deep flavors and the slightly warm vinegared sushi rice adds sweetness and a temperature contrast. It might just be the perfect bite. 20140529_202933Miso marinated cod

Not since the creme brulee has a blowtorch been used to such satisfying effect. The cod is just like miso marinated cod – sweet, salty, and irresistible – but with the added addition of pleasantly charred, crunchy bits from the blowtorch. It isn’t swimming in sauce, it’s just accented by the miso taste. If you like miso cod OR sushi, this dish will make you sit up and take notice.
20140529_203154 White fish with crispy lotus root, arugula, and basil oil

WHOA! Here is where the innovative part of the night really starts. Tradition has no place in the meal from here on out. The whitefish is sliced so thinly that it is translucent – slippery and very mild. It’s topped with crispy, salty lotus root that is like adding a potato chip to a sandwich  -ie, brilliant. The garlicky basil oil is warm and somehow accents the fish’s mild taste instead of covering it. 20140529_203501 Tuna with pureed tofu and chili oil

Once again, the chefs pair incredibly flavorful ingredients with mild ones to a surprisingly complementary effect. The tuna is tender but not too soft. The soft component is the tofu, which is so light and creamy that it tastes like it must be full fat yogurt. The chili oil is applied sparingly is intensely spicy – just a drizzle picks up the sweet flavor of the tofu and the meaty texture of the fish. Yes, yes, yes to this.

20140529_204041 Fried white fish with green tea salt

I mean, what?! This is fish and chips, Japanese style. Fish encased in such a light, puffy batter that it seems as though it might float away on a cloud. It has a fragrant, herbal green tea salt on top that acts as the vinegar of this fish and chips. It sits on the warm, sticky rice and wow…the crispy, flaky texture just works. 20140529_204950Salmon with tomato, onion, and pepper

Um yeah, this is a showstopper. It’s Gari’s signature piece of sushi and I see why.  I can safely say that I have never before eaten a piece of sushi like this. The salmon is flame torched and then the skin is removed. It is laid hot on the salmon with savory sautéed onions and freshly cracked black pepper. It seems so weird, but I’m telling you..it works. It’s savory, it’s salty, it’s meaty, it’s soft, it’s tart, and it’s just a little bit spicy. This isn’t an overly fishy piece of sushi and I can’t think of ANYONE who wouldn’t love this.

I didn’t even photograph the fantastically fatty toro or the sweet salmon sashimi. I didn’t even comment on the engaging and delightful sushi chefs who talked and chatted with us at the sushi bar as if we were the only patrons at the restaurant. This is an expensive meal, but it’s a worthy splurge. Special occasion – head here!

Dan Tempura House – a Perfect Date with Myself

There is something to be said for the solo lunch. A break from work, only an hour from when you leave the desk to when you are back. A day when you can’t look at a computer screen for even one second longer. An afternoon when you have a wonderful novel or a terrible magazine. A moment by yourself where you don’t need to eat the best food for it to be…perfect. 20140328_122741 Dan Tempura House isn’t ever busy, especially at lunch time. That’s perfect for the solo diner. No one to look at you with pity while you pore over the latest issue of New York Magazine or Young Adult novel, thinking “what a sad soul who must eat lunch alone.” All you want to yell to those people is “are you kidding me?! This is better than therapy! Those silent monks don’t know what they are missing! THIS is the way to achieve ultimate happiness!!”20140328_122750 Low sodium soy sauce, an unpictured Diet Coke, and a date with myself. Perfect. 20140328_122948 Ginger-miso salad

The same all over town. Fresh lettuce and taught tomatoes served with ample dressing that isn’t the water stuff found at some places. It’s thick and pleasantly pulpy with spicy ginger.

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Miso soup

The standard stuff you make at home – salty, warm and savory, filled with slippery tofu and a few scallions. Filling and exactly as expected.

20140328_123619 (1)Spicy tuna roll with avocado and asparagus

This is barely sushi. The rolls are huge and sloppy with rice that is too warm and borders on mushy. But the tuna is very fresh and very spicy. It’s minced with Japanese mayo and chili sauce until it is soft and creamy. The asparagus is crunchy and grassy and the avocado is buttery. It’s fresh and plentiful. It’s possibly the worst fresh sushi I have ever had. And yet…it’s perfect for a solo meal. It’s trashy. It’s delicious. It’s what I want to eat with no one to judge me.

It’s a cheaply priced lunch special. It’s always efficient, properly performed service.

And it goes so well with People magazine.

It doesn’t go so well with other actual people.

It’s a lovely date with yourself.

Another Look at Koi

While reviewing  the Trump SoHo, I realized that I have been back to Koi uptown multiple times but had not re-reviewd it for years.

Let’s take another quick look, shall we?

20140325_174251Spicy tuna on crispy rice

This never fails me. The rice is always crispy without and chewy within, with soft, fatty tuna atop. It’s pleasantly salty and a little buttery from the tuna. The kicker is that crisp, cold jalapeno that is mild at first with a heat that creeps up on you. Consistent and magnificent.
20140325_174756Spicy and creamy shrimp tempura

So much better than Lure’s that it blows my mind. Tender, clean tasting shrimp in a crackling, thin coating and a sauce that is part hot sauce, part sweet Kewpie mayonnaise, and part crack cocaine. It’s really that good. Piping hot and a large portion. This is enough for a main meal for any appetite. It’s also a great way to get non-seafood eaters to eat shellfish. It’s crispy, mild, and covered in hot sauce…what other endorsements do you need?
20140325_175400Shrimp chili roll

This is just damned good fusion sushi. It ain’t Nakazawa, but then, nothing is. This shrimp is wonderfully fresh and free of any off, iodine-y taste. It’s sweet and snappy atop the crispy shrimp tempura and creamy avocado roll. The sweet chili sauce is a tangy, zippy accompaniment that does nothing for its authenticity but loads for its flavor.
20140325_185125Rice pudding brulee

Why didn’t I think of this? Sweet, rich coconut milk rice pudding under a sweet, thin sheath of crunchy sugar. Um, ideal.

This restaurant is a winner. Yeah, it’s overpriced, but it’s chic, it’s delicious, and it’s reliable. It’s a great gals night or out-of-towners rendezvous and that crispy spicy tuna is the best in the city.

So glad I took it for another spin around the blog.