Now for the food holiday that I was really looking forward to today! It may be Cherry Tart Day in the United States, but all over the world it is International Sushi Day! Sushi has become popular in the U.S. in the past years–so much so that it’s difficult not to stumble upon a sushi bar on every street, especially in New York City. (On Sheepshead Bay Road in my little neighborhood of Brooklyn there are five sushi restaurants. It’s gotten so bad that the American bar, Wheeler’s, has a big sign in the window that says “NO SUSHI.”) But the concept of eating foods with prepared vinegar rice–typically raw fish–has been around in Japan since at least the 14th century! And as you’d probably expect, sushi is much more than just a Philadelphia roll there: there are so many different types of sushi, categorized by the way it’s prepared and the region of Japan it originates from, it can make your head spin. We get only a tiny sliver of the whole sushi pie here in the States, but even from that, the possibilities are endless. And, much like a lot of the other ethnic cuisines we’ve appropriated in the Western world, we’ve made sushi our own, with variations of rolls that won’t be found anywhere in the motherland. (Hint: they don’t use cream cheese in Japan. I mean, come on, people.)
The thing that makes sushi “sushi” isn’t the fish, or the seaweed: it’s the rice. Nearly every piece of sushi incorporates specially prepared rice called shari, which is traditionally prepared with only wooden utensils. Then the neta is the meat of the sushi, which is usually raw fish, but can also be cooked seafood, radish, cucumber, egg, avocado, tofu, and yes, even cream cheese. The ingredients may be bound to the rice with nori, or black Japanese seaweed. The resulting flavors of sushi are wide and varied depending on the ingredients, but you typically get a crisp, clean tasting bite, really tasting the freshness of the ingredients, with a tiny bit of umami from the vinegared rice. Man, just thinking about writing this blog post makes me hungry for some sushi!
It is not even funny how many sushi bars and restaurants there are in New York City. I couldn’t even attempt counting them on Yelp, much less sort through the thousands of reviews to find out which is the best. (And forget about going to each one to test it out for myself!) If you’re looking to enjoy International Sushi Day, the best place to get that sushi is your tried-and-true local sushi restaurant, the one you always go to and never find any complaints, even if the place is rated low by others, you can’t find one thing you don’t love about it. That’s the best way to get a great sushi experience :) But if you’re really looking for a recommendation, and have the time, money, and/or intestinal fortitude to try something new, here are a few suggestions for the “best” sushi around the city ;-)
Personally? I’d love to go to Morimoto for just about anything. I’m enamored by the Iron Chef personality and I think he’s a truly interesting and inventive chef on the scene today. The restaurant Morimoto is a lot like the chef: touting inventive new dishes with the traditional backbone of old-school Japanese preparation. (I always remember him cooking with Coca-Cola in front of a Yakuza-style traditionalist culinary school! Iron Chef Japan rocked.) And while all of his nouveau-Japanese cuisine is on the menu here, when you look at his sushi bar, you’ll find a lot of traditional, old styles at work. Chef Morimoto, who originally trained as a sushi chef, has his fish flown in from the Tokyo markets four times a week, so it’s not only super fresh, it’s the original fish and flavorings you’d get from traditional Japanese recipes. His tuna tartare has become a thing of legend, so if you plan to come here for your sushi fix, it’s definitely one to try. You may end up dropping a few bills if you come here for dinner, or even lunch, to celebrate International Sushi Day, but you can be guaranteed fresh, delicious sushi, just the way it’s been for hundreds of years.
88 10th Ave
“Perhaps Morimoto isn’t classically known for sushi, instead being lauded for its creativity when it comes to the cooked side of Japanese cuisine, but make no mistake: sitting at the sushi bar in Morimoto will please even the most finicky sushi connoisseur. Start off with the amazing tuna tartare (pictured), which comes artfully arranged for you to play with the textures and tastes of each bite. Order a la carte from the extensive menu, or order Morimoto sashimi, which includes seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, and hamachi, each with their own dipping sauce.”–CBS New York
“Morimoto is an Iron Chef for good reason. He trained originally as a sushi chef and is a master of the sophisticated Japanese dining genre called kaiseki. These varied talents are all on display at Morimoto, which seems to have been conceived as several restaurants in one. There is the obligatory subterranean lounge area mobbed with meatpacking-district regulars swilling sugary, aggressively priced cocktails. There is the varied sushi menu (the fish is flown in four times weekly from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo), which even my most effete sushi-snob friends conceded was irreproachable.”–New York Magazine
“A vast selection of very fine sushi and sashimi roots the restaurant in Japan, which also asserts itself in preparations of Kobe-style beef, in tofu and noodle dishes, and in the recurrence of shiso, miso, wasabi and sudachi.”–The New York Times
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The sushi was perfect. With sublime confidence, the waiter encouraged us to order anything we’ve had anywhere, assuring us that theirs will be better. And he was right. The fish was fresh and plentiful, rolled expertly with the ideal amount of rice. The wasabi melted away into the soy sauce, but both were completely unnecessary because the fish is perfect on its own.”–Peter D.
“The sushi/sashimi was beautiful (one roll looked like a checkerboard design!) and incredibly fresh and delicious as always. There was this one piece of itty bitty shrimp that tasted like lavender, it was so good! As always, the yellowtail and scallion roll blows my taste buds away, as did every fish there, to be honest, but I can’t for the life of me remember all the types – it was so much!”–Zoe P.
Not interested in what the Iron Chef has to offer? Not planning to wash your sushi down with a $200 bill at the end of the night? You can also find some amazing quality sushi outside of Manhattan–just head to Sushi Yasu. The famed sushi bar in Forest Hills used to be a fish market, but they’ve since closed down the retail aspects of the place, moved to a much bigger location, and made the focus of Sushi Yasu all about serving some of the freshest sushi around. Chef Yasu is still the one overseeing all of the sushi preparation at this restaurant, making sure everything is just right–and, more often than not, making the rolls himself. And one of the best thing about Sushi Yasu is the price–a full two dollar signs lower than Morimoto, you won’t feel like you have to sell plasma to get a full, hearty sushi meal here. And since moving to their new location in the past year, they’ve also started serving alcohol–the perfect balance to a sushi dinner ;-)
70-11 Austin St, Forest Hills
“While some of the rolls bear mention – such as the Marilyn Monroe Roll, an avocado and crab roll topped with divine raw scallops and the delicious Chef’s sauce – to get the most out of your experience, order the omakase. Omakase translates to “in your hands” and starts at just $30 for about 10 pieces of sushi, prepared for you by Chef Yasu personally. Sit at the bar and watch the master at work, as he deftly creates each piece to place in front of you, explaining which pieces may want a little dip in soy sauce, and which you should eat plain. Unique fish will be paraded in front of you – he keeps some separate just for those who order omakase – and you won’t regret your choice.”–CBS Local
“Ever since attending a sushi panel last year, I’ve been on the look out for a quality neighborhood restaurant, with reasonable prices, authentic cuisine, and a friendly chef. Except I wasn’t looking in my neighborhood, because I did not believe fine sushi could be found in the part of Queens. I was wrong. Sushi Yasu’s quality rivals many of the big name destinations in Manhattan for traditional, nigiri sushi. It’s time for me to work on becoming a regular.”–Eat Big Apple
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Everything is just extremely fresh and tasty. I don’t know what other better way to describe it. It’s not the same taste you would get from other sushi restaurants. Sushi Yasu remains my #1 favorite of sushi place, and I’ll surely make the effort to come again and again.”–Christine Y.
“This by far is the best sushi place I’ve been within Metro NYC. The price is reasonable (probably because it’s in Queens and rent is not as ridiculous). The food was fresh. Their Special Scallop Roll (Marilyn Monroe) is to die for. It melts in your mouth. No wasabi or soy sauce needed. They use the authentic fresh minced wasabi. Go for the omakasi and the Dassai Junmai Ginjo. You won’t regret it.”–Linda N.
MEANWHILE, while all of you are shelling out big bucks at Morimoto or dining on exquisitely prepared omakase at Sushi Yasu, I have decided that for International Sushi Day, I’m going for quantity, not quality. ;-) We’ve all seen the all-you-can-eat sushi places and looked at them with a skeptical eye. All You Can Eat is traditionally left for cheap foods that a restaurant can produce a lot of, and still make a profit even if patrons completely gorge themselves. So, how do you do sushi–a product that requires both high-quality ingredients and expertise–all-you-can-eat? It’s why some people shy away from the phenomenon altogether. But this weekend, I convinced my boyfriend to try it: the catch is, a restaurant will typically charge you for any sushi you leave over on your plate, which will make up for the inexpensive price of the rest of the food. It’s not always the best quality sushi for obvious reasons, but you can still get a great AYCE sushi dinner–even in Manhattan. Yuka Restaurant on the Upper East Side is well-known among the cheap sushi lovers of the city for making affordable, yet plentiful, rolls and sashimi. Yuka makes its profit on keeping a time limit on ACYE patrons: two hours to eat as many pieces of sushi and fixins as you can order. It may seem like a race against time (and your expanding waistline), but for $20 it’s still one of the best deals in all of New York. Just be sure to clean your plate–and wear some stretchy pants!
1557 2nd Ave (between 80th St & 81st St)
“It seems too good to be true: all the sushi you can eat for $20. That’s exactly what’s on tap at this tiny, dark Upper East Side staple that’s low on ambience but big on bargains. The drill is rigorous: Using the checklist provided, you select as many maki rolls, handrolls and nigiri sushi as you like. You’ve got two hours in which to order and consume every last bite of spicy tuna and flying fish roe you can shovel onto your chopsticks. Luckily, the main attraction is the excellent sushi, which keeps arriving, elegantly fanned out on plate after plate, until the kimonoed servers say when.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The AYCE menu consists of a choice between hand rolls and cut rolls as well as a bunch of different choices for sushi. They have special rolls, but they cost extra. We typically order the same things every time we go: tuna, yellowtail, salmon, mackerel, salmon tataki, spicy tuna hand rolls, and crab salad hand rolls. All in all we eat somewhere between 40 and 60 pieces of sushi. Although the quality of the sushi can be variable (between good and amazing), the salmon tataki is always delicious. However, on certain nights a magical salmon tataki wizard must come to the restaurant because on those nights the salmon tataki is phenomenal. Absolutely insanely good tasting. This stuff melts in your face. I don’t quite understand how it works. You put it in your mouth and you’re sent on some kind of flavor voyage where you discover things about the universe. Tonight I definitely had some flying hallucinations. Just unbelievably tender, melty, goodness flavor awesomeness. Simply the best salmon I have ever tasted ever ever ever. Ever.”–Richard W.
“I always get the all-you-can-eat sushi here and I’ve never been disappointed. They give you the real deal and they know how to pace you with your large orders. I will kill for the salmon tataki. It’s so smooth. It’s so sweet. It’s so delicious. For some reason, I always order way too much. The last few pieces are horrendously difficult to stuff into my stomach. It requires some techniques of adjusting belts and shifting positions.”–Clemens W.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!