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Ushiwakamaru -- re-review (long)/new thread

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Ushiwakamaru -- re-review (long)/new thread

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Simon | | May 25, 2012 05:06 AM

On another thread foodwhisperer asked for my thoughts on Ushiwakamaru, and i thought maybe the place deserved a re-review as well as it’s own thread to get other people’s current thoughts.

Personally, i love the place and have been going there on&off for years, but i’ll admit it’s not without its issues and idiosyncracies...i’m a fan and i guess i’d be considered a regular of sorts, but i sometimes have issues there myself, so i’m not surprised that others have occassionally run into things they weren’t thrilled with.

For me, it offers the best fish quality for the money in NYC...a notch below 15 East (my favorite sushi in NY) but still beyond excellent and usually a good bit cheaper (yet not always cheaper! - more on that below)...

Hideo-san, the head chef and owner, is a master...but the style of sushi is different from 15 East or Yasuda: less delicate presentation, slightly larger cuts of fish, rice is that is both warmer and a bit mushier...for me, the rice is a bit too warm, but the wonderful fish makes up for it...and there is usually significant variety, and seasonal, flown-from-Japan options that usually are available at only the top places: hamo, shira ebi, etc...the madai w/ shio has always been especially delicious, as are the “blue” fishes (e.g. iwashi, aji, saba)...

Hideo-san is also, as others have mentioned, a moody guy, and his manner can veer wildly from garrulous and charming, to gruff and rushed...i usually buy him a beer: which is served to him in a giant mug (but which only costs 5 dollars to the customer, at least when i happened to notice on the bill last week)...his English is so-so at best, so he’s comfier if you speak some Japanese...i also have noticed, over the years, that he ups his charm significantly when i’m there w/ a beautiful woman, as opposed to being there solo...

(What might have been my absolute best meal there ever was a few years ago when i went w/ a Belarusan girl, a DJ who for her later-that-night gig was wearing a somewhat retro-1950’s outfit that included a blue pencil skirt/jacket/matching-hat and a wheeled flight bag full of records: Hideo-san however assumed she was an Aeroflot flight attendant and this seemed to make him very happy and giddy and i can’t remember him ever being quite so charming: when i went back a few nights later, he even said: “Ahhh! Where’s the stewardess?!” (i had neither the heart nor the Japanese fluency necessary to explain to him that she’s not a stewardess but rather a retro-dressing DJ, so i merely told him that she had liked his sushi very much.)

Price can also vary wildly there...last week, after an absence of several months, i went there twice...the first visit of the week was solo: i had my usual sashimi/sushi omakase, but as the fish was particularly delicious and because i hadn’t had sushi in a while, i ate a huge amount: probably about 7 more pieces of nigiri after the usual omakase would have ended: it was a great, thoroughly satisfying meal...i ordered 3 glasses of Bourgogne Aligote, plus Hideo-san’s beer...the bill was a little over 200 dollars, after tax, before tip...a little steep, and higher than i’d remembered ever having paid solo...

I went back a few nights later, this time with a Japanese girl...we had a sashimi/sushi omakase for two, a bottle of Bourgogne Aligote (45 dollars: same price as 3 glasses), a beer for Hideo-san, but we didn’t have any extra nigiri: the total price was...a little over 200 dollars, exactly the same as when i went there solo!...which didn’t make sense...not sure how he computes things...

Makoto-san, the bald, second chef (of three) is more evenly friendly, speaks fine English, and his sushi is very good...when i was there last week, he was supervising a younger chef and told me he had a back problem so was not making sushi himself that night...

The waitresses and hostesses at Ushiwakamaru, while usually professional and efficient, tend to be not very friendly...i’ve heard through the grapevine that it can be a difficult place for them to work, and there is a tension that comes through in the service, which is usually without smiles...and sometimes, when i go there w/o a reservation and the hostess is new, the reception can be downright cold and unwelcoming: when i went solo last week, i was initially told they were full and i had to spend about 5 minutes talking her into giving me a seat at the sushi bar, where i knew they could squeeze me in since it was very early (”Yes, of course i will be having omakase”, “Yes, i understand that you need the seat in two hours, i’ll be gone long before that”)...

I like the lighting and space at Ushiwakamaru: nice, yet casual...it’s a good spot for a date, or solo, or with a friend: it works for all sorts of occassions...

So while i love 15 East and its chef Masato-san and i’d say 15 East is, for my personal taste, the “best” sushi in NYC, Ushiwakamaru is still my more regular go-to spot...and while i eat non-sushi Japanese food (soba, izakaya dishes, etc) often, these two places are pretty much the only places i eat sushi in NYC these days (though i do plan on trying the Brushstroke sushi bar soon)...

A lot of the other places in town simply don’t work for me for various reasons: i don’t like the vibe at Yasuda nor the drink options (i drink wine or shochu; i don’t drink beer or sake), i hate the space/atmosphere at Kanoyama, etc...and since i’m eating very little rice these days for diet reasons, if i’m going to splurge diet-wise on some sushi, i’d rather splurge dollar-wise too than waste the precious carb meal at some of the more moderately-priced, merely-ok places...

Curious to hear other people’s recent experiences and impressions.

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