The purist in sappidus dreaded what might be in store as he perused the menu at Wasan, a newish Japanese place in the East Village. But the Uni Lover, among other dishes, won him over. It's a generous portion of sea urchin perched atop avocado and a bed of uni "chips," punched up with peanut-garlic oil. "All those other ingredients should have threatened to overwhelm the delicacy of the uni," he writes, "and yet the elements melded into this perfect storm of sublimely balanced flavors." Foie gras sushi came as another pleasant surprise: A strawberry-balsamic glaze on the foie gras paired neatly with the sushi rice, "everything melting together blissfully."
The kitchen's balancing act gets even more perilous with "open roll" sushi, which is filled with jalapeño, onion, and shiso, topped with fish marinated in shiso pesto, covered with mozzarella, then grilled. "It sounds like fusion cuisine from hell," sappidus says. "And yet, things made a weird sort of sense when they actually hit your tongue ... the rice, mozzarella, and lightly cooked fluke combining into something far better than it deserved to be." Less far-out but just as well executed was breaded, fried anago (sea eel), which brought "all the crunch that makes tonkatsu appealing, then upped the ante with a moist interior not so often found in the form."
Wasan departs from convention in ways beyond its fusion menu. Unlike Japanese restaurants that trumpet ingredients flown in from Japan, it thinks locally, right down to the New York wine used in slow-cooked beef nikomi. Not everything works; a tortilla-chip crust contributed little to shrimp tempura, and an asparagus mousse with king crab fell flat. But Wasan is satisfying in the end, displaying "a sense of humor backed up by formidable technique. It's a trait shared by precious few (Shopsin's, M. Wells, Momofuku Ssam), and it should be celebrated."
Wasan [East Village]
108 E. Fourth Street (between First and Second avenues), Manhattan
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