Kaiseki (seasonal cuisine)
1) Sugiyama-seems to have potentially gone down hill, but don't know, 2 last bad trips could be random. Will try again in 2-3 months, since past experiences have been so memorable. Order omakase, as that's usually the best way to get what is freshest ($125). Cold prepared things generally better than anything cooked, and soups are terrific. A- (prior A)
2) Kai-been once and thought everything was bland. Not the same risk taking or traditionalism you will get at Sugiyama ($80-100). Cooked fish dishes most interesting and memorable as was zensai-like plate that was served first. B
3) Hatsuhana-been twice, 1st time a revelation, 2nd time a disappointment, would go back in a minute, as one of cheaper Kaiseki options in city ($75). Sushi struck me as least interesting part of meal. B+ (inconsistent)
4) Nadaman Hakubai-been once and thoroughly disappointed. Place feels like an 80s nostalgia museum. Have not tried the omakase kaiseki, and intend to do so before I completely write the place off. B-
1) Gari-creative sushi. Super stuff, even on an off night. Even lots of Japanese expats seem to be fessing up to me that they think it best in city. Not what I would have thought given how untraditional it is. Do omakase and sit at the bar ($100). Yummmm! I dont think they even necessarily always have the best fish, but the magic is in the admixture of goods/sauces that go with the fish (dreamt up by Gari). Probably the place I go to most. A
2) Kuruma-traditional straightforward stuff. Order omakase at the bar ($150) as my experience not at the bar has been mediocre (maybe it was the bad date that killed it).
Probably the best end to end sushi experience I have had in NY, and they seem to have more traditional things that you wont get often if at all elsewhere: hamachi toro, Japanese mountain trout etc. Seems like there is a direct link between fish on hand, JFK and seafood mkts in Japan. A
3) Yasuda-a close second in my book to Kuruma, though definitely second to Kuruma. But somethings are also better here: rolls are the best in city, toro is incomparable and the mackerel is always monstorously good. Again do omakase at the bar is front of Yasuda for best results ($125). A-
4) Tomoe-been once, waited for hour in line. Much cheaper than the above. Did sashimi platter. Toro was weak and scallop was superb. In the unagi dept, the place has no peer in Manhattan. Heading back soon to try omakase at bar. ($60). B+
5) Sushisay-been once and did omakase at bar. Traditional sushi like Kuruma. Not as consistent as Yasuda or Kuruma, but the highlights (the really fresh stuff) is just as good. ($80-90). B+
Places dying to try: Hatsuhanas sushi, Jewel Bako, and of much lower priority is Blue Ribbon.
1) Honmura An-Almoooost as good as what you will get in Kyoto, but still that crucial foot short. Still a superlative experience in a great space. Their zaru soba is as close to the slurping loud noisey messy experience as you will get over there, even down to the very Zen hot water to wash your bowl with at end of meal. ($45) A-/B+
2) Sobaya-stuff is made on promises (like Honmura An), but some part of the taste/soul is missing from the zaru soba. A bit too bland. Strangely the strength of the place seems to be their offbeat and interesting appetizers. ($30) B
Afraid I am really much less a fan of Japanese soup noodles, or Chinese soup noodles for that matter (my taste buds always take me down the Pho path when I want souped noodles), so no real thoughts/opinions on Menchenko-tei and other quick joints in midtown.
More Traditionally Japanese Homecooked Stuff-
1) Donguri-went once, very nice, but too bland for my tastes. Everything was quite fresh, and I had some unshelled shrimp that were fantastic ($50). B
2) Haru-despite its appearance as an UES yuppy joint the place has some mucho good stuff, IF you order right. Skip the sushi, order all the odd appetizers like salmon tartar with quail egg, and try the tempura, which is by far the best I have eaten in the city. ($40) B+/A- (if you avoid the sushi)
3) Tatany-bleh! C
4) Sakagura-now has 3 chefs I learned on Saturday (they also own Sobaya). This sort of belongs in this category, but not completely. The stuff on the regular menu like the rice balls are traditional simple fare executed to perfection (I mean really like Okasan used to make) and their sushi is really good. The daily specials on the back of the menu are more off the wall and experimental (deeped fried brie in ponzu sauce, lobster with cheese etc). I love this place. I can eat old school, or I can be more daring, depending upon my mood. I can also drink every sake known outside Japan if I choose. On sake ordering its best to order the freshly arrived goodies, as the older stuff can get stale. ($50) A
Places I keep meaning to go: Taka, Iso, Omen, Marumi, Chikibu, and a few others.
1) Aki-sort of a hole in the wall on West 4th Street. Head of kitchen was ex private chef in the West Indies to Japanese diplomat. The otherness here is Caribbean. The appetizers are monstrously experimental, wonderful and yummy. The only problem is the place is so small. Along with Sakagura perhaps the most under appreciated Japanese joint in the city that I know of. ($45 for a ton of appetizers) A
2) Nobu-you know the reputation. Been once and had completely uninspired meal. Enough people whose food judgment I trust have had gush-worthy experiences though, that I can write off my one experience to poor luck ($60+). (Preliminary B)
3) Sushi samba-inconsistent Brazil weds Japan experience on one trip. Went with large group and consumed half the menu, however. Conclusion among frequent foodies was that 25% of menu was excellent and the rest only OK ($50). B
Places I keep meaning to go: Bond St. Place I wish I had gone: Sono.
Am dying to hear others suggestions as to places to try so post.