As New Yorkers we are blessed with great sushi, yet some of the best sushi in Manhattan often comes at a cost. There is the financial cost of dining at places such as Nobu, Kuruma Zushi and Nobu Next Door. Then there is the cost of sacrificed relaxation caused by long waits at places such as Blue Ribbon and Tomoe. Sushi is something to savored in a comfertable atmosephere, where texture and flavour can be appreciated. Another factor in sushi enjoyment is the ability to interact with the sushi chef, whose knowledge and skill enhances the experiance.
All of these ingredients come together at Sushi Sen-Nin. Reasonable cost, a calm setting and fantastic food. Being a lover of Japanese food but never taking the time to walk around Murray Hill, I had never heard of Sushi Sen-Nin. Yet since walking by it one day two weeks ago, I have dined there twice and it is now one of my favorite sushi destinations.
As you walk in the first thing you will notice is, that you can walk in. No lines, no long waits, only a very solicitous greeting. As you enter make sure to look down to see the small pond holding beautiful, large Japanese carp sporting wonderful hues of black, orange and pearly white. The room itself is nothing out of the ordinary, bright, lots of blond wood, well spaced tables in the back and front and a sushi bar in the middle.
Both times I have dined here I have sat at the sushi bar and I recomend that you do the same. This way you can enjoy being taken care of by Matsu, Sushi Sen-Nin's sushi master. Matsu is what I think we all envision as the ideal sushi chef. Extremely friendly, remembers who you are, full of knowledge that he readily shares and a genuine desire to give you the best sushi experiance. He chooses all of the retaurant's fish himself and will guide you to what is best on that particular day.
The restaurants menue is fairly vast with a large selection of appetizers, a couple of soba and udon dishes, as well as hot dishes such as donburi. There is also a small but well selected list of cold sake. It is however the fish which is the star of the show here. The quality of ingredients and the deft at which they are handled are key to any cuisine, but perhaps none more so than with Japanese food.
Everything here is as fresh as possible. The fish and seafood taste as if they had just been lifted from the depths of the sea, rice is well seasoned and warm and the nori which surrounds the hand rolls is crisp to the bite.
Start with some sashimi, let Matsu guide you. The blue fin tuna toro is ethereal. Pale pink slabs are topped with a finely minced mound and a chiffonade of scallion. The pieces of toro will spread in your mouth like finely textured butter. White salmon, a more mild tasting and less oily version of the orange variety, has the lush texture of yellowtail. Speaking of yellowtail, there is the young version of this fish here which has all of the tenderness of youth. Octopus is something that is so often poorly prepared that most people have not had the opportunity to enjoy it. The octopus at Sushi Sen-Nin is wonderful. Ivory white, edged in purple and painted with a small dot of sweet sauce, it is tender with only a hint of resiliancy. The slightly more resistant flesh around the suckers is a nice contrast. A special one night of orange clam was great. The clam is freshly shucked with each order. The inside of a half shell is lined with paper thin slices of lemon and the pale orange flesh of the clam rests on top. The meat is slightly crunchy and fills ones mouth with the flavour of the sea. Beneath the flesh are slices of the clams abductor muscle (what scallops are) and these are more tender than the main body of the bivalve.
The sushi comes in many varieties yet some of the simplest are the best. Crab sushi are large pices of perfectly cooked king crab leg. The sea urchin roe is fresh and incredibly sweet, after you swallow, a lingering hint of the ocean resonates on the back of your palate. Then there is the eel, ah the eel. A large slab of rich unctious eel served as it should be, hot and slightly crispy on the outside. One popular and whimsical roll is the Empire roll. Spicy shrimp tempura is placed in an inside-out roll which is rolled in three types of tiny smelt roe. The whole thing is cut on an angle and assembled like a pyramid, with the crunchy tail sticking out from the top. One item that I did not try but will on my next visit was horse mackrel. The whole fish has each side cut away from it and the bone removed. what is left is a thin body of flesh with the greenish blue head at one end and a bright yellow tail at the other. The entire fish is assembled on a wooden skewer to give the image of the fish caught in mid movement.
Finish your meal with an earthy cup of green tea and the small Hershey chocolates that come with the bill and bask in the glory of all that is great about sushi.
Sushi Sen-Nin is located at 49 East 34th, between Madison and Park Avenue.