For pictures and video of my dining experience at Sushi Nakazawa click: http://bit.ly/Nakazawa
We got a reservation at 6:15 on Sunday, five nights after the grand opening. After watching the movie and seeing master chef Jiro’s high standards and his continuous pursuit of perfection I was ready for a special culinary experience.
We were the second party to be seated at the ten-seat sushi bar; the restaurant also has some tables in the dining room but that will only open starting September 5th. There’s no menu, only omakase. Beverage choice includes sake and wine, with options for pairing: sake, sparkling wine, or flat wine.
We went with the sake flight, with Maurizio de Rosa as our guide. He explained that for sake drinking, one should start with higher quality in the beginning and then proceed with sake of lesser quality. This made sense to me, when drinking tequila, start the night with Herradura and end with Sauza. Our drinks were paired with the different parts of the meal, starting with junmai and ending with nigori. Most of the portions were standard, but there were a couple that was barely more than a sip.
The omakase begins immediately, there is no appetizer or amuse-bouche except for the homemade picked ginger – we dive in with Chef Nakazawa and begin with some Pacific salmon with sea salt and California citrus. The procession continues with hand smoked Alaskan salmon (smoky and flavorful), Maine scallop (he shows us the shell and then opens it in front of us), geoduck (lightly seared), abalone, jack mackerel, kohada (aka gizzard shad – one of my favorites of the evening), trigger fish, sword fish, Spanish mackerel, baby cuttlefish, live mantis shrimp (succulent and unique), blue fin tuna (aged for five days), chutoro (I preferred this tonight to the otoro), otoro, octopus, ikura (house seasoned), and anago. The fish came from all over the globe: Japan, Central America, Maine, North Carolina, Washington, California, and Long Island. In total we had about twenty pieces, with a delicious tuna hand roll and (of course) the tamagoyaki to end the meal. The nigiri had a good balance of rice to fish, and they were prepared expertly. Some pieces were seared, others were brushed with different vinegars, juices, oils, sauces, and various concoctions, many of them were enhanced with zests, sea salt, ginger, daikon, Japanese mustard, and wasabi.
The space is modern and simple; the theme colors are black and white and I didn’t notice any music playing in the background. The staff is in formal attire, full suits or black dress. They were attentive, one server for every two patrons – remember, they are only serving ten guests per seating at the moment. The chairs are comfortable and they are fully prepared with purse hanging hooks for the women at the counter. One of the proprietors, Alessandro Borgognone helps out clearing the glasses from the sake tasting and also adds his input when we had questions about the preparation or origin of the fish.
The chefs has masterful knife skills, the ingredients were fresh and of high quality. Chef Nakazawa interacts with us, and he is often smiling and aims to please – I think this is the laid back west coast attitude he picked up in Seattle. He asked for a recommendation for a cheeseburger in NYC and several of us in the restaurant recommended him to check out Shake Shack. Maurizio, the other proprietor, has a passion for wine and sake. Currently he makes sake at home (for private consumption), and he says they may start aging some for the restaurant – they should be ready in about two months.
Chef Nakazawa has been in New York for three weeks; he’s dined at 15 East, Sushi Yasuda, Ushiwakamaru, and Sushi Dojo so he knows what the competition is like out there. Last night they didn’t have sea urchin (uni) – a few of the evenings this week he served live sea urchin in a shell in the omakase dinner. He explained that they only get uni on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Many of us were disappointed; some requested to get a call from the restaurant when they get in a shipment of uni during the upcoming week (this girl wanted the chef to remember her face as "uni face"- lol). Serving fresh uni out of the shell is gimmicky and it’s not imperative, however for an omakase that cost $175/pp in NYC, not have any uni during the meal is inexcusable. Also, if there are different pricing for the omakase (some reported $150), they need to inform their diners know of the choices.
All in all, Sushi Nakazawa is better than many edomae sushi dens in NYC but definitely is not on the same level as some of the bests in town. This is their first week of operations and I’m sure they will eventually figure out the kinks (miso soup or traditional Japanese dessert perhaps); but for my experience, the cost of the omakase was steep at $175 per person, and the six-sake tasting at $40 was also a premium. After tax, tip, and the uni (we bought at the grocery store after) our dinner was about $600 for two. You can argue that this is the value of a meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro – but alas Nakazawa-san is the apprentice, not the master.