Sushi Azabu, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013, USA
Phone: +1 212-274-0428
Type of cuisine: Japanese (mainly a sushiya serving traditional Edo-Mae sushi)
In NYC, you have Masa, which according to their local sushi experts, is on top of the roof of their top tier sushiyas. Then, you have their other elite sushiyas , such as Nakazawa, Yasuda, Azabu, Jewel Bako, 15 East. I tried Yasuda (I was missing the superb knife skills as well as the superior work of the textures that I better enjoyed at other sushiyas in Nyc) and 15 East (I find Azabu better, in comparison, but 15 East had couple of noteworthy food items) in 2015. Never tried Nakazawa, Masa and Jewel Bako. It is NYC, so keep in mind that the price tag (therefore the cost performance, especially in comparison to what you can get in Japan at equal cost) will oftently be the issue.
I tried Azabu on Saturday Febr 4th 2017. At first, I did not know which one to choose between Jewel Bako and Azabu, the two Sushi shops that were highly recommended by some NY foodies I trust, during this visit to NYC, but Azabu had (more) cooked food that my current girlfriend (she does not eat raw food) could eat (cooked king crab, wagyu beef steak, tempuras, etc).
I picked the larger omakase and they fed her on shrimp tempura and wagyu beef steak
The 1st course comprising of a piece of amberjack and salmon:
Marinated Amberjack was seasoned exquisitely. As expected, from a kitchen of this quality, the marinating technique is flawless, its timing well judged. It came with a delicious piece of mushroom. (9/10)
Smoked salmon boasted vibrant texture, the quality fish expressing plenty of complex joyous flavors 9/10
Then an array of seafood items composed of octopus (8/10 superb chew and texture), A first-rate piece of perfectly tenderized abalone which kept its maritime flavor at the forefront (9/10), amberjack and fluke and shrimp of impeccable quality. The wasabi is freshly grated wasabi root imported from Japan. This was a first-rate collection of sushis, even by the standard of a mid level sushiya in Tokyo.
My current girlfriend ordered some shrimp tempura which she had nothing to complain about. I can see how extraordinarily lighter such batter could be in the hands of a specialist of the tempura, but Azabu is a sushiya, not a specialist of the tempura, and the batter was still very well executed, the tempura light and tasting delicious, (8/10).
She also had her wagyu beef steak, which was fine but both her and myself do regard wagyu as a (generally) vastly overrated meat. The finest Wagyu I had in Japan have not changed my opinion about that, as already debated here.
My tasting menu continued with some utterly fresh uni from Hokkaido –the firmer bafun uni on the left, the creamier murasaki on the right — as tiny as I remember them from the last time I had them in Japan. As explained elsewhere on this blog, I prefer some of the sea urchin from the mediterranea and California. But Hokkaido’s uni are among world’s best, for sure, with, this time, the murasaki standing out for its sweeter flavor. Sometimes, it is the bafun uni that can be the sweetest of the two 8/10
Then a tasting of lean, medium fatty and torched fatty tuna. The quality, high, as expected. This, too, would not be out of place at a serious mid level sushiya in Tokyo. 8/10
King crab miso – the flavor and aroma of this particular miso preparation lifting up the flavor of the grilled crab remarkably well. Eventful 8/10
Then the “Chef’s choice of nigiris” featuring flawless sea urchin/tuna/scallop/salmon/salmon roe/squid/wagyu beef. The fish sliced with precision (even world class Sawada
was caught with one or two pieces that were imprecisely sliced ..and that happened at other highly regarded sushiyas of NYC, too), the rice served at body temperature (my preference), the proper pressure applied to the relevant rice/topping combination, the rice not overseasoned, i.e., not too vinegary. Again, even for a mid level sushiya in Tokyo, this would be excellent. 9/10
As part of the previous Chef’s selection of nigiris, there was also a piece of tamago that I did regard as a benchmark of its kind. I liked it so much that I ordered 3 of them. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, even some of the best mid level sushiyas of Tokyo did not always deliver tamago that have impressed me, although the tamago will always be a matter of personal taste given the different types of tamago you will find at sushiyas. Either the umami flavor is more present, or it is balanced with the sweet taste of the tamago, or its focus is on the eggy flavor, etc. I am fonder of the sweet kind of tamago. Azabu’s tamago is of the sweet kind, executed with great finesse, the fresh eggy aroma exciting on the palate, sweet like the one I had at sushi mizutani
, as technically well crafted, but bigger in size and which I much preferred (eventhough Mizutani’s featured a more complex set of nuanced flavors and eggs of surreal quality) 10/10
A miso that is a first-rate version of its kind, the taste enriched by the subtle nuances of the remarkable kind of miso they are using. (10/10)
We ended the meal with some flawlessly textured home made green tea ice cream (for me) and an equally excellent Mochi
and Vanilla / chocolate ice cream for her (9/10). I ordered the Mochi for my girlfriend to introduce her to the importance of textures in food for the Japanese. There was a strawberry that came with her dessert, but I forgot to ask if it also came from Japan. The last time I was in Japan, I did try some of their most celebrated (consequently expensive) strawberries and left unimpressed. They tasted as good as any strawberry anywhere else on planet earth (which is exactly how this one at Azabu tasted like, too).
Pros: Azabu deserves to be considered among NYC’s top tier sushiyas. It is also a proper 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan. Its does not have the tsukiji market in its vincinity but they import their fish from Japan. The knife as well as overall cooking skills is strong for this category of sushiya (comparable to a respectable mid level sushiya if this would be in Tokyo), the tiny space so cozy, the service genuinely hospitable.
Food rating (categ: top tier sushiya in NYC) 8/10
– Top shelf sushiya in its category. Just remember that there are two seatings per night (we had our table available till 08:30 pm, therefore i presume that the first seating is from 05:30pm till 08:30 pm) and that its sushis are of the classic sort (no experimental sushi here).
What do I think days later: One of the foodie friends who has recommended Azabu told me to expect excellent sushi but not unparralleled one. Azabu was exxellent, indeed, as they fed me, up to now, with some of the best sushis that I ever had in NYC. As ever, restaurants do sometimes change some items on their menus, as I noticed, in old online reviews, that they once had a tamago similar to a creme brulee at Azabu. I doubt that such tamago would have the same impact as this tamago that deserved my praises, but I can only talk about the food they served me, of which I admired the precise slicing of the fish and assured technique in virtually everything (marinating, smoking, coaxing delicious flavors, etc). Based on what I came to expect from a 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan, Azabu did impress by not sticking to a safe/correct performance as it is so common at the big majority of eateries in North America. This was clearly the work of skilled Chefs with their personal imprint rather than some dudes replicating whatever someone else has asked them to simply replicate properly. Sushi Azabu also knows how to make the experience of a diner enjoyable, as, to take an example, there is no need for all parties of the same table to partake in a tasting menu. I can have my tasting menu while my girlfriend enjoys whatever she wants to eat. And here, there was not one single rotten apple that happened to find his way in the service with the sole intent of ruining your appreciation of the dining experience and the superb work of the rest of his team as it was the case during my last visit at another 1 star Michelin, Torishin. Was my foodie friend right when he mentioned that Azabu was not unparralled? If you find a 1 star Michelin that is unparralled, then it is a 3 star Michelin. Lol. Unparralled is what you should expect at a 3 star Michelin, not 1, and yet a fraction of the 3 stars are unparralled. I loved sushi Azabu.