Archive for the ‘Best sushi in New York’ Category

Ichimura (69 Leonard Str, New York, NY 10013, Phone: 212-404-4600, URL: https://www.sushiichimuranyc.com ) is situated in a quiet street of Tribeca. You push open a discrete black frame glass door (the mention ICHIMURA on it), and are greeted with a small waiting area bathed in immaculate white tones. Inside the sushiya,   blonde and  light cream tones as well as a  brown-quartz counter from Brazil dominates the serene room.

Tokyo trained Chef Eiji Ichimura is regarded in NYC as one of their best Sushi Masters. He spent 40 years perfecting his craft.  He was rewarded  with 2 Michelin  stars as well as  3 stars from the New York Times  (In the competitive market  of sushiyas in  NYC, that speaks volume) when he was working  at   Brushstroke, which he left last year to open his own sushiya in early 2017. As in the glorious days of the true artisan Chef, Chef Ichimura is alone behind his counter, crafting his sushi pieces.

Once in the room, you quickly realize that quality is a theme they do not take lightly: the fish is elegantly stored in boxes made of blonde wood. It should be like that at any top sushiya, indeed. But it is not always the case. The dazzling (see my account of that sea urchin, below) sea urchin came straight from a beautiful box with its seal of quality and freshness in evidence. That sea urchin was actually one of the very best Japanese sea urchin I ever had anywhere around the globe, including in Japan (second only to the sea urchin I had the last time I was at Sawada)

The 2 hrs surprise tasting menu (it is the sole menu option) started with:

Baby sea eel in a yuzu sauce- the sea eel had an agreeable texture that you generally obtain from baby sea eels that are either cooked live or shortly after they are dead. A baby sea eel of utter freshness. Mixed with a  yuzu sauce, this  was eventful. 10/10

Japanese egg plant/shiso leaf – The Japanese eggplants were timely cooked till tender and bathed in a delicious jus. 8/10

 

Firefly squid topped with an exquisite yuzu/miso condiment. Superlative ingredients and flavors that would not be out of place at a respectable 2 star Michelin in Tokyo, and this compliment also applies to the baby sea eel in Yuzu sauce. 10/10

Then, the gracious waitstaff (a well trained duo composed of a mild-mannered young man and energetic young woman whose hospitality standards would make any of the best restaurants of this globe very proud ) served a scallop/shitake mushroom chawanmushi (savory egg custard) – superb aromas coming from the superior fresh eggs (when people tell you that an egg is just an egg, just let them continue to talk and save your energy for the enjoyment of eggs of this quality, lol), the quality scallop adding to the great complex flavors on display 7/10

It was the turn of Chef Ichimura to serve us 3 sashimis: Squid, red snapper, bonito with fresh grated root wasabi. The bonito was aged, and partly seared. As with everything served all along this meal, every single ingredient was of top quality  by high end sushi standards in NYC. At times, some of the ingredients would compete with the very best in Tokyo (I will mention it whenever that happens) 8/10

According to the medias, Master Chef Ichimura likes enhancing flavors with his own ways of aging fish. Eventhough his sushis are crafted with respect to the traditional Edo style, they do not feel as “austere” on the palate as some other traditional sushis.

The waitstaff came back with:
Golden eye red snapper/Japanese daikon. The red snapper was timely poached, its broth serving as a reminder of why the way the Japanese make their broths has inspired many Chefs cooking other types of food. Lots of depth  in that broth. Chef Ichimura will appear, to his patrons, as the strong man at the counter, but he also has a skilled kitchen brigade, working in the background. There was  some boiled daikon radish, again, tasting exquisite , topped with a world class condiment made of yuzu and miso. 9/10

Then a “communion” between Master Chef Ichimura and his patrons, a “communion” that came in the form of a series of 14 nigiris, served one nigiri at a time to each of the diners.

To the contrary of sushi Azabu, which rice just “melts” with the fish on your palate (one effect I like), here at Ichimura, you will feel both the grains of rice ( their rice, at Ichimura, is seasoned with a combination of red and white vinegar that is not strong, so that it does not negate the flavor of the fish) and the fish, and yet, they are complementary (which, regardless of the debates over which technique is the best for the combination of sushi rice and fish .. is what you are looking for in a piece of sushi…the fish and the rice of your sushi need to complement each other). During my visit, here, at Ichimura, the preparation of the rice, its temperature, its effect in mouth varied. This was intentional, of course, and showcased how meticulous Chef Ichimura is about the interraction of his sushi rice with the fish. Personally, I like the two methods of the preparation of the sushi rice: serving great quality rice at a temperature and consistency the Master Chef deems optimal to pair with the majority of his fishes (which is, obviously, less time consuming and may appear as less complex as the other method….but that did not stop the sushi experts in Tokyo to consider Mizutani –now, closed — as one of their best sushiyas) or adjusting the texture/temperature of the rice to the fish (naturally, more spectacular…but as with everything aiming at the spectacular, one single “miss” may lead to disaster. When I was in Tokyo, I tried one sushiya of this sort, a highly regarded one, actually, but it was a big disappointment).

Each nigiri is brushed with a well judged quantity of sweet soy sauce, allowing for a nice complexity of enjoyable flavors. To the contrary of some other sushiyas where the flavor comes either from the rice or from the sauce that is used to brush the sushi, here, the flavors came from every single component of each sushi piece, with the very important observation that …they went harmoniously well together!

When the first batch of rice arrived, and the Chef started to serve his nigiris , two scenarios came to mind (I forgot to ask to ask the Chef or the staff) :
-Either the rice is warm and the Chef starts with fishes that are a better match to warmer rice. Then, he adapts his fish offerings to the changing temperatures of his rice.
OR
-his batch of rice has rice of different doneness and / or temperature.

Do not try to think that you are smart enough to second guess anything here! … as the TWO scenarios are POSSIBLE!

A black laquered plate made an appearance on the sushi counter.

The first nigiri to hit that plate was the striped jack – rice is a bit warm, and you feel the grains (the grains he uses are large ones) desintegrating ONLY once in mouth, which is an enjoyable feeling in this particular case. The warm rice lifted the flavor of the fish really well. The consistency of the rice is carefully engineered so that different levels of softness of the rice are on display depending on the fish topping. Whatever the consistency, the rice always sticks together (even world class Mizutani had one or two pieces which rice failed to stick together). The subsequent nigiris had rice which temperatures varied in their progression towards body temperature and the contrast between the rice temperatures and the fish was very enjoyable. Whiting, ocean trout, golden snapper.

-Horse mackerel – Gentle / sweet and sour enjoyable flavor, which is not aged for days, as it is served hours upon they receive it. 8/10

-Spanish mackerel, which, according to the NYT, is aged for 10 days by Chef Ichimura. Quality fish, indeed, but this was the only nigiri, on that particular evening, which rice temperature I did not find ideal for the fish (way too lukewarm) and that affected the enjoyment of that sushi (it was not a pleasant piece on the palate as the temperature of the rice was a distraction, not an enhancement to the topping ) 6/10

-Red tuna – perfect match to the warm rice 8/10

Other nigiris:

 

Gizzard shad – Curing process that is well mastered,  the  moment they chose to serve it was also well judged (once you cure the gizzard shad, you need  to know when to serve it).

 

scallop from Hokkaido – the rice that came with it was almost creamy, in an appetizing way. The proof that they also cook rice to varied doneness depending on the seafood it will be paired with. Another exemplary rice/seafood combination on all accounts (temperature/texture, profound understanding of the sushi rice/seafood synergy

 

botan ebi shrimp (perfect match to its warm rice)

 

a double-decked medium fatty tuna (slightly warm rice going well with the tuna) 8/10

 

Sea urchin nigiri from Hokkaido – rice, a bit warm, matching excitingly well the creamy sea urchin. The cliche goes like this ´sea urchin is sweet and luscious’, but oftently, that is not as evident as the cliche might suggest. Some top quality Japanese sea urchin I had, before, at high end sushiyas in Tokyo, were so tiny that you really had to force your mind into appreciating a fraction of whatever impression of sweetness and lusciousness people kept raving about. Not with this sea urchin I was having at Ichimura: here, evident lusciousness and dazzling natural sweetness were stealing the show at broad day light! This time, the grain did not dissolve in mouth (proof that Ichimura does not only work with doneness and temperatures of his rice…he takes the extra miles into ensuring how and when the grains should dissolve in your mouth…again, this seems to have been the case of many high end sushi Master Chefs …but on paper and in urban legends, only! rarely in reality. Ichimura makes it happen) and that was exactly what was required to match the creamy sea urchin. Fabulous customized design of that rice). 10/10

After that array of great  sushis, the “communion ” deserved a little pause during which the waitstaff reappeared, with this time the serving of the Miso soup – the miso soup had a base of roasted quality nori in it, which led to a taste that’s very earthy. Interesting is how I would describe it,  but  I am afraid I do not have the required palate to properly enjoy this miso soup.

The “communion” resumed, with the ultimate two nigiris: fatty tuna (Otoro) and sea eel (anago). The Chef ensured he had the last words, before retreating to the kitchen:

A piece of double-decked Otoro (fatty tuna belly). It will always be hard to compete with Tokyo’s finest pieces of Otoro, but this Otoro was a piece of joy in mouth and its quality was great 8/10

World class would be the term that a sushi expert would use to describe what they did at Ichimura with the rice of the sea eel (anago) nigiri: a high level technical demonstration of how the perfect consistency of the rice for the anago is that impossibly soft airy rice Ichimura has crafted on that evening, just for that piece of anago. If you have spent some time crafting an anago nigiri, you will realize that it is a real pain. It is is a pain, also, for a Sushi Chef. It takes skills, it is time consuming, and experience will matter. Ichimura’s was as skillfully composed as the one I had at Mizutani. Exact same quality, exact same texture (Master sushi Chefs do have different ways to work the texture of the anago, with both Mizutani and Ichimura offering it in a version that is almost as soft as cotton. At Daisan Harumi  and Sawada in Tokyo, the versions that were served to me were less softened, which I do equally appreciate) with the difference that Ichimura’s had a bit of the soft tiny bones in it (this is not a technical issue as one classic way to prepare the anago is to boil it till the tiny bones become soft. That is exactly what Chef Ichimura did achieve. But yes, indeed, some other Chefs try as hard as they can to make the tiny bones virtually absent, but both ways are legit). The tsume sauce as dazzling as the one I had at Mizutani. Ichimura impressed with one of the trickiest nigiris to craft. 10/10

 

The tamago was a summary of what was on display all along this meal: the technique? Flawless! The taste? Divine! As delicious as the benchmark tamago I had at Mizutani, though more sizeable. The ingredients? Eggs of superb fresh quality. 10/10

Chef Ichimura left the room, to prepare himself for the next seating (they have two seatings per night) : we knew this, because he went back and forth between his kitchen (behind a closed door) and his sushi counter, with, in his hands, the dinnerware he was going to use for the next seating.

The waitstaff appeared and served a dessert of mochi/macha ice cream/ shiratama (the white ball) – delicious flavors, superb chewy shiratama, lovely textures 9/10


The meal came to an end with a serving of Hojicha tea.

Pros: (1)An intimate sushi dining experience of great level, where a respectable experienced Sushi Master is alone, behind his counter, crafting some of the very best sushis of NYC (2)Master sushi Chef Ichimura takes very seriously the importance of associating the right texture and temperature of the rice to the right fish. It’s supposed to be like that, at top tier sushiyas, but even in Tokyo, many sushi Chefs serve their rice at the same temperature, because it is less time consuming…or, in some cases, because they just do not know how to do it properly.
Cons: N/A

Overall food rating (Categ: top tier  sushiya in NYC) 9/10. There was everything you would expect from a first-rate sushiya in a world class foodie city of the caliber of NYC: superior technique, great flavors, quality ingredients. Then, a bit more: plenty of thoughts were put in the rice preparation and that did add a lot to the enjoyment of the pieces of sushis.

Bottom line: Ichimura is, obviously, one of the great Sushi Masters of NYC, his Sushiya, a destination sushiya outside of Japan. NYC has a lot of great sushiyas and we all have our preferred ones. Azabu is currently my preferred sushiya in NYC .My love for Azabu aside, I was fair with Ichimura: it deserved a higher rating because it went to great lengths to make the work of the sushi rice technically complex . It deserved the nice words their cooking and craft gave me no other choice but to use profusely! Just ensure you understand Ichimura’s style: it is Edo style sushi enhanced by Chef Ichimura’s creativity. He bows before the altar of authenticity,  therefore there  is no butane blow torch, no salmon, no gimmicky interpretation of sushi, which is what  I prefer. UPDATE SUMMER  2017: CHEF ICHIMURA IS NOW WORKING AT UCHU‘S SUSHI BAR. 

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Sushi Azabu, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013, USA
URL: http://www.sushi-azabu.com/
Phone: +1 212-274-0428
Type of cuisine: Japanese (mainly a sushiya serving traditional Edo-Mae sushi)

In a city with many  great Japanese sushi Chefs, there is a sushiya for all kind of diners (the one who likes luxury, the one who does not, etc). My ideal sushiya has a great sushi Master at the helm, of course, and a decor that is intimate. A service that is great. A genuine feel of  Japan.  In New York, as far as top sushiya goes, Sushi Azabu is that ‘ONE’ for me. 

01 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, 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.
I picked the larger omakase and they fed my girlfriend on shrimp tempura and wagyu beef steak
The 1st course comprising of a piece of amberjack and salmon:
02Marinated 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)
03Smoked salmon boasted vibrant texture, the quality fish expressing plenty of complex joyous flavors 9/10
05Then 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.
06My 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).

07She 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.

08My 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
09Then 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
10King crab miso – the flavor and aroma of this particular miso preparation lifting up the flavor of the grilled crab remarkably well. Eventful 8/10
11Then 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.  The sushi rice, which subtle  sweet and umami flavor notes went so well with the toppings,  is  from Tsuyahime from Yamagata prefecture. Again, even for a mid level sushiya  in Tokyo, this would be excellent. 9/10
12As 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
13A 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)
14We 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.
Cons: N/A
15 Overall 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.