239 E 5th Street
New York, NY 10003
Did you know that Jewel Bako have consistently received one Michelin star, every year, for the last 11 years? That’s pretty impressive, is it not? While I typically don’t read much into other’s reviews/ratings/best-of-lists for sushi (sushi alone, not other cuisines), Michelin does hold a bit more weight. If Michelin says a restaurant is deserving of a star, it really can’t be “bad”. BUT, if Micheline doesn’t give it a star, that doesn’t mean that much to me.
Honestly, it’s been years since I’ve been to Jewel Bako. Back then, I would go to Jewel, USHIWAKAMARU, 15 East, and sometimes, even Bond St. Before too long, Ushi won out, where I would visit the others only as a backup, if I couldn’t secure a reservation at Ushi, or at a friend’s request. Reason is because Jewel Bako is a very cool, swanky, romantic space, the epitome of not-me. If my preferences were based on tonight’s meal, Jewel would be my new go-to.
Three weeks ago, I called Jewel, and scored us the two most coveted seats in the entire restaurant, the two directly in front of the head chef, Chef Shimao Ishikawa! Jewel Bako has a good number of tables in their restaurant, but only a maximum of 7 at their sushi bar. Of the three sushi chefs, head chef, Chef Shimao Ishikawa serves only the sushi bar, while the other two chefs serves the remainder of the restaurant, so nabbing the two seats directly in front of him is quite a treat!
Perhaps I was more fearful of conversing with the chef in the past, or perhaps I was simply less outgoing. Actually that’s not it, I’m still not outgoing today. Boyfriend’s the talker, me less so. I only talk fish, I LOVE talking fish, and I LOVE when chefs are willing to converse with us, and impart some fish wisdom upon us. Tonight, boyfriend chatted up the head chef, Chef Shimao Ishikawa, chatted about everything under the sun, chatted about where the chef is from, his background, what the chef likes, dislikes, cuisines other than sushi, everything. Boyfriend is like the Gold Olympian of chatters. He can talk to ANYONE! And he’s genuinely interested too! I’m the opposite of that, so thank goodness boyfriend is who he is, providing me the platform to sneak in tons of fish questions!
OK, let’s get on with our fabulous meal tonight!
- MIRUGAI with spicy chili pepper – This was fully cooked through, and then warmed up via blow torch (ABURIed), topped with a little bit of crushed spicy chili pepper sprinkles. If you’re used to my blogs, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of cooked foods in my omakase. This was marvelous though. MAR-VE-LOUS!
- Mackerel Flounder – I never heard of a Mackerel Flounder before, and I’m not sure how this is any different from just normal flounder. Like a normal flounder, it had a tiny bit of chew, and very little, to no flavor. I really wanted to ask the chef exactly what this fish was, but I kind of screwed up, and at that point in our meal, was walking on eggshells, and in no position to ask any questions. Culprit? We don’t typically look at the menu, we’re getting the omakase anyway, so why bother, right? When the waiter came by asking us which omakase we’re interested in, I said the one that gives us the most fish. He said the 20 course sushi then? I said, sure! As we sat their sipping our sake, we saw our neighbor get served their sashimi platter, and was like, hey! We didn’t get any sashimi! So despite the chef having started prepping for our sushi course, I asked the waiter to change our order to sushi/sashimi. Sorry chef!
- SHIMA AJI – SHIMA AJIs are my favorite of the silverfishes, and it’s in prime season right now. This one was delish, so fresh that there was a slight crunch!
- ABURIed BOTAN EBI with yellow TOBIKO – This BOTAN EBI was very slightly ABURIed, and topped with an amazing yellow TOBIKO. I don’t believe this shrimp was live shrimp, so it was definitely not as sweet, but when dressed with the sweet yellow TOBIKO, it was absolutely fantastic. I didn’t do a zoom in photo of the fried shrimp head, but that too was delish!
- OTORO – There’s two fatty tunas on this plate, a CHUTORO and an OTORO. The OTORO was clearly fatter, less veiny, but still not super fat, not super buttery like most OTOROs. I’m not a fan of super fatty OTORO, so I kind of like this one the way it was!
- HIRAME with IKURA – Sad to say, but this was really bland, really sub-par…
- Salmon – I didn’t get to try this one. I’m typically not a huge fan of salmons, typically just taking a small taste then shoving the rest to the boyfriend. Today, I was too busy taking notes, and boyfriend was too hungry, so he ate it all before I was able to even taste. He says it was really great though!
- MADAI – One of my three most favorite whitefishes! This one was fantastic even without ANY dressings, it was crisp!
- AWABI – By this time, boyfriend have been chatting with Chef Shimao for a while, and we are now back on his good graces. I was able to start inquiring about fish, and the comparisons between them. If you read my sushi guide, you’ll know that I adore the abalones, but have no clue what the difference is between an AWABI versus a TOKOBUSHI. Never had the pleasure of trying them side by side. Now I know!!! I have to update my guide! This AWABI tonight was delicious, only gripe is we didn’t get the whole AWABI, only about two thirds. Boo!
- CHUTORO – The second TORO on the plate, the less fatty of the two. For TORO lovers, know that this was leaner than usual. For those like me who prefer the leaner types, this was really good, only just a tiny bit veiny.
- IKA with Santa Barabara UNI – Both the IKA and the UNI was delish. I love this combo, the textures and flavors play off each other so well. BUT I love it even more when it’s pre-mixed…
- KINMEDAI – Another of my top three whitefishes! This KINMEDAI was SLIGHTLY ABURIed on the skin, dressed with just a touch of soy, and a tiny dollop of Jalepeno sauce. The fish alone was fantastic, really fresh, really tender, definitely melted. My preference for KINMEDAIs is heavily ABURIed on the skin only, and dressed with a tiny bit of salt rather than soy and Jalepeno though. Unfortunately, the spicy Jalepeno definitely overpowered my sweet KINMEDAI.
- AKAMUTSU – The third of my favorite whitefishes! Yes, MADAI, KINMEDAI, and the three way tie of AKAMUTSU, NODOGURO, and KASUGODAI being the third, are my “three” favorites in the whitefish category. I know, I actually have 5 and not three, as the third is a tie! Anyway, the AKAMUTSU was fantastic, to-die-for actually. The skin was so, so, SO lightly ABURIed, that you almost wouldn’t notice it. I prefer this fish with some yuzu zest and sea salt, rather than soy, but still, just delish!
- AJI – AJI alone was so fresh, so fantastic! 99% of the time, I have been served AJI with ginger and scallions, today, it was ginger and shiso (a mild mint-ish leaf). I have never had my AJI with shiso, so this was new, and I’m not sure I loved it. And I LOVE shiso. So not sure what this says… All I know for sure is that the AJI was killer.
- SHIROEBI – In NYC we get BOTAN EBI (large sweet, spotted prawn) almost year round, ISE EBI (lobster) as well, AMAEBI (small sweet shrimp) most of the year, and SHIRO EBI (small sweet, baby white shrimp) occasionally. If you read my blogs, you’ll know the more rare the fish, the more I love it. This is the first SHIRO EBI I’ve had in months! YUM!!!! (BTW – I’ve been served a few SHAKOS – can you say DISGUSTING? I just HATE that fish!)
- UNI/IKURA/TORO bowl – I must have taken a bad photo… This martini glass filled with a tiny bit of rice, then topped with equal portions of UNI, IKURA, and chopped TORO. The UNI doesn’t look great, and the TORO looks a bit veiny, but it wasn’t, it was marvelous, the whole thing!The Perfect Bite:
- Oyster – Not sure where exactly from, but this west coast oyster was really great. Not great compared to our recent AZABU/SUSHI YASUDA levels, but above my Upstate/Aquagrill level! BOOM! Yea, I said that! (As you read BOOM!, think Luis from Million Dollar Listing of NYC, but as you sink into that thought, know that my favorite is Ryan Serhant, NOT Luis, and NOT Frederick! Oh, and even though he wasn’t my favorite, he was awesome real estate agent. And he got out when he was on top? What a MORON! Ain’t nobody got time for that!).
- KASUGODAI – Another of my top three favorite whitefishes! This was marvelous! My first KASUGODAI of the season! I love this guy!!! (the fish, not the chef, but the chef is doing pretty good right now!) I saw it as one of the other chefs was preparing it for one of their tables. They put the whole KASUGODAI fish on the sushi/sashimi plate, and it made us reminisce about OUR chef at BLUE RIBBON IZAKAYA, Chef Takashi. I miss him so… And even more than me, boyfriend misses him plenty!!! Same as the AKAMUTSU, I really prefer this with some yuzu zest (or tiny splash of juice) and sea salt, rather than soy, but still, just delish!
- KAMASU – The way that Chef cut this fish, it had a LOT of skin exposure, which is not “usual”. Most chefs tend to prepare this with more of the meat, and just a little bit of skin on the side. Now, I LOVE the skin, but you realize, the reason why the skin taste so good is because of the fat! The fat doesn’t scream out at you like fried chicken skin, but it’s there! I would prefer it slightly less ABURIed but this fish was thick enough, that it wasn’t an overkill, and it was fantastic.
- NAMADAKO – LIVE Octopus’s are my world! Their season is quite short, so when they’re around, I like to REALLY indulge. I was very happy to have been served this, but not as a sushi. NAMADAKOs are a chewier fish that needs to be sliced super thin, and dressed with a little bit of yuzu and salt, and savored as sashimi. When it’s constructed into a sushi, it’s beautiful, but it’s a little much as one bite, and that’s how you’re supposed to eat your sushi. Despite etiquette, I tend to use a two bite method in case I don’t love the chef’s dressings, but NAMADAKOs are not a fish you can just take one bite of. Your front teeth won’t cut it, it’s a chewy fish, remember? All in all, the NAMADAKO itself was wonderfully fresh, and delicious. Sorry for all the complaints chef! Don’t be mad, I love your fish, and I think you’re wonderful! It’s not you, it’s me!!!
- MIRUGAI – Another mollusk. Chef really does a great “mix” of fish, a little bit of everything! MIRUGAIs are a really fantastic fish that when fresh, has a wonderful crunch, with the tiniest tinge of the sea. Yes, the sea is necessary, it’s what defines it! I’ve had insanely mild tasting MIRUGAIs before, and you know that it’s just been over-treated, likely because it’s OLD! This one was lovely, really fresh!
- HOKKAIDO UNI – Our third serving of UNI, and all three were fantastic! This particular one was probably the best, the sweetest tasting of the three!
- SHAKO – Boyfriend got the ANAGO, but I made my usual request of no cooked eels, so chef gave me this instead, SHAKO, mantis shrimp. Sorry, I’m really just not a fan of SHAKO, at all. It’s a very mild shrimp, but very sweet, overly so, typically served cooked. Chefs just usually don’t replace the eel with SHAKO, but this is the second time that I’ve had it. Until spring is over, I’m going to change my request to no SHAKO, and just suck it up with the cooked eel. I made poor boyfriend eat this.
- Cubee? – I don’t know if I spelt this right. It’s a Japanese plum wine, complimentary of Jewel Bako. I’m not a fan of plum wines, too sweet, but it’s a very nice gesture!
This is one of the most well rounded omakases I’ve had! Such a wonderful mix of equal whitefishes, silverfishes, yellowtails, tunas, roes, and mollusks (shrimps, clams, squids, octopuses). Everything was super fresh. We will definitely be back again soon! Thank you Chef Shimao Ishikawa! Thank you for a wonderful meal, for chatting with us, and for putting up with me! Awesome rating of 32 of 35! WOWZERS!!!
Wait, before we sign off, one caution for those that are true TORO lovers, the TOROs we had were fatty, but not insanely so. So if you’re looking for a ton of OTORO, this isn’t your spot.