401 E 73rd Street
New York, NY 10021
Sasabune don’t have their own website, but here’s Yelp
Have you been to Sasabune before? Perhaps a fan even? If you are, please close this page, and pretend like you never came across this posting.
I was a pretty big fan when Sasabune first opened up in 2006, but due to its unfortunate home of the Upper East Side, visited only once-a-year-ish since, but something obviously kept me coming back. This latest experience was widely different from all my previous experiences, so I really didn’t know how to write this post, or if I should be writing this posting at all. It’ll be difficult for me to go back for quite a while though, so might as well get over it.
Let’s discuss my USUAL experience first. Usually, nabbing a seat at this 6-8 person counter is not an easy feat. Usually, by 7PM, this tiny little restaurant is packed. Usually there are 3-4 other sous chefs/wait staff with head Chef Kenji Takahashi behind this tight spaced sushi bar, working, chatting, laughing (really loudly might I add) the evening away. Usually, I leave stuffed, busting out of my pants.
So how did today compare? Pros and cons?
- Ease of Reservation – Clearly, that’s a pro! No-duh!?!
- Emptiness – Undecided. Today, we arrived at 6:40 for our 7:00PM reservation, and we were the first patrons of the day. They actually open at 6PM, so as you can imagine the emptiness was a bit eerie. During the course of our meal, two other patrons joined us at the bar, two behind us at a table, and then two families in the back room. And that was it!
- Less Chefs – Didn’t mind it! Chef Kenji still held fort, but today, he was there with just one other sous chef, as opposed to his usual 3-4. To be honest, it usually bugs me to no end that the chefs behind the bar at Sasabune chat with each other so much, and laugh so loudly. At other sushi bars, the chef(s) are quietly and intently slicing away, OR interacting with the customer. At Sasabune, beyond the initial, “any allergies, anything you don’t eat?” question, and the sporadic introduction of the plate, which is sometimes done by the waiter instead, there is almost no interaction with the chef. And I’m a TALKER. I only have compliments, or questions about fish, comparing one fish to the next, or questions on dressings, etc. They’re just not receptive to it. So usually, my cynical mind is convinced, those a-holes are talking about us! Not me specifically, but about any random patron in the room. I’ve always wanted to bring a Japanese speaking friend to figure out what exactly they are talking about, and of whom. Desperately wanting to pull an Elaine from Jerry Seinfeld, bringing George’s dad to the Korean nail salon! And no, I’m not paranoid, I don’t think this of ANY other NYC sushi-ya, only Sasabune. So I must have my reasons!
- Quick Meal – This is actually no different from normal, never liked it, never will. Sasabune is known for “quick meals”. I used to think they are trying to turn over the table as quickly as possible to open up the seats for their next patrons. Today, they clearly didn’t need the seats, so there is zero justification. Unlike most omakases served at the sushi bar, serving sushi piece by piece, Chef Kenji likes to serve his sushi on small plates of two to three pieces per plate. For his sushi bar patrons, chef will usually lean over the counter, and place that small dish himself, as opposed to having the waiter serve it. For the table diners, the waiters serve them. Either way, just as you pick up the last piece of sushi on your small plate, the waiter will reach over behind you and take away your plate. No joke, not today, but several years back, I had an “incident” where the sushi was too large, so I took a bite of half, and then placed the other half back on what I thought was going to be my plate, but turned out to be the bar counter, as the waiter already took my plate. Are you kidding me? I had “words” with the waiter then, asking them sternly, but politely, to cut that sh*t out! Given that the restaurant is 2/3 empty, you would think they would give it a break. Well, in their way, they did. Instead of removing the dish immediately, they just stood right behind us, until we put hand down, and then ASK if they can take it. You want to scream, chill out dude, there’s no one here, so take a breath! It’s beyond annoying! BEYOND!!!
- Not leaving “stuffed” – BIG, BAD, CON!!! If you’ve been reading my posts, you should probably know by now, that I have a minor eating disorder. For a “small” girl, I eat like a 600 pound football player. I can easily put down an entire bucket of chicken, solo, in one sitting, then polish off a side of mash potatoes WITH gravy. OK, maybe I don’t do that so easily today, but I did back then, and I probably still can, but know that I shouldn’t, so I don’t. I CAN EAT! In the past, I would come to Sasabune, make my usual requests of 1 – No Starter Albacore Sashimi, 2 – No Cooked Eels, and 3 – No cooked butterfish. Again, for the sake of this blog, I didn’t make so many requests, wanted to get what the average omakase would yield, so I only requested no cooked eels. The reason I still request no ANAGO? All ANAGOs taste the same!!! You don’t need me to yap on about what taste almost the same, at every half decent sushi-ya in the world! Knowing that those three are staples at Sasabune, I’m making quite the sacrifice for the sake of this blog! How noble am I??? HA! At the end of our meal, even with eating all the stuff I don’t like, I was still hungry. We asked the chef, what else have we not had? He tells us, “sorry, you’ve tried it all already today”. WHAT??? When you read through what was in our meal, you’ll see, that is PITIFUL an ABOMINATION for what used to be a very decent sushi-ya!
Onto our Omakase for tonight:
- Marinated ALBACORE TUNA – BLAH! As I said before, I always ask for no Sashimi ALBACORE dish. There were times where I will go with a friend who’s a first-timer at Sasabune, and would have one dish “to share”. But today, I had 2/3 of my own plate, and tossed the rest. If I was in New Jersey, or Pennsylvania (where I often go to for work), I would gladly take this dish. But I’m in NYC!!! I am not a fan of ALBACORE Tuna, it is a sub-par fish that I can get at every single common sushi-ya in NYC. I’m not wasting my stomach space when I’m at what’s supposed to be a higher end sushi-ya.
- TAKO – Please take a read at my USHIWAKAMARU and 15 East postings. The two places where I LOVE the TAKO/NIDAKO, everywhere else, I’m rarely a fan. This TAKO was not good at all. No only was I not a fan, I’m not sure who could be. It was thoroughly cooked, not poached, COOKED, like boiled, cooked. It was not the slightest bit rare like USHIWAKAMARU ’s, was not tender, did not melt like 15 East’s, had zero FLAVOR, and was topped with sesame seeds. WHY? Why sesame seeds? Added nothing to the dish!
- NORWEGIAN MACKEREL – Silverfishes are my second favorite fish category, this particular one was downright disgusting. Really fat, really fishy, really gross. I took one slice and nearly spat it back out. I toughed through it, but wouldn’t touch the rest. I have no words. Well, actually, I have a whole sleuth of R rated words, but let’s not go there. Clearly, we both tossed the rest of this one. At this point, boyfriend is rethinking our “omakase tour of nyc”. My man is NOT happy with this restaurant. He hates when I make him go uptown, and for this? He is so not happy with me.
- SQUID STUFFED WITH BLUE CRAB – Finally, a good item. It was slightly dryer than their usual, but still good. Can they cool it with the sesame seeds though?
- OYSTERS – hit and miss. The KUSHI, one of our go-tos for west coast oysters was a hit, small but plump, and still delish. The Coopers Point was slightly bitter, and almost grimy. I rather take one hit and one miss, over two misses, the bar is that low right now.
- AKAMI ZUKE – It was presented to me as AKAMI ZUKE. I don’t see how it was ZUKEd (marinated) at all though, seems more like just AKAMI dressed with eel sauce. I would rather not have such a thick sauce on my very fresh tasting raw fish, but, the AKAMI was fantastic, and the eel sauce did not bother me TOO much. I’m hoping this is the turn for the better. This AKAMI was so promising.
- BLUE FIN CHUTORO – Really, very good! It was served plain, no soy, nothing. It’s a good time to point out, the two other very distinguishing characteristics of Sasabune over all the other fancy sushi-yas in NYC. 1- Their wasabi is not freshly grated, straight from the wasabi root, it’s some sort of a watery paste. No clue if it’s any good, as I don’t eat wasabi, so go, try, and judge for yourself. 2- Their soy is not homemade soy by the chef. Most higher end sushi-yas claim that they make their own soy. And will tell you when to have their soy, over the soy that’s on the table/bar on specific fishes. The chef’s homemade soy is usually slightly thicker, but I am no soy sauce connoisseur so, that’s about all I can say on that topic. Either way, I was thoroughly happy with my chutoro dipped in my non-homemade-soy. Very happy. It wasn’t the slightest bit chewy, had zero fishiness, had no tinge of anything else, was very pure, and fresh.
- HIRAME – HIRAME is a very common whitefish in NYC sushi-yas. I usually don’t like very common fishes as part of my omakase, but I was very pleased with this. Like all flounders, it was very soft, tender, and mild. And unlike the lesser flounders, it was not chewy at all. This HIRAME, topped with a tiny bit of MOMIJI OROSHI (chili pepper marinated grated radish) and chopped scallion, was very tasty, very good.
- MADAI – MADAIs are one of my three top favorites of the whitefish family. I am always so excited whenever I’m served on in my omakase. This one was disappointing. See how the sides are very white? I don’t really understand this… It’s either that they removed the skin and still treated the fish like they were blanching it, or they tried to season the fish (in a curing fashion), but overdid it. It wasn’t tasty at all, so I don’t understand what the F happened here.
- HAMACHI – Another widely available fish in NYC. At least give me a HAMACHI-SUNAZURI (Yellowtail belly)! Occasionally, chefs will serve me this during my omakase, but usually, it’ll be a twist in either preparation or dressing. This was just plain old HAMACHI. And it wasn’t even good! It was veiny! Meaning – chewy!
- BUTTERFISH – What can I say? If you’ve read the earlier paragraphs of this post, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of this fish. It’s a fully cooked flaky white fish, similar to a cod. It tasted fine, but I don’t want cooked crap in my omakase. If I wanted a kaiseki, I would have gone to the likes of Nobu or Megu. Haha they rhyme! Hahahaha!
- HOTATE – Thank goodness! Another fish I am actually, thoroughly enjoying! This was super duper fresh! Dressed with a splash of lemon and nothing else. I just noticed, chef Kenji does not like to use salt! FASCINATING! Too bad, I LOVE salt!
- BOTAN EBI – It was obvious that this was not “LIVE” shrimp, you can tell by the crunch. It was still good though. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to screw up “BOTAN EBI”. Though we just came off our “best BOTAN EBI in my life” at Sushi Yasuda, a BOTAN EBI is not what brings me to a sushi-ya, nor will it keep me away. This one was “good enough”.
- SALMON WITH KELP – No idea what kind of salmon this was, super fatty, and no tinge of sea, so maybe a Tazmanian Salmon? Not going to pretend like I know. It was marinated and served with kelp. I LOVE kelp. I love white fishes marinated in kelp, and occasionally a mild yellowtail marinated in kelp, but I’m not sure what the kelp does to the Salmon though. I don’t feel like it adds much. I enjoyed it though.
- ALBACORE BELLY – Remember the marinated ALBACORE TUNA I had during the sashimi round? And how much I enjoyed that? (I’m being sarcastic) Well this was worse! You would think that the belly would be better, since its fattier (if you like fatty fishes like me). Not like this though!!! At lease the marinated one seemed fresh, this one was fishy! What are you doing to me???
- KANPACHI – This is the prime season for KANPACHI, my second most favorite of the yellowtail family. This particular one was FINE, but nothing to write home about. This is sad.
- CALIFORNIA UNI – Thank goodness, this was actually good. Thank goodness.
- IKURA – Not good, but passable. Whew!
- BLUE CRAB HAND ROLL – The reason I can’t stay away. I’ve asked a number of other NYC sushi chefs why they don’t serve this blue crab roll. Their answers are unanimously and essentially, it’s a canned crab mix, it’s not sushi. I don’t get that. If it’s good, if customers like it, just serve it. What’s the big deal? Every sushi-ya, high end, or rolls only in Los Angeles serves this. They don’t mind? Why do we have to be so “special”?
Until the day that I can easily get a GOOD blue crab roll elsewhere in NYC, I’m not ready to completely write off Sasabune. I don’t know what’s going on, why the place was a ghost town, or why they cut back on their chefs & fish variety. In past visits, I would get a nice shellfish sashimi platter, with various mollusks like MIRUGAI (giant clam), some sort of a one shell clam like a TSUSBUGAI (whelk), my AWABI or TOKUBUSHI (abalone), both my oysters would be great, and so much more. I would walk out of there stuffed beyond belief, and happy (with the food at least). So I’m hoping this is just a phase that they’ll snap out of, that I can continue to complain about making the trip uptown. In the spirit of my tour of best of best NYC omakases though, I have to rate Sasabune based on my experience TONIGHT. And for that, that get a very disappointing rating of 25 out of 35.