42 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
This one is hard to write. How do I start? Where do I start? This was beyond disappointment. This was my first time at this restaurant. I like to give restaurants a minimum of two, if not three tries before writing it off, but that is going to be HARD. I don’t know if I can do it this time.
Let’s just start from the beginning, from our entry. I don’t know how much I’m going to be writing, but it shouldn’t be long, as the entire meal was over in 50 minutes.
We had a 6:30 reservation, which we showed up over 30 minutes early for, a few min before 6PM. Many restaurants don’t open till right at 6, so to our happy surprise, they sat us, and immediately started waiting on us. We asked for ice water, yes, tap, because NYC water is delicious. Then we ordered our sake. We were going to stick with our usual, a Dassai 23, but decided to heed to the sommelier’s recommendation of the TATENOKAWA 18, a $260 bottle, just a little bit more than the Dassai 23. It was good, we were very happy. Next came time for ordering the food. The two options for our meal, is either a sushi-only-omakase for $135, or a sushi-kaiseki for $175, and then some add-ons. Honest, when it comes to sushi, anything under $200 is fine. We chose the sushi-only-omakase not because the cost, but because our preference is FISH, our preference is RAW FISH. The sushi-only-omakase comes with 20 pieces of sushi, while the kaiseki version comes with only 13 piece sushi, and the rest are cooked dishes. There were 5 options for add-ons, 4 of which were cooked, and the last was a TORO seared with a hot coal. As you can imagine, the TORO was the only one I would have remotely considered. I immediately saw the dismay on my waiter’s face. What? They’re ordering the minimum??? Yes, we are! We typically just add to our order based our favorite pieces of the night, or what else they had to offer.
The sushi chef, NOT co-owner Jimmy Lau, but someone else, began preparing our sushi almost immediately. I have read a number of reviews stating Shuko omakase does not start with sashimi, but does sprinkle in sashimi here and there in between sushi courses. Well, that was NOT our experience. We had ALL sushi, and nothing but sushi. Chef was friendly, but English was a challenge.
I’ll talk to each piece of fish shortly, but need to continue with overall experience first. By our second piece of fish in our sushi course, our neighbors joined us, a pair of early twenty somethings. We like sitting at the bar because we are true sushi lovers, AND because like conversing with our neighbors, but we were NOT going to be chatty kathys with these two. Dude, who sat immediately next to me, like no more than 8 inches away (yes, the bar area is tight!), was coughing and sneezing up a storm. Seriously??? STAY HOME! He was clearly on a date, so every cough, every sneeze, every time he blew his nose, he leaned & turned my way. GROSS!!! I started moving my plates, my water, my sake, my ginger, my EVERYTHING over, as far as possible from his projectile radius. The wait staff clearly saw my discomfort, because trust me, I am NOT subtle, yet they did NOTHING. They did nothing despite having the immediate two seats next to my neighbors open. We were sitting at the short side of the bar, the side with 4 seats. By moving them 2 seats over, he can sneeze into the open space rather than me! Come on!!! Move them over! Or at least ask them to move down some, like giving us a 15-20 inch gap as opposed to 8? More importantly, we are at a sushi bar, where the fish is actually lower than the bar. The germs can projectile right into the fish, and you say nothing???
OK, enough chatter, let’s talk about the actual meal.
Our omakase tonight:
- AMUSE BOUCHE 1 – The waiter called this a canapé. I know what a canapé is, it’s a bite size type hors d’oeuvre. So you CAN argue that this is a canape, but is it really? Traditional canapés, are based off a toast, a stale piece of bread of sorts, a cracker, you know what I mean! This particular item was a pistachio mochi, followed by a fresh shiso leaf, then a miso paste, topped with a nice hot crunchy pistachio. Flavors were great, but I’m just not a fan of warm mochi, I don’t like that warm gumminess. It’s just not my cup of tea.
- AMUSE BOUCHE 2 – HIRAME – This came in a tiny bowl. Two tiny cuts of cucumber, each wrapped with a super thin slice of HIRAME, topped with a spicy cucumber cilantro pesto of sorts. Like all HIRAME, there was a slight chew to this, and I enjoyed that. It was served with too much cilantro sauce though, you could have wrapped it with a thin slice of just about anything, and I would not know the difference.
- OTORO – This was a peculiar first piece, OTORO so early? It was deliciously fresh, melted in my mouth. Yummmm
- SHIMA AJI – For me, SHIMAAJI is the crème de la crème of the yellowtail world. This one was no exception. It was very, very good. I’m still very confused with the fish sequencing though. And now, enters in my sickly sushi bar neighbor, Mr. Walking Germ Bag, a wad of tissues in on hand, and a Time Out NY issue on the other. OK – I promise I’ll stop talking abt Mr. Germ Bag now.
- MEDITERRANEAN DORADO – Whitefishes are my favorite category of fish. This one is very similar to a MADAI, a true seabream. It was so light, served with a tiny twist of lemon. My favorite piece so far, and the other two pieces are gooood stuff. We are off to a great start!
- SABA – The chef actually said this was a SAWARA. SAWARAs are smoked, this was clearly fresh, thus it was a SABA. I get the language barrier, but SABA versus SAWARA are both Japanese names, and you should know your fish. Especially since you only have 15 kinds! SABA is low on my list for silver fishes, this one was very fresh, and good for a SABA, but not good enough to turn me into a fan.
- IKE-HIRAME – Fluke served with seaweed. Remember how I told you white fishes are my favorite category of fish? So far, I had a DELICIOUS MEDITERRANEAN DORADO, but before that, they drowned my HIRAME (flounder) in cilantro, and now, they wreck a perfectly good piece of fish with extremely strong and salty seaweed. “Wreck” might be a bit harsh, it was still good, but they took everything I love about whitefishes away from this fish, with that overpowering seaweed.
- SEA TROUT – Don’t know exactly where it’s from, but I’m not a huge fan of the salmon family, so I don’t bother asking. I love just plain old farm raised Canadian salmon. Yup, I said that! So I’m just not a good judge. I will say that the YUZU zest on top was a nice twist. I should now talk abt the size of each piece of fish. It was TINY. We are not fancy people AT ALL, we are the farthest thing from it. We don’t mind spending money on great sushi, steak, oysters, caviar, ok, food in general. Well, to be honest, boyfriend gifts those luxuries to me, it’s not out of my own pocket, and sometime I forget how much things cost. In this blog, I rate the “cost” category of all restaurants with one formula. Total number of pieces served, divided by total cost. But what if each piece at a particular sushi-ya was only 1/2 or 2/3 the size of 99% of all the other sushi-yas? Doesn’t that skew my scale? Yes, it does. I need to remember that for the scoring… That said, I actually LIKE having small pieces, because I like to have that fish swim around in my mouth a little bit, and really TASTE the flavors of what I’m having. When the piece is too big, I have to take bites, which you’re not “supposed” to do. This piece of salmon made me realize, I have had no problem consuming the entire sushi in one bite thus far. Because it’s not a preferred fish of mine, I don’t ever eat my entire salmon. I take a small bite for taste, and shove the rest to the boyfriend to finish. Realization, these cuts are TINY!!!
- KANPACHI – KANPACHI is my second favorite of the yellowtail family, right behind the SHIMA AJI. The good – this was very fresh. The bad – see that crunchy stuff on top? Deep fried potato shavings. What the heck is that? Potato has ZERO flavor. It does not compliment raw fish, EVER! I understand if you want to deep fry something for texture, a crunch, a little flare. But this is WRONG. The potato did nothing but take away from this marvelous fish. UGH!
- SUZUKI – A sea bass topped with grated Jalapeño. The fish was super fresh, really delicious, but the jalapeño was ridiculously strong. I love spicy foods, but not to the point where my tongue was left numb. And it was!
- TAI – Served with a small bit of Ume paste (a sour Japanese fruit, kind of like a plum), and a little bit of shiso. The fish was again, good, but the Ume was too sour. That sealed it. Despite these being unusually small cuts of fish, I have to take a two-bite-method going forward. Taste the fish without the dressings first, then with. Note – this was my 5th and final serving of my favorite fish category. Let’s do the run down again:
- HIRAME (flounder) drowning in cilantro, can’t tell the quality
- MEDITERRANEAN DORADO – delicious, zero complaints
- IKE-HIRAME – Overpowered by the too salty seaweed
- SUZUKI – Delicious, but left my tongue numb
- TAI – Fresh, but either too much Ume, or just too sour of Ume
- HOTATE – Remember how I just adopted the two bite method? Thank goodness I did! This was the first piece of fish where he F’ed up and served it with wasabi. For some reason, I have the most sensitive nose in the world. I cannot have wasabi. The moment I do, my sense of smell goes, and then my taste buds go, at which point you can just feed me cardboard, and I would know no better. After having a small bite, I immediately noticed the wasabi. It was an extremely fresh, and good piece of HOTATE. If it wasn’t for the wasabi, I would be happy. Lucky boyfriend, he gets the rest. Here is another example of how this restaurant is different/less than the others. I make this same, no-wasabi request, at every single restaurant. Given that putting on wasabi is like second nature to most traditional sushi chefs, I understand how this can be a challenge to remember. However, once the chef realizes he made that mistake, he would apologize, and then give me a brand new piece. This chef, realized, apologized, but that was it. No new piece. So let’s pretend this wasn’t a preference, but an allergy? Any proper restaurant sushi, or not, would apologize and offer you a brand new dish. There was no such offer.
- AOYAGI – This was good, it was fresh and crunchy. Sorry I’m not more excited when talking about this perfectly respectable piece of fish. I am a huge fan of one and two shell clams in general, and I do like a good AOYAGI (surf/orange clam). It is just a way too easily obtainable clam in NYC, so I prefer to get more exotic clams. It was good though.
- HOKKAIDO UNI – Grime central! I don’t believe this was HOKKAIDO UNI. I am convinced it was MAINE. I have never had a HOKKAIDO UNI of this quality. Look at the color! Where is that signature HOKKAIDO brightness? Yuck!
- GRILLED TORO SINEW – When they say grilled, they mean GRILLED! This was not grilled like you would a good steak, charred on the outside, rare on the inside. It was grilled like you would a chicken wing. Fully cooked through to ensure no salmonella outbreak. This was well-done toro, with spicy Thai chilis. This I knew was definitely Toro. A grilled to the point of “well-done” leaner cut of fish, would have rendered it chewy. This is 100% a personal preference. But how many of us real sushi lovers want cooked stuff in our meal? If I wanted all the cooked goodies, we would have ordered the traditional Kaiseki! This was supposed to be raw goodies! Our stomping ground, Blue Ribbon Izakaya LOVES to deep fry stuff, read the review, they do it to perfection, where all the fish is still raw or close to it! This was not perfection. I would never have ordered this alone. And if we were at an all you can eat buffet, and they make these individually upon request, I would have passed. Yes, that’s how much I like it, not at all.
- NAKAOCHI – NAKAOCHI is the rib meat of a tuna. It’s not an expensive fish, definitely more on the side of AKAMI, a leaner cut of tuna, but it’s really good stuff, I enjoy it plenty. The only disappointing factor is the availability/size/cost. I can go to KANOYAMA any day, and order a small cut of NAKAOCHI with like 8-10 ribs, for like 40 bucks, which would yield what? Like 30 pieces of sushi? Like really??? My fake California side is revealing itself. I am going to put 20 “like”s in one sentence. Anyway, you get the point.
- SOFT SHELL CRAB – This was fine, not at all exciting. I love a good soft shell crab, but I can have that in most seafood restaurants, no need to go to a good sushi place. Again, why is this part of my omakase?
- MYTAKI mushroom over crispy rice – WTF, first the well done TORO SINEW, then a tiny cut of soft shell crab, and now this??? Mushroom??? And it wasn’t even good!!! That rice was not “crispy”, “chewy” is more fitting. Have you been to Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant in LA, Villa Blanca? She has some Tuna over Crispy Rice appetizer. Now that’s CRISPY rice! That, I will gladly have. This? One bite, and I was done. Poor boyfriend had to finish.
- IKURA – No, your eyes are not deceiving you. And no, those are not extraordinarily large roe, making the sushi seem off balanced. This was just the tiniest serving of IKURA I’ve ever had in my life. Do I wish they gave me more? No! This was slightly bitter, slightly fishy, and had almost no pop/crunch that comes with a good IKURA. Seriously, I’m about to lose my sh*t. The tiniest servings of fish, mismatched/overwhelming toppings, BAD UNI, softshell crab, Mushroom atop CHEWY rice, and now BAD IKURA. Can we just have the check and call it a day?
- UNAGI – I have NEVER been served UNAGI (fresh water eel) at a supposedly great sushi restaurant. If anything, they give you ANAGO (sea eel), which is slightly harder to get. I can get UNAGI at the supermarket!In effort to get only raw fish, I always tell the chef, no cooked eels, no UNAGI, no ANAGO, but RAW eels are ok, so if you have a NORESORE (baby sea eel), bring it on. This works for 95% of sushi joints, as the ANAGO is typically the only cooked fish you’ll get. So my tactic fell on its face at Shuko. What did I get in place of the cooked eel? More mushroom! DEEP FRIED MYTAKI mushroom. Does it warrant another countdown of disappointing dishes? UGH! I want to hurt someone!!!
- SPICY TROUT ROLL – We’re at the very end of our omakase. This was essentially a spicy salmon roll, cut into four pieces, two for each of us. Of the two pieces, one was topped with with shiso, and the other with peppers. I have no words…
- NEGITORO ROLL – Fine, this was a better end to the omakase than the spicy salmon, and it was fine, but no way will I believe this is Toro. If that’s what they think they gave me, they got ripped off on their Tuna purchase.
- At this point, our omakase is done, our 20 piece is up. The waiter came by and asked if we wanted anything else. Given that neither of us are remotely full, and our hope that there must be something else, something better, we decided to give it a try. Asked the waiter, what other fishes/cuts do they have that we haven’t tried. He replies, that’s all we have. REALLY???? This is the problem with a lot of the newer sushi-yas. This problem would never happen at the older sushi-yas, at the 15 East, at USHIWAKAMARU, at SUSHI YASUDA, and Karuma, at Brushstroke (yes, I know it’s newer than the others, but still). Ugh, how annoying! Chef comes back after a short moment though, and says he has something special. How exciting! I told him it better not be another mushroom! Perhaps that statement pissed him off. He ended us serving us this: HOTATE – Not the regular HOTATE that you get, but the organs. From right to left:
- Male portion – Looks like an oyster, right? Well it doesn’t taste like one. This was downright slimy and fishy. I don’t remember ever having a slimy piece of fish.
- Female – This was even fishier than the Male. It tasted almost skunk. I was moments from spitting it out. This is coming from me, I’m Chinese, I’m used to eating and enjoying some real funky flavors like shrimp paste, fermented bean curds, dried salty fish, the list goes on. What’s proper etiquette when you want to throw up and the restrooms are a flight down? Seriously, what did we do to piss off the chef???
- The edges of the scallop – the crunchy stuff. It was fine, but I’m still scarred from the lingering female HOTATE mixed with some vomit in my mouth.
- UME SHISO – This was a thinly sliced piece of lotus root, wrapping carrots, shiso, then rice. The ume paste topper worked well on this one. I really enjoy light tasting stuff like this. And very happy to have my palate cleansed after that nasty scallop.
Struggling at the idea of ever visiting again. I’m not a self-conscious person, but I can’t figure out if we were rushed out because the staff looked down upon us for ordering only the “minimum”, because of my crocs et all, because they were trying to turn the table over ASAP, or the less cynical, they saw my discomfort in sitting next to Mr Germ Bag, but if that was the case, why not rush him out? Why us? Honest, per Jiro (I dream of sushi), sushi should be served quickly and consumed immediately. We followed suit, we ate every piece (boyfriend immediately, me, right after the photo). In NYC however, if you are going to spend a chunk of money on a meal, we expect an “experience”. We felt rushed like no other. We never order less than two full bottles, and upwards to four or five bottles, as we like to share with the chef, our waiter, and even our sushi counter neighbors. Today we had time for only one, we were still on our first bottle by the time our 17th piece arrived! We wanted to eat more, we weren’t full, but they had NOTHING to offer us. The stuff they did have was very hit or miss. It’s possible that Shuko can be a good Japanese restaurant, not that I’m a good judge for that, but this is not a good sushi-ya! And don’t lure me in with a 20 piece sushi-only omakase when you’re only going to have 14 fish to offer, especially when 2 of the 14 was bad! Overall unfortunate rating of 18 out 35.