428 Greenwich St
New York, NY 10013
It’s been about a year since our last visit to Sushi Azabu. On that last visit, we arrived over an hour early, and were famished, so conceded to take the only seats available at the time, table seats, giving up our reserved bar seats that were over an hour away. That was the first and only time I ever sat at a table seat at Sushi Azabu. Like the chef at USHIWAKAMARU once said “first time, last time”. When you’re used to bar seats, the seats at the table can be brutal. And for us, it was. Sushi is meant to be consumed the moment it is served. The rice warm, the fish cool, the seaweed crunchy. Not batched up into a platter, to be consumed all at once, where the temperatures get all sorts of mixed up, and the seaweed soggy. The table seats at AZABU was especially brutal. It was a busy weekend night, we were seated 3 steps away from the bar, and saw our food put out at the bar for almost 10 minutes before it was brought over to us. I was livid. Bar seat or no, the omakase is still 150 bucks per person, so watching your food go “cold”, while you are “starving” is HIGHLY irritating. What made it worse was the fact that our sake bottle was kept a little distance away, in a wine bucket. My glass was non-stop empty. You can tell how much we enjoyed our time, or long we stayed based on how much we drink. We usually have 2 bottles alone, or more if the chef/wait staff joins us. We had one bottle that night. Not because we got out quickly, but because it was kept too far away, and I was constantly left THIRSTY.
Sorry, I really should not be focusing on what happened over a year ago. That just was a tough night, and I needed to vent. Plus, it’s my blog, so I can write whatever I want. HAHA! Just kidding… Kind of… Sorry, not sorry?
Tonight’s experience was night and day from our last, and brought me back to being a fan. We came on the Friday before Labor Day, and it was empty! Empty means super attentive staff and chef! Our glasses were always filled, and we were having drinks with everyone! Our chef, the other chef, the waiter, the other waiter. It was a great time. By the way, are you a New Yorker? For out of towners, Labor Day weekend is an awesome weekend to visit NYC. It’s when most of NYC goes away for their last hurrah of the Summer, before Fall hits, before their kids go back to school, stuff like that. All the restaurants are still open, but maybe ½ full compared to normal. Only caution is sushi-yas know this too, and as a result, don’t stock as much fish. So come Sunday/Monday, the fish gets pretty fishy!
At Sushi Azabu, sushi bar means omakase only. Your options tonight are:
- $100 Nigiri Omakase – Includes 12 piece sushi and a roll
- $150 Nigiri Omakase – Additionally includes a TORO and an UNI tasting
- $150 Chef Omakase – Includes Sashimi course, UNI Tasting, Grilled King Crab, and 5 pieces of sushi
- $180 Chef Omakase – Additionally includes a TORO tasting
We chose the $150 Nigiri omakase – maximum RAW fish please!
OTOSHI (I learned today that “Starters” is called “OTOSHI”):
- Salmon with capers – Gross. The capers especially was disgusting. The salmon was of a lower quality than what you get from lox. Actually REAL lox is supposed to be made from the highest of salmon belly quality, cured in a salt-sugar brine, and smoked. But these days, few abide by that rule, and they use whatever kind of salmon they get hands on. Anyway, this smoked salmon was of lesser quality than non-traditional lox, it was GROSS.
- Seaweed with IKURA – IKURA was OK, not exceptionally fresh or crunchy, and the seaweed was “meh”. This dish neither disgust nor excite me. It was all of a teaspoon, so it didn’t take up too much of my stomach space, so whatever…
AZABU puts the OTOSHI on the menu as though it’s a “course”, it’s not. It’s max 2 small teaspoons of food, and it wasn’t even good. Don’t worry though, the meal does get better.
- KINMEDAI –This was very good. I LOVE when they start with a super light and bright fish like one of my top three white fishes the Golden Eye Snapper. Rather than my preferred method of heavily ABURI-ing (torching) the skin, and then sprinkling it with a touch of sea salt, this was dressed super lightly with soy. It was thoroughly enjoyable, but I would have preferred it my way. Note – there was one chef in my history of sushi-ing that served KINMEDAI not-my-preferred method, Chef Toshihiro Uezu at KURUMA ZUSHI, and changed my life. Damn I am spoiled!!!
- AORI IKA – AORI IKA and YARI IKA are my two favorite IKAs. This particular AORI-IKA (bigfin reef squid) was FANTASTIC. It was thinly sliced into tiny strips, and then grouped back together, making it easily mistaken to be SHIROEBI. I have never had this prepared this way as a sushi, and it was really great! IKAs in general are a chewier fish. Having it sliced so thinly and composed into a sushi really minimized the chewing distraction, and highlighted the fish itself. I often have IKAs sliced thin, then mixed or topped, or both, with UNI. And while that’s delicious, UNI tends to steal the spotlight of every dish.
- KATSUO – Now I feel like AZABU is getting the short end of the stick. We JUST came from KURUMA ZUSHI, the BEST sushi in NYC, and it’s really not a fair comparison. I don’t like KATSUOs (Bonito) AT ALL. I never did, UNTIL Chef Toshihiro Uezu at KURUMA ZUSHI made it for me, and it was delish! AZABU’s KATSUO was fine, but I don’t want it. It’s not their fault, I just don’t like KATSUOs, ever (except Chef Toshi’s).
- HIRAME with sea salt and sudachi (Japanese lime) – This was fantastic! I love super light white fishes served with a citrus and salt. It’s the best way to serve them!
- AKAMI ZUKE – The anomaly of the day. Chef presented this as AKAMI ZUKE. Since I was too busy taking photos, boyfriend had the pleasure of tasting this first. He asked me, “CHUTORO?” I berated him saying, “No, the chef CLEARLY said this was AKAMI, which is a marinated LEAN Tuna, and not fatty Tuna”. Then I tasted it, and it did not taste lean to me at all, boy do I feel dumb! The really peculiar part is CHUTORO is much pricier than AKAMI, so if it was marinated CHUTORO, why would he not present it as such? Either way, delish!
- CHUTORO – The start of our TORO tasting. This was very fresh, so no “tinge” of an aftertaste at all, BUT there was a chew to this, meaning the cut wasn’t fantastic. Unfortunately, this was the best of the three part TORO “tasting”…
- KAMA TORO – KAMA TORO is the TORO from the neck of the Tuna. Same as the CHUTORO, this was super fresh, and no funky tinge post consumption. This was also a better cut, not at all chewy. HOWEVER, my peculiar preferences rears its funky head. I am the only person in the world that does not love crazy fatty Tunas. It’s just too much for me, I feel like I need to scrub out my mouth after to remove the film of oil. This one was insanely fatty. So while good for everyone else, it was just OK for me.
- OTORO – Super fatty TORO from the belly, even fattier than the KAMA TORO. So like the KAMA really fresh, but there was a chew, and too fatty for me.
- SABA – I have never met a SABA I enjoyed, and today was no exception. This was cured, but still much too fishy, and not at all enjoyable.
- SALMON from HOKKAIDO – Chef made it a point to tell me this SALMON was an “Adult” salmon. I’m not a huge Salmon fan, and not too knowledgeable at all. Now, do “adult” salmons taste any different than the younger ones? What’s the lifespan? I supposed I can look all this up, but I’m really too lazy to do any of that. We probed a little bit and Chef confirmed this was farm raise, and not wild. I didn’t think HOKKAIDO had wild salmon… Long story short, this was my kind of salmon! Super fatty and zero fanciness!
- BOTAN EBI – Definitively NOT live Botan Ebi, as it lacks that very distinct live shrimp crunch, but nonetheless very good.
- IKURA – Dressed with a tiny bit of soy and Yuzu zest, this delicious, and NOTHING like the IKURA served in our OTOSHI. Those luscious pearls were whole, non-crushed, crunchy, and delicious.
- NORTHERN HOKKAIDO BAIFUN UNI – The UNI “tasting” was just a two part tasting. I don’t like how AZABU presents the three part TORO to be a “tasting”, and even more pitiful, a two part UNI to be again, a “tasting”. Honestly, I do NOT consider two to three different kinds, as a “tasting”? Plus, it’s RARE for any higher end sushi-yas to have less than 2 types of UNI or three types of TORO. I guess it’s all “marketing”. Anyway, the NORTHERN one was a bit saltier, fuller of an UNI, while the EASTERN one (next) was sweeter. Both were good, I prefer the NORTHERN.
- EASTERN HOKKAIDO UNI – A sweet UNI that was very good.
- AKAMUTSU – By far my favorite of the night. AKAMUTSUs are another of my top three white fishes. Chef lightly ABURIed this, which I appreciate, and topped it with a tiny bit of soy and Yuzu pepper. The Yuzu pepper was an exceptionally nice twist, not at all overpowering on this super light fish.
- SHIRO EBI – This looked amaze balls, but looks can clearly be deceiving! Despite having topping this with a small squeeze of citrus, this baby white shrimp was FISHY. Very disappointing.
- ANAGO – Our 17th piece was supposed to be ANAGO, sea eel. I always tell the chef no UNAGI/ANAGO, I only want raw fish, so only boyfriend was served. He described this simply as “it’s good”. ANAGOs taste the same 99% of the time every place you go!
OTORO ABURI – Rather than the ANAGO, I lucked out with another serving of OTORO ABURI! In my “tasting” the OTORO wasn’t ABURIed (torched), this was the same cut, just ABURIed. I prefer it a little ABURIed, but still just too much fat.
- Half roll of chopped TORO with TAKUAN and SHISO – The good, still a crunch on my NORI (seaweed), decent TORO, loved the combo, usually, it’s JUST TORO and TAKUAN, loved the addition of SHISO. The bad, too much rice, and the presence of wasabi, I don’t wasabi.
- TAMAGO – Egg. It’s egg. It’s more custardy, and crème brûlée-ish than most, so kind of dessert-y. Not my thang.
- PINEAPPLE SORBET – This was good. Light and refreshing!
- AWABI – We got the additional pieces only after they served us the final pieces of our omakase. I wish they just asked us, “that’s the end of your omakase, would you like to add anything else”? But nope, they let us eat our desserts, THEN offer us the opportunity for more fish. Backwardsville! Back to the AWABI (Abalone), it was “steamed”. It was fine. I’m just not a huge fan of steamed Abalone. It’s something I can make at home, and do. Boyfriend thought AZABU’s AWABI was great, but I actually prefer my own Abalone at home. For the best RAW AWABI in the city, go to KURUMA ZUSHI.
- BOTAN EBI – (above for picture) When we asked the chef what else have we not tried, chef suggested AMAEBI, a sweet baby shrimp. I thought, AMAEBIs are a winter shrimp, but he has this now? Figured if he offered it, he must have had a source for it! Then we got served… BOTAN EBI! We had the BOTAN EBI as part of our omakase, and it was fine, good even, but not worthy of a second round. I feel like I’ve been bait and switched. That was fairly irritating…
- AKAMUTSU – This was deserving of a round two. So f-ing fantabulous!!! This was butter!!!
- AWABI – Boyfriend decided for one more AWABI, I declined
- NIDAKO – Not usually a huge fan of NIDAKO, poached octopus, but typically do like to try just to see how they measure up to my number one TAKO at USHIWAKAMARU, or number two NIDAKO at 15 East. This one is again fine, but does not rank anywhere close to USHI’s or 15 East’s TAKO.
- BOTAN EBI – Boyfriend decided on a round three of the BOTAN EBI, I declined. (He was also fairly tipsy at this point, we’ve had abt 4 bottles now, so his judgement is IMPAIRED!)
- KOHADA – Again, when asking Chef for other fish we had not tried, he offered this, a KOHADA. And again, this was odd, as KOHADAs are a winter fish, but figured he must have his sources… WHY, WHY, WHY do I not learn? It arrived, and it looked like a KOHADA, for sure. Took a bite, and UGH! This is either a really bad KOHADA, much too cured, almost fully cooked, and yet FISHY, OR it was a SABA disguised as a KOHADA. KOHADAs are my FAVORITE silver fish, this was everything BUT.
- UNI RISOTTO – I was stuffed beyond belief, thought we were wrapping up, and headed to the ladies room in preparation for our departure. When I returned, I found boyfriend chomping on a BOWL of UNI RISOTO. WHA???? Where is mine??? It’s fine, I really am stuffed, and really could not eat any more. Boyfriend is not nearly as loquacious as me, all he said was, “GREAT”. My interpretation? If the UNI and IKURA are both good, which from our omakase, they were, then it’s really hard to mess this up.
COMPLIMENTARY (we have been eating and chatting, and drinking with the chef throughout this meal, so every so often, he offered us a complimentary something, something NOT part of the omakase, not specially ordered by us):
- SEA PINEAPPLE – This was slimy and horrendously fishy, horrendously so. And this is coming from the Chinese girl who loves dried salty fish, whose grandmother used to dry her own salty fish after father’s fishing trips in the backyard, deeming us to be the neighborhood misfits! No thanks.
- SHIRO KURA – I THINK this is what the chef called it. It was essentially squid with fermented squid guts. This was so gross. Boyfriend who is Italian, compared it to cioppino. Is he Italian??? I think he’s faking it. This is NOTHING like cioppino! He is so wrong, he knows nothing, less than nothing! (Sorry – that’s our inside “bit”, he tells me I’m a girl, and all girls are dumb, I ask him what’s in my hand, open it to display nothing, then proclaim, “nothing, this is what you know, nothing, less than nothing.” Actually – I stole that from him too, which he stole from some interview of someone important. We are so original!) Cioppinos are fish stew made using a tomato base. This is raw squid in a funky fermented squid guts paste!
- SABA – It’s very nice of the chef to offer us free goodies, very nice. But did it have to be this one? I would have been much happier with a repeat of ANY other item from omakase. The SABA was my LEAST favorite of all the omakase servings. I sound so ungrateful, don’t I? Oh well…
I know I said a lot of not so fabulous things about a few of their servings, but overall, AZABU really was a very good restaurant. It’s a dimly lit, sleek, sexy little restaurant, downstairs of the Greenwich Grill, which used to be that the only entrance by the way… Walk through Greenwich Grill to the very back, down a flight of stairs covered by a curtain. Today, they have their own entrance. Tonight’s meal was really good, and the service fantastic. Earlier, I shared how you can measure how good of a time we’ve had based on how much we drank. We had 4 bottle and 2 carafes of sake. On that note, AZABU is the ONLY restaurant I know that gives you a reasonable helping of sake in their carafe. It’s like a solid half bottle. Everyone else gives you a shifty sake carafe that’s more like 1/3 or 1/4 of a bottle. We will definitely be visiting again soon. AZABU gets a healthy overall rating of 28 out of 35.