419 E 79th St
New York, NY 10021
Skepticism debunked! Truth be told, I visited Sushi Ishikawa for the first time with very low expectations. Sounds rude, doesn’t it? Well, before Ishikawa lovers bite my head off, just know that this post overall, is one of my better ones!
Why I now have a reason to head to the Upper East Side:
- Location: If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know that I’m extremely partial based on location. There simply aren’t very many great sushi-yas in the upper east OR west side. There just aren’t. Of the popular ones, what is there? East side, SASABUNE, TANOSHI? West side, SUSHI OF GARI? Anything else? And of those three, I love NONE of them.
- Chef: Chef Dom Pham lists three big named restaurants on the “About” page of his website, O-YA, MORIMOTO, and Geisha (now closed). Now, if you’re going to promote yourself by telling me where you came from, but I don’t like any of those restaurants, O-YA and MORIMOTO, and the third Geisha’s isn’t really a sushi-ya, then why would I have high expectations? Right? And for who care, which I don’t, Chef Dom Pham is not Japanese. For me, I don’t care if you’re Japanese, from Japan, man, woman, Martian, none of that, if you know fish, you know fish, period. In fact, we love Karma-san at BLUE RIBBON IZAKAYA, he’s not Japanese!
- Variety: We had a total of 19 distinctly different varietals, which lands them solidly at a 9. Most restaurants don’t really have this much… And the best part? We complained a TINY bit to Pham-san that there aren’t enough shells/mollusks. He shares that the neighborhood he’s in yields mostly Jewish patrons. That there are a lot of holidays (Kashrut) where shellfish is not consumed, so it’s easier to just stock less in general. Sushi AND Religion! Fascinating! What a night! Not being “fake humble”, but truly, with each day, I realize how little I know! Oh, I didn’t get to the “best part” yet. The best part about this… when we complained, Pham-san shared, just let him know a couple of days ahead of time, the next time we visit, and he’ll be sure to stock extra stuff just for us! I love chefs that are open and receptive to feedback! Not all of them are!
- Freshness: Now, I’m EXTREMELY stingy with classifying a serving as “Great”, however, out of 19 servings, one of which is a repeat, there were FIVE greats! For me, that is INCREDIBLE! Two of the five are Dungeness Crab with Osetra Caviar, so good that we ordered a repeat (check out the photo below, the amount of Osetra you get is absurd, in the best way possible), one Santa Barbara Uni, one CHUTORO, one OTORO, and a Wagyu (which isn’t fish, but whatever). Plus, there wasn’t one bad serving, I do not take lightly.
- Preparation: Pham-san didn’t quite knock out this category like he did the Freshness category, but he still scored 5 Greats, which again, is very hard to come by from me. Take a read below, any summary here would not do the serving justice. A very noteworthy serving, the AWABI, I compared it to one of the best restaurants in THE WORLD, SUSHI MIYAKAWA (Sapporo). Unfortunately, he did have one “Bad”, and 3 “Mediocre”s. Still gives him a healthy average rating of “Good” though!
- Cost: The way Pham-san does it, 18 servings for $155 is A STEAL. It doesn’t quite seem right when I say it aloud, $155 per person before drinks, tax and tip, but if you’re an avid sushi-lover, it’s really pretty decent. And don’t forget my qualifier – this is in respect to “the way Pham-san does it”. Almost every serving is “loaded”. He combines/tops fishes with other goodies like foie gras, caviar, uni, truffle, crab, just other stuff. Now if you’re going to top one fish with another, doesn’t that really count as 2 servings? Or at least a serving and a half?
- Ambiance: One thing I so rarely talk about, the ambiance. ISHIKAWA is a FUN place. We’re people-people. We like to chat and laugh and drink with not only the chef, but the wait staff, the other patrons, just other people. Pham-san is very open to chatting, providing fish wisdom, sharing thoughts on other sushi-yas, other chefs. It was a great time.
Finally, one thing to just note, Chef Dom Pham never said to call him Pham-san. We just did, and kept going, and he didn’t seem to mind, so I continued that here in this post. Remember Pham-san isn’t Japanese, so maybe he just prefers chef Pham, or even Chef Dom? Oh well… We’ll double check on that next time we go back.
Funny story… When Dojo first opened, when Chef David Bouhadana reigned, there was a female sushi chef there. To this day, I do not know her name. We thought it was Jessica, and kept chatting, and drinking, and referring to her as Jessica. Chef David did the same! By like our 4th or 5th visit, Chef David asks us why we kept calling her Jessica. Turns out, that wasn’t her name, wasn’t even close. They just didn’t want to correct us, and I suppose it was just funny for them. Sorry non-Jessica, until we see you again, you’ll remain as Jessica to us…
Our Omakase Tonight:
- NODOGURO (Black throat) – I apologize for having missed the photo opportunity for this first serving. It was real good too. I decided immediately after this first serving that it was going to repeat it. To be fair though, I rarely meet a NODOGURO I don’t enjoy, you would have to really screw it up.
- SUMI IKA (Cuttlefish) – SCRUMPTIOUS! You really don’t need to do much with a good SUMI IKA. Just clean it real well, and then it’s all in the cutting. Very nice crunch, not at all chewy and super flavorful.
- KUMAMOTO oyster with IKURA (Salmon Roe) – IKURA was very good, nicely flavored, decent sized, non-crushed pearls. Oyster was also decent, clean, fresh, creamy, Kumamoto. I love having IKURA with my oyster, so what I’m about to say may seem like an oxymoron. BUT, I think there’s too much IKURA. A few pearls, and it draws out flavors, and adds complexity. Too much IKURA, and your mouth gets all confused, dulls the oyster. Luckily, I was unaffected. I ate a good 80% of the IKURA with my chopsticks before consuming the bite. I definitely commend Pham-san for serving the combo atop cucumber over rice though. MUCH better than with rice.
- King Salmon – Served ABURIed (torched) with chopped scallions and shaved truffles. If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know that I’m not a huge fan of salmons in my omakase. I almost feel like this one is an “different” though… When you ABURI the Salmon this much, and then top it with scallions AND shaved truffles, it’s almost counted as a cooked dish… I don’t hate it… I border on enjoying it.
- CHUTORO (Medium Fatty Tuna) – This came from Spain and Pham-san aged it 7 days. Really, really nice. Super clean, crisp flavors, incredibly rich and buttery. Zero veininess, zero chew. No funky aftertaste. Very nice.
- Dungeness Crab with Caviar – The crab was shredded and mixed in with the guts for extra flavor. The Osetra were decent, medium sized, sweet, mildly-briny, and nutty pearls. Individually, both super respectable, together, the combo, fantastic. This made it to the “great” category!
- BOTAN EBI (Spotted Sweet Shrimp) – Served with BOTAGA and Shaved FOIE GRAS. OK, when a fish has a topping, I try real, real hard to try the fish without the topping so IN CASE I am not a fan of the toppings, I can still distinguish the quality of the fish. Look at the picture! How can I??? I don’t dislike either the BOTAGA (egg yolk) OR the shaved foie gras, I enjoy them both actually. I just don’t like this combo though. You know who else loves to play with egg yolk? Chef Masato Shimizu that USED to reign at 15 East, and Chef Masaki Saito who reigns at GINZA ONODERA. Nobu-san from KANOYAMA did it a few times too, but out of 10 meals, he’ll do it like 2 times, so it’s clearly not his go to.
- HOKKAIDO UNI, IKURA, Caviar, Truffle – OMG – the second “Great” of the night! To be fair, the Hokkaido UNI alone would probably be in the “Good” category, but as a combo, this was BEYOND! I really don’t know that I can truly distinguish the difference between the KALUGA and the OSETRA here. A few times a year, we would do a caviar tasting. When we do that, it’s very clear what’s what. When you mix it with a bunch of other flavors, my palate isn’t clean enough to discern… And it’s important because KALUGA is like 3-4 times the price of OSETRA. if you’re going to make it a point to call out that it’s KALUGA, you set a certain bar… I’m just saying I can’t confirm that bar…
- KAMPACHI (Amberjack) – Amberjack alone, delicious! KAMPACHI with the toppings, not bad! I like clean flavors, so this medley of chopped/grinded peppers, while it didn’t corrupt the fish, it was just a little much…
- Santa Barbara UNI – Believe it or not, I was able to dig out a piece of UNI that was not laced with shaved truffles. Uni alone, very, very good. Underneath the UNI, there’s a slice of fried zucchini blossom. Together, you wouldn’t be able to tell how great the UNI was, and it was, but it yielded it’s own good flavors. Sorry, didn’t make the “great” cut, but still very good.
- Wagyu – If you ask, Pham-san is entirely open to not ABURI-ing your meat at all, and serving you just raw slices of super rich and buttery Wagyu. Fantastic!
- OTORO (Super Fatty Tuna) – Just like the CHUTORO, from Spain, really rich, buttery, not at all veiny/chewy, clean crisp flavors. Really good!
- CHAWAN MUSHI with Dungeness Crab – This was a very, very small portion of CHAWAN MUSHI, which is good, doesn’t take up too much stomach space. Great flavors, Dungeness crab was a great topping. Pham-san, you love to do combos, why not throw a little UNI atop just for fun? That would have made this a 10. Instead, a solid 8.5…
- TARABA-GANI (King crab), SHIMA AJI (Striped jack), Hokkaido UNI – Individually, loved every part of this. Together, I don’t really understand the combo. The TARABA-GANI was great, and even better with the UNI and the sauce. The SHIMA-AJI also great, just didn’t understand the UNI atop… Overall, really, really good!
- KAMASU (Barracuda) – The KAMASU great, the Garlic chips also great, the sauce it’s seeped in… Much too spicy. My mouth is burning. If Pham-san takes the heat down 3 notches, this could be in the great category…
- AWABI (Abalone) – I LOVE my AWABIs. At a sushi-ya, I usually prefer my AWABI served raw/sashimi style. If done right though… I bow down to you! My most immaculate braised AWABI experience is hands down, SUSHI MIYAKAWA (Sapporo). My mouth waters at the thought! This one reminds me very much of that… The other better NYC braised AWABI servings in NYC, probably UCHU and AMANE. This one surpasses them both. Kudos to you Pham-san! For a braised AWABI, you make the “Great” cut!
- OTORO (Super Fatty Tuna) – This is beautiful, isn’t it? But come on! People’s mouths are not that big to fit this into one bite! Pham-san, you definitely win the race of most toppings. In a perfect world, I would probably have this same exact serving, but split into two half sized portions. Each individual portion was great, and worked so well together. I can’t believe it – fourth “Great” of the night. I am thoroughly impressed!
- TORO, IKURA, UNI handroll – Sorry… this combo was just too much… overkill… Honestly, if you’re going to do TORO with TAKUAN (which I prefer), then skip the scallions. UNI and IKURA is a great combo, UNI, IKURA and TORO, that too. BUT, UNI doesn’t go with TAKUAN or scallions, it’s WEIRD! I don’t get the rice crispy things either. Sorry, this was a little too crazy. I two bites, and then set down the roll. I know that’s rude, but Pham-san was super polite about it, thank you Pham-san!!!