Visited in November 2016
88 West 3rd St
New York, NY 10012
What is it with the swarm of new “fancy” sushiyas? Does ANYONE appreciate the fixed seatings? Anyone??? Actually, I guess it’s not really a “swarm”, just four that I can think of, Sushi Zo, Sushi Nakazawa, Tanoshi, and Brushstroke with Ichimura, and I guess not really “new” either, given that Tanoshi and Brushstroke have both been around for a number of years now, and perhaps not even “fancy” given Tanoshi is kind of dumpy. Wow, I should really compose my thought before composing my sentences. But the second thought still holds. NO ONE appreciates fixed seatings, NO ONE. Fixed seatings are almost mini versions of mass production. One chef will serve the entire seating group, where he slices the same fish for everyone, dresses it the same way for everyone, no deviations.
The other problem with set servings is the inevitable mishap of someone running late. I am NEVER late, I am typically a solid 15 minutes early actually. But it was pouring rain outside that night, and getting a cab was next to impossible. We showed up almost 20 minutes late, and boy were we rushed! We had to “catch up” with the servings. Have you seen “I love Lucy’s” episode at the chocolate factory? Where she wasn’t keeping up with the work, and then just started shoving all the chocolate in her mouth? That’s what I felt like, I WAS LUCY!
This whole set seatings thing is essentially asking everyone to conform. Should we all have the same drink when we come? Wear the same outfits? We’re not communists you know! Ok, maybe I’m taking it too far… Bottom line, patrons paying over a certain amount for a meal, like to feel that they are “special”, not just part of an assembly line. Ok, I’m done, will get off my soapbox now…
Despite the initial mega rush, I have to admit, the staff at Sushi Zo was pretty good, all fairly attentive, and not the “in your face” kind. Chef Masa (Masashi Ito) is probably one of the friendliest, most talkative sushi chefs too. Per chef Masa, patrons of a certain level of sushiya demands good conversation with the chef, we agree! He shared stories of his time in LA’s Sushi Zo, his uprooting of his family and moving start up Sushi Zo in NYC, and even provided some recommendations for our upcoming trip to Tokyo. As a head sushi chef, he is also one of the youngest, and most fluent in English. He even has his own instagram page! Talk abt progression!
Let’s get down to business, our omakase tonight:
- SASHIMI PLATTER (clockwise from oyster):
- Kumamoto Oyster from Washington state – Super plump little oyster topped with ponzu, momiji oroshi and scallions. Lovely mild brine, super sweet finish. Delish!
- AKAMI (Lean blue fin Tuna) – Very nice, light, lean Tuna with no veins and zero tinge of funk. Very good.
- MADAI (True Seabream) – The fish itself was very fresh, very good, but the way it’s served, with an overpowering seaweed, the super light fresh fish was wasted.
- AJI (Horse Mackerel) – Similar to the MADAI, the fish itself was very fresh & good, but AJIs in general really do need to be served with a tiny bit of shaved ginger & scallion. That was missing, yielding a less preferred AJI. Another waste.
- NAMADAKO (live octopus) – NAMADAKOs are one of my favorite shellfishes, so I am a bit pickier here. This particular serving was not as bright/fresh as what I am normally served, in fact, it was mega chewy. This was the biggest disappointment of the platter.
- Overall, the highlight of the sashimi platter was the oyster, then the very good was the AKAMI, then the wasted but still fresh were the MADAI and AJI, and finally the not so good was the NAMADAKO. This is definitely just an AVERAGE sashimi platter.
- HIRAME (Fluke) – Served with a very small slice of YUZU skin, topped with some sea salt. What a turn from the disappointing sashimi platter! This super fresh HIRAME was light, bright, and overall delicious.
- SAWARA (Spanish Mackerel) – Not a huge fan of SAWARAs, but this one was lighter than usual, a mild, oilier fish. Very good, almost great. Rinded me of our recent Sushi Dojo SAWARA. I hate to compare, but if I had to… Sushi Dojo’s wowed me much more… Sorry chef!
- HOTATE (Scallop) – What a beautifully thick cut of scallop. Very good. My favorite HOTATE sushi is from Soto, but this one is another close second.
- BURI (Adult Yellowtail) – Finally, I’m seeing chef Masa shine, really shine! The sashimi was just ok, and the sushi servings thus far has been good, but nothing that knocks me off my feet. BURIs are not a favorite of mine, as it tends to be much stronger tasting of the yellowtails. This one was VERY good.
- Local White Sea Trout – Looks like a whitefish, huh? Chef Masa shared with us that he prefers to find some “different” varietals or cuts of fish, Japanese or otherwise. This trout was served with some marinated Pepper. Not a fan of salmons, but this was good…
- “UKIMASU” (Snow Trout with Truffle Salt) – Continuing on with the “less common” fishes, we were next served this UKIMASU, a snow trout. This is my first time having this fish. Not even sure I spelt it correctly, but that’s how it sounded. This is a light whitefish, so I can imagine I would enjoy this, but what is the deal with sushi chefs putting Truffle-anything on such light fishes? Chef Masa also shared with us that his sushi style is not Edomae, but just “Sushi Zo” style. But quite frankly, up until these two servings, everything else is VERY Edomae. And despite Sushi Zo just surfacing in NYC all of a year ago, it’s very common to serve salmons/trouts with YUZU Pepper.
- SHIRO EBI (Sweet White Shrimp) – Beautiful little sweet white shrimps, topped with shaved ginger, and as sushi. Marvelous! See, there’s really nothing wrong with the classics!
- KAMPACHI (Amberjack) – KAMPACHI is my second most favorite yellowtail. Served with a tiny dollop of yuzu pepper, as it often is, this one was underwhelming.
- CHUTORO (Medium Fatty Tuna) – Beautiful cut of Tuna, no veins, no chew, and no funky aftertaste tinge. This was a very good cut. Very pleased!
- OTORO (Super Fatty Tuna) – Perhaps Tuna is Chef Masa’s specialty. Served ABURIed, this was such a lovely cut, again, no veins, no chew, and no funky aftertaste. Another win!
- IKURA (Salmon Roe) – All in that DAISHI! So two areas of expertise? These luscious IKURA pearls were marinated in the perfect DAISHI. Each pearl was so crunchy, light, and delicious. Perfect balance of sweetness in the DAISHI and the natural saltiness of the IKURA. Marvelous!
- CHAWAN MUSHI with KANI (Snow Crab) and HOTATE (Scallop) – Not at all a fan of CHAWAN MUSHI being served as a “course”. Not unless it was made with some amazing UNI or maybe KANI. Sushi Zo’s was made with KANI and HOTATE. The CHAWAN MUSHI itself was BLAND, the KANI was fine, but the HOTATE was NOT good, my brazen guess, it was wet packed scallop. BOOO!!!!
- AKAMUTSU (Sea Perch) – Another of my favorite whites! Chef served it with a tiny squeeze of YUZU, and a simple but delicious black sea salt. This was wonderful! Thank you for redeeming yourself after that pitiful CHAWAN MUSHI!
- KATSUO (Bonito) – Are we just taking turns of really great piece, and then not so great piece? Even with the Ginger and Chives, this KATSUO was bland. This serving was not good.
- KINMEDAI (Golden Eye Snapper) – Back to great! I wish this was chef ABURIed the skin, but the fish itself is still absolutely marvelous.
- HOKKAIDO UNI – Chef said that the California UNI today was not good, so he stuck with the HOKKAIDO. If it was not good compared to the HOKKAIDO, then it must have been really bad, because this was JUST ok.
- SHIMA AJI (Striped Jack) – This is my favorite of the yellowtail family, but after the underwhelming KAMPACHI (my second favorite) serving, my expectations were not high. Perhaps low expectations is key? This was marvelous. Everything you want from a SHIMA AJI, fantastic oils, yet still bright and crunchy. Well done!
- A5 WAYGU – Super fatty red meat, what is there not to like? A good reason is if it was also super chewy, and this one was. They didn’t share what kind of cut this was, but it was NOT good.
- NEGITORO (TORO with Scallions) – Very happy to wrap up the meal with what the chef does so great.
- TAMAGO – It’s egg. I passed.
Other than the initial mega rush due to the set seatings (which you can argue that it’s my own fault), this was an overall thoroughly enjoyable meal and experience. The stringent set seatings is really not my thing though, so I’m not sure I’ll be coming back all that soon… Very respectable overall rating of 29 out of 35.