362 W 23rd St
New York, NY 10011
Ushiwakamaru does not have a website, but here’s Yelp
After my decision to start writing this guide, the first restaurant I went to was Ushiwakamaru. (From here on forth, I’m going to refer to them as Ushi, because Ushiwakamaru is simply too long to type!) I apologize in advance, but the photos in this first review are not mine, I took them primarily from the Ushi yelp site. When a chef serves you sushi, you’re SUPPOSED to eat it immediately. So taking a couple of minute to take a photo is a bit of a sushi faux pas. Actually taking photos at any fancy restaurant is a bit of a faux pas. It screams, I don’t belong here!!! But fear not, I’ll suck it up and photo away in the future!
About a decade ago, I used to frequent this small establishment in the West Village, back when it was still on Houston. A visit, maybe three years ago, had since closed the doors to Ushi for me. My man, this gorgeous hot blooded Italian man, had a tiff with the chef. Major no-no. Not that we were asked to leave, or to never come back, but if my man ain’t happy, what’s the point? The quarrel? Four little quail eggs. My man loves him some raw quail eggs! At the end of our delectable omakase meal, along with other sushi pieces, he requested 4 raw quail eggs. After some time, the chef puts down the plate, and exclaims “FIRST TIME, LAST TIME!” Clearly, the chef thought being asked for quail eggs alone, was beneath him. My man almost reached over the counter to ring his neck.
Why I needed to come back? Their TAKO (octopus). I don’t know how they make this, and though I love grilled octopus from say, a Mediterranean restaurant, I’m generally not a fan of TAKO as a sushi/sashimi dish. Ushi has found a way to barely cook it, such where it’s still very much raw on the inside, where upon it entering your mouth, there’s an amazing freshness, a tiny tinge of necessary chewiness, a small crunch, and an all around feeling of satisfaction. The fancier restaurants, the likes of Kuruma, Yasuda, Brushstroke, don’t really bother with TAKO. They may have their NAMADAKO, but few tampers with the TAKO, and they definitely will not put it on their omakase. If Ushi didn’t put it on theirs, I would never have ordered it, so thank goodness they did! The only comparator I have for Ushi’s TAKO is 15 East. They have a true NIDAKO though, where they fully poach their TAKO. Though equally delicious, I would opt for Ushi’s TAKO any day. Just personal preference, I like raw, or as close to it as I can get. I kid you not, Ushi’s TAKO is no joke.
My Omakase course:
- First, a small plate of TAKO served with a little bit of peppered salt for dipping. It was just as delicious as I remembered. I’m glad they served this as a small plate alone. When they serve it as part of the sashimi dish, you only get two tiny pieces. In this small plate, you get three, and then a suction cup or two! (Again, this photo is not mine, thus it doesn’t have the extra pieces, and doesn’t have the suction cups!)
- Second, a sashimi plate of all Japanese fish (sorry – could not find a picture that has all of the fishes I was served):
- KANPACHI – served exactly how I like it, plain. I love my KANPACHI, but it’s also a fairly easy to get fish. So when I go for omakase, I hope for the harder-to-get fishes…
- AJI – served with a little bit of grated ginger and scallions. I wish they gave me just a tiny bit more ginger. Same as the KANPACHI, I love my AJI, but it’s so easy to get. I want the hard to get stuff!
- CHUTORO – again, served exactly how I like it, plain. I’m a really big fan of CHU-TORO. It’s the perfect amount of fattiness. OTORO, though delish going down, I feel like I need to scrub the layer of fat left in my mouth after. The only thing better than CHUTORO, is HAGASHI-TORO. But those are so rarely served.
- HOTATE – cut into small chunks rather than slices. I prefer it cut this way. Nothing is worse than going to a sushi restaurant, ordering HOTATE, receiving it sliced thin, with thin slices of lemon to separate. By the time you eat it, the lemon has cured the HOTATE, and completely altered the taste. Did I order ceviche? Or am I at a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant?
- BOTAN EBI – Of course, they first show us the live shrimp, with it still fighting the chef. They remove the head and allowing the shrimp eye balls to give us the stare down. They later serve this to us deep fried, with a splash of fresh lemon juice a small sprinkle of sea salt. YUM!
- Overall, every piece of fish was super fresh, and all perfectly cut. My only complaint was there was no whitefish. I could have replaced one of my silver fishes with a white fish. But they do make up for this in the sushi courses.
- Next came a small shot glass worth of raw squid legs with spicy tobiko. This was an odd little dish. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it’s not something I would have ordered. It’s not a palate cleanser, it just confuses me, to be honest.
- Third, or is this fourth? Was the sushi:
- MADAI – Served with a little bit of the skin left on the fish, a small squeeze of fresh lemon, and dash of sea salt. I LOVE my MADAIs, and this is one of my two favorite ways to have it. When they don’t serve it with the skin, I feel a little ripped off. This was a GREAT START to my sushi. I love when they start with white fish.
- SABA – Served with a small bit of skin left on fish, and plain. This was fresh, not cured. Honest, I’m just not a huge fan of SABA. For me, it’s a small step up from SAWARA, which is just not good. SAWARA is the smoked version of SABA, blah! In the silver fish category, I’d much prefer to have a nice AJI (which I already got as sashimi), or SANMA, or IWASHI, or KOHADA. The list goes on! It was also odd to me to have a strong silver fish right after my super light, MADAI.
- ZUWAI GANI – Beautiful snow crab, with a little bit of the brains. I LOVE when they serve it with some brains. (I think I need to thesaurus “LOVE”, as I am getting tired of hearing myself say it.) In Japan, they tell you that snow crabs are primarily a winter fish. In the great US of A though, we have it year round! And it is ALWAYS good! YAY USA! If you do continue to read my posts, I’m sure I’ll continue to reveal how much of an obnoxious American I am. I LOVE our great country, the United States of America. There is no place in the world better. As an immigrant myself, I couldn’t be a prouder citizen of this great country.
- KINMEDAI – Served with some skin attached, and ABURI-ed (ABURI = torched), with a little bit of salt. KINMEDAI is one of my favorite fishes in the world. Something was off though. I NEVER prefer my MADAI over my KINMEDAI. What was wrong? I couldn’t tell you. As much as I was not as thrilled as I could be, I’d gladly order a repeat, right after the MADAI that is.
- AKAMUTSU – Like the MADAI, served with some skin, a tinge of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of sea salt. This is another of my faves in the white fish world, probably top three. This is another that I usually prefer this over the MADAI. Was the MADAI just that kick-ass tonight? How can it possibly overshadow my KINMEDAI AND AKAMUTSU??? (this photo is from OLD Ushi – Houston St Ushi – yes, KINMEDAI and AKAMUTSU looks very similiar, refer to my guide for differences!)
- AKAMI ZUKE – By definition, a soy marinated lean cut of tuna. I really do have an appreciation for a good ZUKE. When it’s done right, and it WAS done right, it is so just amazing.
- OTORO – I don’t know if this is OTORO or OH-TORO, but who cares, does anyone pronounce OTORO differently than OH-TORO? Anyway, this was served slightly aburi-ed with truffle sea salt. Surprisingly, the truffle sea salt was not overwhelming at all, on the contrary, a beautiful compliment. As I said earlier though, I’m not a huge fan of the OTORO. I really do feel like I need to wash my mouth after. I remember how much I loved this when I was younger, so perhaps my palate changed with age? Though not my fave fish, or fave fish of the night, it was very good, and I would recommend to anyone.
- IKURA – I really do love my IKURA. Ushi has fantabulous (fantastic + fabulous) IKURA. Sequencing wise, the perfect follow up to the aburi-ed OTORO. Those precious little pearls of roe, a spectacular crunch that is not one bit fishy, just cleaned my entire mouth, leaving it fresh and ripe for my next course! I can order 5 more of these!
- TOKUBUSHI – From California, served lightly scored, with soy. If you’re not tired of hearing me say “I love…”, then I love my abalones! I love the crunch. I love it the Japanese sushi/sashimi style with the crunch, as well as the Chinese style, dried and then rehydrated and braised for days. Only the better sushi joints ever serve fresh abalone. When abalone is “not right”, there’s a certain smell/hint/taste. I can’t describe it. It’s not as simple as “fishy”, it’s something different. Well, this was NOT that. This was DELISH! (another photo is from OLD Ushi)
- UNI – From Sapporo. How is it different from the other UNIs of Hokkaido? Not a clue. If he just said UNI from HOKKAIDO, I would have never asked where specifically in HOKKAIDO? Perhaps I should. Learn me a thing or two! It’s not exactly the prime season for Hokkaido UNI, but it was still so scrumptious. Now, if you read my “ultimate sushi guide”, you’ll see that my most preferred UNI AS A NEW YORKER, is the California UNI. However, the fact that we still have very good UNI from Hokkaido when not in prime season, but can’t get a good piece of California UNI, what does that mean?
- YOUR PICK – This is when the chef allows you to pick your final piece of fish. The sky’s the limit! Unfortunately, I ran off to the little girl’s room, so I didn’t get to choose. My lovely boyfriend chose KINMEDAI for me. While I LOVE KINMEDAI, today, the MADAI was the king. I would have done the MADAI, or the IKURA, or perhaps something I haven’t had today yet? Maybe a NORESORE? Ushi has the delicious NORESORE! And they’re in season too!
- Finally, the dessert:
We each get to pick an ice cream flavor. I don’t remember all the options, but we chose one Green Tea, and one Sesame. I’m not a sweets connoisseur, so this is going to be brief. The Green Tea tasted like green tea, good enough. The Sesame, as you would imagine, tasted like sesame, nutty, peanut brittle-ish. Per the big white man, peanut brittle better, green tea has no taste.
I am VERY happy that we are USHI-ing again, but unfortunately, I have to give them a really misleading rating of 26 out of 35 points. The food portion was fantastic, almost perfect, even the cost was great, the only real ding was the high mark ups on SAKE, they got 0 out of 5 there! :