Tag Archives: sushi

Domo: tiny space, brief menu, big flavors

domo

One thing I miss most about New York is the overload of coveted sushi offerings. Restaurants with Japanese-born and trained sushi chefs. Restaurants with fish fresher than Tokyo. Sushi restaurants that are actually fun, not stale as a library, with cocktails and energetic music. These are few and far between in my little Pac Heights enclave (though I do love Umami on Webster), so I was thrilled to pin down Domo in Hayes Valley last night. Wow. This place is awesome.

Though I love sushi, I dread sifting through four-page-lists of roll combinations, which are often accompanied by an additional cut out menu of specials. Tuna, unagi, fried shrimp, avocado, and cucumber in different forms – the rolls start to blend together quarter-way down the list. Domo removes the perusing legwork with a clearly laid out, one-page menu. Simple and succinct. People don’t need 10 variations of spicy tuna, and they don’t want to put off catching up with friends to study a menu. And on Domo’s menu is a wide variety of hot and cold small plates, salads, and other concoctions I could never imagine on my own. As tiny and intimate as this bar-seat-filled spot may be, it’s got a menu that lures a big group of repeat customers every night (which means you should get there early if you want to avoid a wait).

Emily in Domo

Emily in Domo

Fortunately, my friend Emily arrived hungry, so we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes. And because each one was mouth-watering, I can vouch fairly that this is one of the best sushi spots I’ve tried in SF. We started with the daikon salad, thinly sliced, crisp layers of cool daikon topped with bonito flakes and garlic ponzu. The salad was light, crunchy, and pungent – a creative alternative to the typical wakame salad. We then tried the hamachi carpaccio, which was seared and beautifully plated with a light, tangy garlic ponzu, tobiko, and thinly sliced jalapeno – a fresh fish celebration. Then, the cold and simple Spicy Hulk roll, amazingly fresh spicy tuna with avocado surrounded by a crisp cucumber wrapper. I loved this because the spicy tuna was only subtly dressed – not laden with a garlicky mayonnaise like I find in most sushi restaurants. The two special rolls we ordered were incredible – the Wiki Wiki was a creative mix of fried shitake mushrooms, cucumber, and avocado topped with silky seared butter fish. Totally addictive. And crispy rice cakes, move over – I popped the fire cracker balls in my mouth pretty much like popcorn. These dense, miniature, panko crusted tuna balls with spicy mayo, unagi sauce, scallions and tobiko blow any other fried sushi out of the water.

daikon salad

daikon salad

hamachi with garlic ponzu

hamachi with garlic ponzu

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

two special sushi rolls

two special sushi rolls

spicy hulk roll

spicy hulk roll

Along with our cold, dry sake, the entire meal was incredible. Each roll was a piece of art, a stunning culmination of so much attention to detail that revealed itself as perfection to my tastebuds. This is undoubtedly my favorite sushi restaurant in San Francisco – it’s worth any wait, as well as the distance if you’re not in the neighborhood. If you need more incentive, plan a post-dinner stroll down Hayes to Smitten Ice Cream, where they freeze to order with liquid nitrogen to make some of the creamiest concoctions of your life.

Go here.

Go here.

My experience at Domo only further confirms my theory that Hayes Valley is THE place to be in SF!

Grade: A+
Location: 511 Laguna Street @ Linden Street
Website

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Izakaya Ten: a quaint Japanese gem in no-man’s land

izakaya ten

When most people think of 10th avenue, I’m guessing that the thought of great restaurants doesn’t come to mind. But if you creep up north of 20th street, there are quite a few dark horses that I wish I had discovered sooner, one of which is a called Izakaya Ten. Izakayas are Japanese drinking establishments that also serve food. Here, despite the late hours (they close at 3am!) I would never have considered food as an afterthought. The menu is chalk full of goodies. And the energy that a boozey-focus brings solves the problem of the dreary, awkwardly quiet atmosphere of typical sushi bars. Izakaya Ten teleports you from a wide, uncharacteristic avenue to a restaurant you’d expect to find on a side street in Tokyo (or Korea? there’s kim chi). It’s got energy. It’s got hard alcohol. It has massive hand written, animé style menus. There’s music playing. And because it’s so tiny, you really feel like you’re enjoying the experience together along with the patrons around you.

I came here expecting a long list of sushi, but no, the goods go beyond sliced seafood. Yes, there’s a few selections of raw fish (we ordered most of them (the spicy tuna donburi, the sashimi plate, and the toro tuna belly seared over rice), but it’s the small plates of cooked food that really got me going. And as the sake kept pouring, we lost all shame in incessantly ordering more food: shishito peppers, a crispy cod roe rice ball wrapped in seaweed, another crispy rice ball with salmon, the chilled Japanese eggplant in broth, the savory, decadent jumbo shumai, the kara age (ginger deep-fried chicken), and of course, the special fried soft shell crab. In addition to the uniqueness of the menu, the icing on the cake was the attentive Australian server who feigned to be happy to answer our constant requests for more sake and more food.

 

kara age

softshell crab

softshell crab

rice ball!

rice ball!

 

 

We were lucky to walk in on a Friday night at 8pm and get a table right away, but it would have been worth the wait. Izakaya Ten is the perfect place for a fun dinner for a group of up to 4 people, or even for a more eventful, share-plate style date. It can get expensive if you don’t reign in the ordering, but it’s a place you want to arrive hungry and uninhibited. I can’t wait to take advantage of the fact that I’m walking distance to this spot!

Grade: A+
Location: 207 10th Ave btwn 22nd and 23rd Streets 
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Filed under Asian, Barbecue, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Japanese

Chez Sardine: pricey, carefully portioned Japanese

Picture 5

I did it. I finally did it. Last Sunday night, inspired by the lack of crowd outside the highly coveted Chez Sardine, I unexpectedly dove right in determined to check this place off my bucket list. I sat at the sushi bar, excited by all of the interesting combinations and the miso-maple salmon head, a dish that has been praised by my friends and fellow bloggers alike. Hipster waiters in high top converse were very attentive, bringing a complimentary pickeled daikon salad to start the meal. And while the maple-wooden space is pristine and beautiful, the food just didn’t impress. While the sushi arrived so beautifully plated and sounded so intriguing (as they should for $5-$7 a tiny piece) – hamachi with chicarron and ginger, mackerel with leek and potatoes, smoked arctic char with spicy rice – they oddly lacked flavor, and were no more exciting than the several pieces I can get for this price at my local sushi spot down the street. The spicy tuna hand roll was thin and skimpy – not what I wanted on an empty stomach. I waited for the salmon head to arrive to take my breath away, but after minutes of peeling away skin and fat to get to a microscopic piece of edible meat overdosed in miso paste, I gave up. I decided to stop my order right there and head home.

miso salmon

$70 later, I was disappointed that all that I had hoped and dreamed of regarding Chez Sardine (considering this group’s other restaurants I love – Montmartre, Joseph Leonard, Fedora….) was blown to pieces. I would come back to try the buttered caviar toast, but only on someone else’s dime. Coming here hungry and with hopes to spend conservatively was torture. I’d save your sushi cravings for Momoya in Chelsea.

Grade: C+
Location: 183 West 10th Street @ West 4th street
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Momoya: a re-discovered sushi sleeper in Chelsea

photo 1

Whenever I trek along 7th or 8th Avenue to make my way uptown, I gaze straight ahead, more focused on dodging pedestrians than exploring the side by side box-shaped restaurants. But while this may not be the area for restaurants oozing with character, there are a few reliable ones that serve the purpose of providing solid food without pretention. My favorite? Momoya, the modern, often bustling sushi restaurant that has Morimoto-style Japanese at competitive prices.

Tonight my order was easy given I arrived hungry, which is just as dangerous as grocery shopping while starving. I wanted everything. I saw the man to my right having the crispy rice with tuna and shiitake, so I ordered that. I saw a yellow tail  roll further down the bar, so I added that as well. I was also able to try the white stone roll, a non-traditional tofu-skin roll with fried tempura, crab, tuna and a sweet chili sauce. Along with a few pieces of sashimi and a seaweed salad, I had ordered the perfect amount of food for two that came out to $40 each – a steal given my typical $100 tabs at Blue Ribbon Sushi. Everything hit the spot, but the crispy rice with tuna was a standout.

crispy rice with tuna and seaweed salad

crispy rice with tuna and seaweed salad

the works

the works

The food at Momoya is fresh, the service efficient, and the space open, airy, sleek and clean. Sit at the sushi bar if you want to be inches away from the sushi chef action, or if pointing to the most appealing items is your preferred method of ordering.

Grade: A
Location: 185 7th Ave @ 21st Street
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Las Vegas: Sushi Samba and Tao, two NYC transplants

800px-Las_Vegas_Strip

It’s ironic that such a culturally dry place like Las Vegas can be seen as a microcosm of the world – in an hour, you can visit the Eiffel Tower, ride on a Venetian Gondola, pass tourists of every nationality and eat at some of the world’s best restaurants, most of which were founded in NYC. While I like to branch out when I travel, Las Vegas is the type of place that’s so shocking to my system that it leads me to resort to the familiar. So, when I was given the opportunity to dine out during my two nights there for a work conference, I decided to go with two old-time New York City (and Miami) staples: Sushi Samba and Tao.

The big difference between hotel restaurants in Vegas and New York is that in Vegas, there are very few windows. You feel like you’re eating in a dungeon most of the time, and it could be any time of day. Sushi Samba and Tao, both at the Venetian Hotel, were no different. Dark, somewhat depressing, and sterile. The food, however, was better than I remembered it. At Sushi Samba, my friends and I had a reprieve from heavy food with the tuna tataki salad, the mushroom toban yaki, and the neo tokyo roll with big eye tuna. While the mushrooms were doused in butter, the rest was light and refreshing.

inside sushi samba

inside sushi samba

tuna tataki "salad"

tuna tataki “salad”

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

mushroom toban-yaki

mushroom toban-yaki

The great thing about Tao is the large round tables, the perfect set up for a big group of people. Because we were in a rush to make a concert, I was given the privilege of ordering for the entire table – my favorite thing to do! I selected a few from each section, but the big standouts were the crispy peking duck spring rolls, the pad thai, and the satay of chilean sea bass. But for once in my life, I was less focused on the food because the lychee martini was so delicious.

tao-asian-bistro_atmosphere_r620

the iconic massive Buddha

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

duck spring rolls

duck spring rolls

Vegas hotel restaurants and restaurants on the strip have their routines down to a T. Because everyone’s pumped on adrenaline and hotels want their patrons back at the Black Jack table, there’s no time for slow service or cold food. As much as I wanted to hate the food at these commercial, table turning restaurants, I was actually really pleased. But next time, I’m going to make reservations at the restaurants that aren’t so accessible at home.

Grade: A for both for high quality food and service. 
Location: Venetian Hotel

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Gari: High quality raw fish on Columbus Ave

My first meal at Blue Ribbon Sushi was an eye opening experience for me. First, it made me realize that for 25 years I had been eating bad sushi. Second, along with the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it helped me understand that bad sushi is practically an entirely different food group than fresh, artfully-prepared sushi. Sushi prepared by a skilled chef is a beautiful, delicious thing. It takes more than slicing a raw fish – sushi-making is a craft that that must be continuously perfected. Realizing this, along with getting sick from an inedible tray of take-out sashimi last month, I recently pledged to never eat bad sushi again.

Thus began my quest to try the city’s greatest Sushi restaurants, and there are many. I’d be content eating at Blue Ribbon every night, but interesting blog that does not make! So, in an effort to be grease-free before Thanksgiving and diversify my posts, this past Wednesday I tried Gari on Columbus, one of the five restaurants of the Sushi of Gari family. It’s everything people hype it up to be, and unlike some of its competitors, it takes reservations. The restaurant is brightly lit and no more interestingly-decorated than the next sushi joint, but you can really feel the sushi love and Japanese tradition emanating from each waiter.

The menu is standard aside from Gari’s signature dish: the Omakase,  which is the chef’s innovative preparations of  sushi, and what Zagat calls “a religious experience.” If I were P Diddy, I would have ordered the $100+ option, but given that I’m a struggling non-rapper I went for the Omakase appetizer: four pieces of tuna, four pieces of salmon, and an impeccably crispy salmon skin roll (my favorite). I wish I could list off the different variations of each of the uniquely prepared pieces, but I was too enamored by the plate’s beauty to really absorb the waiter’s descriptions. I do recall a salmon with roasted tomato, a tuna with scallions, and a tuna with blended tofu. Trust me when I say it was awesome, and along with a great green salad and the perfect gingery dressing, a fresh and bursting salmon roe nigiri, a piece of hamachi, and a delicious fried oyster roll, I felt like I was in Jiro’s Tokyo subway shop. The sushi performance warranted celebratory dessert, so we picked the fried bean cake special served with green tea ice cream after learning the bad news that they were out of the Lady M Green Tea Mille Crepes cake. While the dessert didn’t compare to Blue Ribbon’s green tea ice cream with red bean sauce, it was definitely interesting and tasty.

omakase

tuna with jalapeno

Lady M Green Tea Mille Crepes Cake – we didn’t eat this, but they serve it and it’s amazing.

So much for eating light the night before Thanksgiving! And here’s to always intending to eat healthy at a sushi restaurant, but more often than not leaving incredibly full. I just love it too much to care.

Grade: A+
LocationMultiple; this was 370 Columbus Ave between 77th and 78th Streets

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Okoze Sushi

Given it’s 10:30pm and I’m only half way through today’s to-dos (say that 10 times fast) I have negative 20 minutes to write this post. I just couldn’t deny Okoze sushi a solid review considering I’ve always professed that there’s no better neighborhood San Francisco Japanese restaurant than Ten-Ichi on Fillmore. I still believe that sentiment, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of sushi at this tiny shop on Union and Hyde. In fact, I’ll probably now go here for sushi, and reserve Ten-Ichi for my cravings for donburi or Asian fried food like chicken kara-age. Okoze is, like most Japanese restaurants, subdued, tranquil, and somewhat unexciting, and although it serves wine in horrible stemware on red paper napkins, it has a clean and sophisticated presence that assures you its relatively small menu is well thought-out. There are a few things they could improve (more than 10 edamame please, and a little more crisp to my tempura shrimp), but the raw fish was great. My favorite dish, however, was the fried shrimp head. As a Filipino, shrimp heads and tails are not the thing I avoid – they’re like a bundle of crack that I can’t get enough of. Drugs aside (for those who don’t know me, this is a joke), I’ll definitely be back for a low key sushi night, and will most likely follow it up with a Swensen’s chocolate-dipped ice cream. Tradition started ce soir!

delish sushi

fried ebi

Grade: B+
Location: 1207 Union Street @ Hyde
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Blue Ribbon Sushi

 

I’ve neglected the blog these past two weeks and I really have no better excuse than to say that I’ve been busy with work and a social life, like any normal person. That’s not to say I haven’t visited a ton of great restaurants worth reporting. Quite the opposite. The standout of the bunch, however, is Blue Ribbon Sushi, which was so breathtakingly delicious that it triggered me to see the movie chronicling a man in Tokyo who’s been improving his sushi making skills for 75 years, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

hamachi collar

Blue Ribbon is tucked away on Sullivan Street in Soho. It’s intimate. It’s special. You really feel like you’re embarking on a spiritual sushi experience when entering the low-ceiling, cozy space, which hosts just a few tables and a tiny sushi bar as the work space for multiple sushi chefs. The menu is filled with an overwhelming number of both hot and cold food, so to make the ordering process easier, strategize on what you want before our actual investigation. The green salad is colder, fresher, crunchier, and more flavorful than any other ginger-dressed Japanese starter salad I’ve had. The Hamachi Kama, broiled yellowtail collar, was rich, perfectly seasoned and meaty. The fried oyster roll was living proof that fried seafood can be nourishing and refreshing. And as for the sashimi…you never really realize how much bad sushi you’re tasting until you eat stuff like this – how can a piece of fish have so much intense flavor with absolutely nothing on it? It was perfect.

fried oyster roll (upon request)

fried oyster roll (upon request)

I love this place. And, the wines by the glass are great and hefty. Expect to wait for a table but it’s 100% worth it.

Grade: A
Location: 119 Sullivan btwn Prince and Spring
Website: 
http://www.blueribbonrestaurants.com/rests_sushi_man_main

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Bond Street Sushi

Hello! I have been very out of commission lately with an overwhelming amount of work, but I couldn’t resist updating everyone on the incredible Japanese meal I had at Bond Street last night. My friend and I got the personal attention of the very animated sushi chefs by sitting at the bar, which provided a much more friendly setting than the swanky dining area.

Basically the sky was our limit and we ordered everything that passed by and looked delicious. In the interest of time, I am going to preface the entry by saying every item was absolutely delicious. The mixed green salad was refreshing and flavorful, the ahi tuna pizza was smothered in amazing truffle flavor, and the addictive fried rock shrimp arrived caramelized and crispy. We also ordered the special crab legs with miso butter, which offered generous amounts of flakey, buttery crab meat. My favorite was the classic tuna on crispy rice – the pan fried block of rice complemented the soft spicy tuna immaculately. Labeled as a “roll,” it’s easy to miss this one, but definitely a must have.

After two intensely strong cucumber-gin martinis (their specialty cocktails are all subtly sweet and delicious), I was pretty much ready to float out of the restaurant, but the food was unforgettable enough to give me Japanese food cravings the very next day. While it’s not the cheapest sushi restaurant in the area, it’s definitely the best!

green salad

tuna pizza

fried rock shrimp

crispy tuna

eggplant

crab with miso

Grade: A+

Location: 6 Bond Street at Lafayette (go up stairs for entrance)

Website: http://www.bondrestaurant.com

 

 

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EN Japanese Brasserie

I was shocked with stage fright when my friend Thais suggested Japanese for dinner. I couldn’t remember the last time that I enjoyed a Japanese meal in New York, especially in the West Village. But after thorough online investigation, it suddenly occurred to me that I had yet to visit the mysterious, grandiose, shrine-like restaurant on Hudson and Leroy, EN Japanese Brasserie. Their reviews confirm that it won’t necessarily appeal to those seeking out Rainbow and Philadelphia-rolls – instead, inventive yet inherently Japanese items like freshly made tofu, “devil’s tongue,” chicken sausages and house-made ginger ale can be found on the neatly organized and surprisingly manageable two page menu.  They may not offer your favorite fried sushi rolls, but there’s no way you’ll leave feeling cheated out of a solid Japanese experience. And if it’s good enough for Woody Harrelson, whom we saw hanging with his eclectic crew, it must be good enough for the rest of us.

We started off with an incredible cocktail called the Ginger with homemade ginger ale, rice shochu shiro, lime juice, and soda – incredibly light, subtly flavored with the spicy ginger, and served in a black ceramic cup.

Ginger

And though I would have been happy eating anything here, we finally made a decision on a wide assortment of cold and hot specialties, which got progressively better as they came out. The crab and miso soup came with the shells of a baby crab which gave the typically simple soup a deep, soothing flavorEven the house salad, served with a simple soy milk dressing and a thin layer of tofu skin was addicting, but the “O-Banzai,” a selection of assorted Kyoto-style dishes, were the show stoppers – Fried eggplant soaked in dashi, royal fern sprouts with fried tofu, and asparagus and bamboo shoots soaked in sesame dressing.

crab miso soup

house salad

O-Banzai

The sashimi was the freshest that I’ve had in New York and as good as the highly acclaimed sushi that I ate in Sao Paolo, with a hamachi so soft it almost melted on my tongue. For our main course, we shared the cold soba noodles served with a hot pork flavored broth, the garlic fried rice that came rightfully recommended by our waiter, and the unimaginably buttery miso marinated black cod. Despite the incredible amount of food, at the end of the meal I felt totally zen – not stuffed, just perfectly satisfied with all of the fresh, cleanly prepared food we just consumed.

black cod

cold soba noodles

amazing fried rice

I’m always one to complain about dessert in Japanese restaurants, but EN Japanese Brasserie has some of the best ice cream I’ve tasted. The Black Sesame and the Green Tea are a must-have – house made and as creamy and wholesome as my favorite Van Leeuwan ice cream.

black sesame ice cream

The only disappointment throughout the night was the flow of service. While our waitress was incredibly sweet and accommodating, (offering Shout wipes when my cocktail dripped on my jacket), we waited 30 minutes for our food. And once we had our soup, we waited for our salad. Once we finished our salad, we had the next course. It was definitely a step by step process that I suspect was simply a result of a busy, under-staffed night. But if patience isn’t your forte and you don’t appreciate long dinners, I’d suggest ordering in.

That said, the food blocks out all service related complaints from my memory, and I can’t wait to come back. This no-doubt has been added to my list of favorites.

Grade: A (+ removed for small glitches in service)

Location: 435 Hudson Street @ Leroy

Website: http://www.enjb.com

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Japanese, Romantic Date, West Village