B, D, F, M at Broadway-Lafayette St.
Appetizers, $8-$21; entrées, $22-$26.
This venue is closed.
Niko, which opened early this year in the iconic former Honmura An space on Mercer Street, is another trendy new Soho restaurant with unexpectedly good cooking and a slightly feng shui–challenged atmosphere. Unfortunately, there’s no easy remedy for the boxy second-floor loft space, which, as those of you who used to visit Yoko Ono’s favorite Japanese soba restaurant during its heyday will remember, has a giant stairwell sprouting in the center of the dining room. Co-owner Cobi Levy (formerly of the Beatrice Inn and the doomed speakeasy Charles) has installed a sushi bar at the back and rows of standard black leather banquettes. But the ceilings and brick walls are hung with a strange, jerry-rigged installation of cables and painted wooden planks, which make the crowded, patchily lit room feel even more disjointed and boxier than it already is.
Still, it’s a nostalgic pleasure to see Yoko herself, sitting in a corner banquette, peering at her dinner from under the brim of her wide black hat. If her meal was anything like mine, it included dainty bowls of miso soup bobbing with water chestnuts, and excellent “to share” plates of “Suntory time steak” spritzed with the eponymous whiskey, or pieces of curling, golden-fried “Tokyo crispy chicken” served with wedges of lemon. The real specialty of the house, however, is the sushi, which is overseen by Hiro Sawatari, a former acolyte of the great Naomichi Yasuda of Sushi Yasuda, in midtown. There are eleven maki rolls to choose from, and the usual intricately sliced hamachi, shellfish (try the pearly shrimp from Maine), and toro. Order these delicacies in grab-bag platters, or, if you have the resources, take a seat for an omakase dinner at the bar (from $75), where Sawatari’s big-money clients gather in the evenings, like walruses on a rock.