1 at Christopher St.-Sheridan Sq.; A, B, C, D, E, F, M at W. 4th St.-Washington Sq.
Bar omakase, $150; dining-room omakase, $120
American Express, MasterCard, Visa
In the old days of haute cuisine, it was the ambitious Frenchmen who arrived with great fanfare, from across the sea, to be greeted by members of the city’s dining community like visiting pontiffs. Lately, however, it’s been the grand Japanese sushi chefs who’ve come to New York, often by way of other cities, with their lofty, sometimes inflated reputations preceding them. First there was Nobu (if you count him as a sushi chef, which I do), followed by Masa from L.A., and the Iron Chef Morimoto from Philadelphia. Recently, the city has been inundated with sushi chefs who’ve set up their popular bars and tasting rooms in all sorts of unlikely locations around town. Many, like Nobu and Masa, are known to their devoted clientele by one name only (“Ichimura at Brushtroke”), and obtaining a seat at their tiny omakase bars is harder, in some cases, than getting a table at Le Bernardin or Per Se.
The latest and most eagerly awaited member of this new wave of New York sushi chefs is Daisuke Nakazawa, whose posh new tasting restaurant, Sushi Nakazawa, has been bull-rushed by mobs of sushi aesthetes ever since it opened its doors, over two months ago, on a quiet block in the West Village. Nakazawa comes to the city via Seattle and before that Tokyo, where he labored for more than a decade as an apprentice to the wizened, Yoda-like sushi master Jiro Ono. Jiro has been declared a national treasure in Japan, and his ascetic, ten-seat restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza subway station is considered by many to serve the finest sushi in the world. If you’ve seen the elegiac documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you may remember Nakazawa as the genial kitchen slave who labors for months to perfect Jiro’s sweet, eggy tamago, which, as any sushi geek will tell you, is the signature dish of first-class sushi establishments.
The first thing you notice about Nakazawa’s new restaurant is that it is about as far removed, aesthetically, from his former sensei’s spare little bar in Tokyo as it’s possible to be. Instead of the usual blond hinoki wood, the ten-seat bar here is made of the kind of polished white Italian marble that you see at the coffee shops of swanky department stores in Milan. The custom, Jetsons-style sushi chairs at the bar are set on shiny metal swivels, like bar stools, and covered in luxurious black leather. There’s a proper dining room in the back, where you can enjoy your sushi at tables placed under pools of light, like at a nightclub. Unlike the famously spartan Jiro, Nakazawa employs a sommelier to help you sift through the numerous wine offerings on the padded wine list, and if you don’t feel like drinking a ’97 Montrachet with your tuna belly, he’ll help you choose sake, too.
Clearly, though, Nakazawa has learned valuable lessons from his famous teacher. There’s an impeccable freshness to the sushi here, and in contrast to the restaurant’s frilly décor, most of the pieces I sampled had the kind of focused simplicity that you don’t find at many sushi palaces.
Scallop, saba, uni, ikura, uni hand roll with shiso, tamago with sake pairing.