I've never been to Tokyo. I can't claim to have knowledge or experience eating sushi in Japan. I can't tell you what is traditional or proper or authentic. But I have eaten sushi, lots of it in fact, across the United States. I know what I like. I know what I love. And I know that hands-down, without a doubt, the very best sushi I've ever eaten has been during two meals at Sushi Yasuda in New York City.
We're not just talking about delicious food here. I hate to sound pretentious, but I'm talking about a mind-blowing, stop you in your tracks, make you question what you know about food experience.
At its simplest, sushi is seasoned rice with a topping. Usually raw fish, but pickled vegetables, cooked fish, egg custard and more can all be used. Sashimi is the fish without the rice. Then there's maki, the rolls. It all seems so simple. But anyone who's eaten a lot of sushi can tell you it's anything but. Take your local neighborhood sushi restaurant (or worse, the sushi available in your grocery store) and compare it to the good stuff served at a high end sushi place. The normal stuff uses any sushi grade fish and sushi rice seasoned (hopefully, but not always) with vinegar. They probably include a lump of green wasabi which is a paste made by reconstituting a green powder that may or may not have started as wasabi root, but more likely a dyed mustard or horseradish. They'll also throw in bright pink pickled ginger and every day soy sauce. Okay, that is simple enough, and I'm not knocking it. Orlando is home to a good number of generic sushi restaurants that serve okay sushi. The bites can be tasty, but we're not talking anything special, we're talking sushi that gets the job done.
Then you've got the good stuff. Here in Orlando, a perfect example is Kabooki Sushi. These are the restaurants that go out of their way to make quality sushi. Sourcing fish from specialty markets, often flying in straight from Japan, leads to better, more flavorful fish that they serve on rice that is made and seasoned with care. The wasabi is often fresh grated from the wasabi root (and if they offer the reconstituted stuff, it's usually made from dried wasabi vs mustard or horseradish) and the soy sauce is often imported, less salty and more flavorful than the every day brands. Sometimes these restaurants stay with the traditional, sometimes they mix things up with new combinations and playful techniques. New York City has a ton of restaurants serving the good stuff, places like Nobu, Jewel Bako and Morimoto all come to mind. These are the sushi restaurants that I love.
Then there is Sushi Yasuda.
I don't know if anything I write will be able to effectively illustrate the difference. Somehow, by stripping their sushi to the barest essentials, Sushi Yasuda transforms and elevates the cuisine. We're talking about no special combinations or adornments, excepting that each piece is prepared to make the bite as delicious as is humanly possible while keeping the highlight on the fish. They source the absolute highest quality fish I've ever tasted and season each piece individually. For example, the first time I went to Sushi Yasuda, soy sauce was not even offered on the table. If the chef wanted a fish to be seasoned with soy, they brushed it on, using different soy sauces (from light to dark) for each fish. They have a very cool procedure where they slice the tiniest crosshatch pattern into the top of the fish then use a brush to literally paint the fish with the preferred soy sauce. My last visit, there was a bottle of soy on the counter, although I found no need of it, their crosshatch slice on the fish and brush of soy made for the perfect bite every time. The same is to be said about wasabi. Fresh grated was used and added by the chef. Some pieces got neither. The shrimp, usually the most boring piece at other sushi restaurants, is seasoned with lemon and a touch of sea salt on top which, along with the perfect texture of the shrimp, creates a fresh bite that is amazingly subtle and powerful.
Another example is the salmon. In regular sushi joints, I avoid salmon like the plague. From fishy to slimy, regular salmon sushi is not something I like. At the good places, I usually find the salmon tolerable to tasty. At Sushi Yasuda, the salmon is delicious, buttery and mild with a sweet richness that is unlike any salmon I've eaten anywhere. I could go on, but each example would be more of the same. My first visit, it was the mackerel. This time, the bonito. Fish that I usually avoid I gobble up with glee. Fish that I usually find boring or tolerable becomes additively delicious. That's what I mean when I say Sushi Yasuda is mind-blowing. Imagine a dish or an ingredient you know well, like a baked potato. Now imagine you went to a restaurant and were served a baked potato that was absolutely recognizable as a plain baked potato, but managed to be the most amazingly flavorful baked potato you could never have imagined. That's what I mean. That's what Sushi Yasuda does for me.
I managed to take pictures at my visit last week, so I'll walk you though my meal. First, when you make a reservation at Sushi Yasuda, they give you a start time and an end time. Don't be late because they tell you when you reserve that they will give away your table if you are 10 minutes or more late. Do request the counter, I don't imagine the experience would be nearly as nice if you aren't being served one piece at a time by your chef.
You'll get a menu and a list of today's fish. Certain fish will be circled as a favorite of the chef that day. I like to glance at the list to see if there's anything that catches my fancy, but then I order a sushi meal, 12 pieces and a half roll. You can choose your fish, I like to leave it up to the chef. I also have an affinity for the Oshinko salad which is a little bowl of pickled vegetables, and I like tea, so I order it as well. Then you sit back and let the meal begin.
For all of these photos, I'll start from the top left and move clockwise around. This is fluke, yellow tail, sea scallop and bonito.
These next four are out of order as far as how I was served them, but starting from top left again we have freshwater eel, big-eye tuna, rainbow trout (from Idaho, weird how I remember that) and salmon.
Last set here is the shimp, branzino (my absolute favorite of the meal), salmon roe and oyster. Since I was there with my hubby, our chef made two different rolls and split so we got some of each. Those photos are at the top, yellowtail and spicy salmon.
The meal ends with a glass of hot tea and you are on your way. Service is super efficient. I've heard people complain that the service is cold or brusque. It is definitely not warm and fuzzy, but it is friendly. You want for nothing because they are constantly refilling your water or tea (keeping it hot, even if it means taking away a half drunk glass) or replacing plates/chopsticks/finger towels with the discipline of a well-oiled machine. I left full and extremely happy.
204 E. 43rd St.
New York, NY 10017
Have you eaten at Sushi Yasuda? Do you have a favorite sushi spot or a restaurant that blows you away? Share with me in the comments!
Labels: NYC, Restaurants