“One night he pantomimed firing a gun with one hand, then slid over a piece of triggerfish, anointed with a dollop of its own rich liver”
What’s the most reliable gauge of a restaurant’s excellence? Michelin stars? A top critic’s rave? A high rank on the World’s 50 Best list? There’s little intersect, often, between these critical mediums.
Take Sushi Nakazawa, for instance. The restaurant opened in New York’s West Village last year under an avalanche of media hype. Its head chef and namesake—Daisuke Nakazawa—came over from Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, perhaps the most celebrated sushi bar in the world.
The New York Times weighed in five months after launch with a rare gushing four star review, deeming this first solo venture from Jiro Ono’s long-time lieutenant New York’s top sushi spot. The Michelin Guide followed in the fall with a very different reception, offering no stars—not even a mention, in fact—for a restaurant where reservations had become almost impossible to score. Perhaps the true measure of the restaurant lies somewhere in the middle?
This understudy has certainly forged his own path in striking out on his own. Jiro in Tokyo is known for delivering perhaps the single most rapid-fire three star Michelin meal anywhere, a quick succession of pieces, all delivered across the 10-seat sushi bar by the maestro himself, the entire meal done in 30 minutes or less. At its stateside cousin, the 22-piece omakase—there’s no printed menu—flows at a much more civilized pace, clocking in at an extremely well-timed two hours or so, with drinks and dessert.
At Nakazawa there are two seating options. Apprentices plate up sushi pieces in duos and trios for the dining room tables at the back of the restaurant, while the head man himself molds every single bite that’s consumed at the bar, handing them one by one across the counter—to be scarfed down fast while the rice and fish are still at the optimum contrasting temperature. You’ll pay a well-worth-it premium for one of the dozen plush stools there, for the extra-precious pieces you won’t find in the dining room, and the great show Nakazawa, himself, puts on every night.
His food, and delivery, aren’t as sober or reverent as a Michelin inspector might like. One night, he pantomimed firing a gun with one hand, then slid over a piece of triggerfish, anointed with a dollop of its own rich liver. On a small tablet computer, fished from behind the counter, he flashed an image of the spotted knifejaw in its tropical habitat. “Nemo,” he said, before topping a slice with zingy shaved yuzu zest. “Tom and Jerry,” he later announced, clutching a pair of enormous wriggling spot prawns, and then, “Sayonara,” as he delivered a quick beheading, seconds later offering up gorgeous thick slices molded on rice.
Nakazawa sources some of the world’s finest seafood, draped over warm vinegared rice—stored at around body temperature, following Jiro’s punishing strictures. But he takes liberties with his mentor’s classic Edo-style sushi approach, offering a New York spin with bold accents throughout—aromatic hay smoke on sockeye salmon, piquant pepper paste on an enormous sweet scallop, a caramel sheen blowtorched onto giant clam meat.
Though purists (and Michelin inspectors) might not rank the sushi at Nakazawa among the best on Earth, at the bar stools at least you’ll certainly find a delicious, generous, entertaining night out.
23 Commerce St.