Of all the restaurants reviewed on this site, Chez Sardine strays furthest from where traditional sushi meets at the center of food and decor.
The food works. While similar in size (read: it’s small) to other elite sushi places that the Sushi Legend has frequented, the similarities stop there. Take the familiar order of sushi for instance; No piece of fish – unless by request – is served dry, as would normally be the case when eating nigiri. Rather, the fish used for sushi is marinated in a variety of sauces and served with garnish on top. Much different than another review restaurant - Sushi of Gari - which was like eating fish with a scoop of creamed toothpaste on top. The typical maki roll has been adjusted into a handroll hybrid – not the typical cone shape that is overloaded with rice, but closer to what pre-cut maki would look like. It’s size makes it easier to hold in one hand, and the Pork/Unagi and Tuna were equally delicious.
Seeing a menu item highlighted, circled, bolded and enlarged right smack-dab in the center usually is a good enough reason for ordering it. In this case, the taste of the Miso Maple Salmon Head justified all of that and more. I’m always a fan of a restaurant that uses every part of the fish – it usually means that they are ordering it whole and that the food is fresh. One would be surprised how much meat is actually inside the head – and one would probably be grossed out by the sight (no pun intended) of watching someone eat the eyes. They’re great though – promise, or your money for this blog back. Still good, but less-so compared to the others, was the “Breakfast Pancakes” with Fish Tartare, Salmon Roe & Yogurt. It felt like the restaurant was trying a bit too hard, sort of like when a chef takes multiple trendy ingredients and throws them together (as I'm sure everyone has experienced).
The atmosphere was bright and small, just off a corner in the West Village. My date and I had missed out on a reservation on New Year's Eve (thanks to Chez Sardine erroneously posting open times on Open Table), so the staff and manager were attentive, although not quite as much as I've come to expect when restaurants make mistakes in New York. That said, the sushi was original and inventive, while still retaining all the characteristics of quality fish.
Chez Sardine has certainly earned a Return.