Behind the bar
I've written before about chefs that follow their passions; my review of Astoria's Gaijin from this past summer is a great example. But Kevin Takarada takes that familiar theme to a whole new level at MakiMaki, his new fast-casual sushi spot in the heart of midtown Manhattan. The chef/owner literally left the finance world - with no recent or significant culinary experience - to satisfy his passion for bringing affordable sushi to the masses. Leaving a lucrative job for a passion project may sound like a doomed 5th grade dream; once the realities of adult life hit full force, money apparently starts to matter. But unlike my dream of becoming a sports broadcaster - my game tape from the Hockey Hall of Fame is legendary I promise - Takarada is actually succeeding in his big switch.
I wasn't initially sure what to make of MakiMaki. The concept is fairly straightforward: handrolls (or Temaki), freshly made with premium ingredients, all at a reasonable price. But to be honest, I've burned by handroll focused restaurants before. And in both cases, the kerosene was a sauce: chocolate at Domo Domo and some white and creamy thing at Kazunori.
But MakiMaki succeeds in two critical areas. First, the ingredients are left alone, rather than be bathed in sauce to mask low-rent ingredients. Secondly (and maybe more importantly?), the temaki itself is brilliantly packaged. Takarada also has engineering roots - he's a true renaissance man - and so the handrolls are wrapped in proprietary, clear packaging that is super easy to remove. I'm usually team "substance over style", but when you're talking about take-out temaki, it's usually chirashi with soft seaweed by the time it gets home. MakiMaki's hand rolls are so easy to open, I wouldn't be surprised if that became the defining hallmark, which is notable given how delicious the handrolls are.
Bluefin toro and spicy scallop
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And about that food. MakiMaki’s menu is simple yet diverse: 16 different offerings – you choose if it’s traditional cut (maki) or the cone shaped handroll (temaki). Mrs. Sushi Legend and I split 6, which I’m told is 3 each. The picture at the top of this blog shows them side by side, but just in case: Ikura, Salmon Avocado, Spicy Scallop, Negitoro, Ikura (so nice, let’s have it twice) and Toro. The temaki tasted as fresh as they looked, but the Toro was undoubtedly (and unsurprisingly) the star. It’s more expensive than its cone shaped counterparts (duh), but worth it.
Like all versions of sushi, the harmony between the ingredients is critical, so I was pleasantly surprised that the rice and nori were well prepared. If you’ve eaten grab and go sushi before – say, at a place like Wasabi – the stale rice and soggy nori are something you close your eyes and just swallow. MakiMaki - with nori toasted in Japan and imported – seems to put a bit more care into their sushi.
And that’s important, because there are an insane amount of quick bite places in midtown New York. What there isn’t though, are affordable options for takeout. MakiMaki’s space is open, clean and has a certain modernist design, but it’s first and foremost a get in to get out type of place. Which is perfect for cubicle junkies who haven’t taken yet their own Takarada Leap and just want a delicious, quick and reasonably priced sushi option. MakiMaki is worth a trip even if you don’t work in the area, though I’m sure it will be appearing at an office near you very soon.
New York, NY. Upper Midtown.
$12+. Handroll focused.
Date of visit: May 15, 2017