New York, NY. Long Island City.
$40 + per person
Date: March 26, 2016
Clockwise from top: Salmon, Chu Toro, Kohada (Shad)
I t's an age-old adage that restaurants and their communities have a symbiotic relationship. Naturally, the most successful restaurants adopt the characteristics of their most loyal - and frequent - clientele. Think about Le Bernardin or Per Se in Manhattan. Ultra-luxe restaurants (others might call them pretentious), the most desired ingredients, 743 chefs working in unison, a formal setting; it speaks to Manhattan. Would it work elsewhere? I don't know. But I do know that a sushi restaurant with intense fish - but not an intense atmosphere - is perfect for Long Island City, an area of Queens that Wikipedia describes as known for its "rapid and ongoing residential growth and gentrification" (true story).
Any good restaurant lets its space dictate the vision for the interior, rather than the other way around. Sushi Daizen - and its rustic brick wall right behind the sushi bar - certainly exemplifies that statement. Rather than try to remove that wall, Daizen has smartly built its sushi bar directly in front of it. The result is an incredible backdrop behind the sushi chefs as they work. It's important to emphasize the word "work", because sushi chefs do so frequently that there was none of the usual thrilling conversation I've come to expect while sitting at the Sushi Bar. I don't need to record a podcast with the dude, but it would be nice to hear what I was eating, where it was from, what his thoughts on Trump are, etc. Alas, it was not to be. One other note that deserves mentioning - Sushi Daizen also has table seating at the rear of the restaurant, but that was a little bit of a work in progress. Passing by the tables to go to the bathroom felt like stumbling into that weird side room that all diners have. Not the nicest, and you'd be wise to stick to the sushi bar when you go.
It seems that with a new sushi restaurant opening daily in New York City - which is, by the way, the mecca of sushi outside Japan - finding the sushi restaurant that fits your mood is easier than ever. So on a lazy Saturday night, I figured I'd make the 20 minute trek by Subway to Sushi Daizen in Long Island City. Early reviews pegged it for having a high quality omakase with none of the bells and whistles that familiar haunts like Ichimura, 15 East and even Sushi Inoue have. Unfortunately, I ran into an all-to-familiar sight - a subway closure, which turned my 20 minute jaunt into a 75 minute expedition. By the time I finally found the inocuous storefront on Vernon Ave, I was ready to just relax. Fortunately, the staff was more than accommodating, even indulging me when I moved seats multiple times (yes, I'm that annoying blogger who needs the lighting to be justttttt right).
Daizen has a small daily features menu, which I would absolutely recommend if you are prefer something more reasonable. In fact, I actually went to Daizen alone and - despite some issues finding the hidden restaurant - felt that the set up of the restaurant and all of its menu options made it easier to relax. That's because the fish is diverse enough - and the prices low enough - that ordering on a whim is encouraged. Most people around me ordered in spurts, rather than all at once, which seemed to make it easier to keep the conversations going. Despite the fact that it was Saturday , the restaurant was more than happy to let people spend as much time as they want at the bar. For me though, I take the responsibility of sushi blogger extremely seriously. So I ordered the omakase. You're welcome, dear readers.
And I enjoyed it. More specifically, I enjoyed the fish: it was fresh and unique, The chef didn't overdo the soy sauce that he applied, which not only made the nigiri taste delicious, but also look outstanding for my instagram as well (priorities...). The omakase featured ankimo, sashimi, 10 pieces of nigiri, an uni gunkan (nori wrapped around the sushi in a circle) and a uncut maki. I didn't catch the name of the sushi chef, but his knife skills were also absolutely on point. Check out the cut on the salmon nigiri in the picture below - right against the marbling lines, with uniform width throughout. Chu Toro, Maguro, Kohada, Kanpachi - all were (apparently) flown in from Japan, and presented beautifully. The Uni though, was brown, and worse - runny. And the rice in the nigiri was a little too tall for my tastes.
Clockwise from left: The scene, Kanpachi, Uni