Post publishing note: Chef David Bouhadana left Sushi Dojo in 2015.
Of all the sushi restaurants in New York City, Sushi Dojo intrigued me the most. I tried not to formulate an opinion of the place, but it was hard given some of the things I had heard. Apparently, the head chef was American, Jewish and - shocking given the previous two - not Japanese at all. Obviously I'd prefer not to have any hidden biases, but as one of my favourite television shows 'The League' demonstrated, non-Japanese Sushi chefs are sometimes a red flag. I was curious to see if that stereotype held true.
For the first time ever, I was dining alone at a high end sushi restaurant, so it allowed me to focus on the food while simultaneously feeling like a huge loser. As many of my readers know, I like to try different things, a fact which I communicated to the host. As a result, I was sat at the sushi bar right in front of the aformentioned non-Japanese head chef. His name is David Bouhadana, and he's completely different than any sushi chef I'd had Omakase with before - And that's a great thing. Bouhanda was engaging, humorous and helpful. Many people at the bar ordered directly from him, and he worked with each on their order - and seemed genuine in doing so. If you go to Dojo, dining with "Chef David" (as he's called on social media) is an absolute must.
Not only does Chef David's personality shine through, but so does The Food. He trained in Japan for many years, and worked at various top sushi restaurants in New York City before co-opening Dojo. Given where most of the ingredients are sourced from, and my affinity for trying new things, the Chef recommended his own special Omakase. The menu lists the "normal" omakase at $80 for 15 pieces and 1 roll, but I was informed that my selection would be closer to 25 pieces - which I actually thought was a joke.
Throughout the meal, the Chef showed off his knife and plating skills, while still managing to engage a number of people eating in front of him. He also was sharing sake with whoever would pour his glass, a wrinkle which made his abilities even more impressive. I've included pictures throughout this page; particular highlights for me were the Bonito, the red and giant clams, the Sea Urchin(s) and the Tuna(s).
I use a plural, because there were multiple variations. This wasn't just 25 pieces of sushi randomly selected; every piece had an order, it's placement purposefully chosen to fit within the meal. I tried three different pieces of Uni, from Santa Barbara, Hokkaido and Southern Japan. Sushi snobs will say that there is a difference based on the source of the Uni - trying them one after another confirms it.
One special touch that made the experience was the Tuna. Akami (basic) that was fresh from Japan, and almost certainly of the "Bluefin" variety that sometimes causes controversy because it is endangered. The Chu-Toro was phenomenal, as was the O-Toro. One of my favourite tricks is to use chopsticks to cut Toro nigiri. The fattier the fish, the oilier it will be, and the easier the nigiri should cut - even from something as dull as chopsticks.
The highlight of the meal was the Kama Toro (Toro collar pictured right), a type I did not even know existed. It's fatty tuna from the jaw, and as the picture shows, it's of such quality that the meat of the fish can barely hold itself together. A must try.
The one small downside was the rice. For my taste, it included too much vinegar, which also likely lead to the sushi rice falling apart in my hands (a pet peeve). That said, there are plenty of people who prefer their rice that way - my personal preference is for less.
The sake though, is handled well. The menu is diverse but informative, and included a large selection of my favourite type - Junmai Daiginjo. If you aren't that experienced, don't worry - their is a "sommelier" on hand to help guide you through.
The Atmopshere is relaxed but upscale; Chef David has built an almost cult-like following on social media, likely due to how he marries a friendly and open attitude with the quality that customers expect. The restaurant itself is dimly lit, with an almost "art-deco" vibe - house music consistently is being played in the background.
Sushi Dojo is a must-try; while the rice keeps it from being top ranked, the Chef and the food make it a truly unique experience. I was a bit surprised when I saw the final bill, but can't complain given the quality of food that I was served. A definite recommend (but make sure to sit with Chef David).
SUSHI DOJO New York, NY
East Village. $40-150+ per person.
So here's the thing about Sushi Dojo...it's a completely unique sushi experience.