Which New York restaurant has the best sushi omakase? Leaving aside Masa and its stratospheric $375 prix fixe, the debate usually comes down to Sushi Yasuda and Kurumazushi. Over at eGullet, a discussion thread comparing the two is now in its fifth year.
Last night, I decided to give Sushi Yasuda a try. The experts all suggest reserving a place at Yasuda-san’s station, but he was off-duty, so I was seated at the bar before Hiro-san. There is no “fixed” omakase at Sushi Yasuda. Rather, there is an ongoing dialogue with your sushi chef, who prepares pieces one by one according to your taste. I eat basically everything, so I asked him to surprise me. I’m sure (or I like to think) that he reacted to my expressions of delight as the meal progressed, and we talked about the fish as each piece was presented. This is the experience you simply don’t get if you sit at the tables.
With only a few exceptions, everything I had was a simple piece of raw fish atop a molded wedge of rice. Hiro-san applied just the right amount of house-made soy sauce and wasabe (checking that the degree of heat was agreeable to me). It’s hard to think of a dining experience for which the connection with the chef is more personal. He molds a wad of rice into the right shape with his hands, applies the fish, adds seasoning, and puts it in front of you. With your hands or a pair of chopsticks, it goes into your mouth in one bite.
Hiro-san was midly offended that I wanted to use chopsticks most of the time. For one particular piece, he directed, “This time, you must use your hand.” However, at the end of the meal he opined that I must be used to eating quite a bit of sushi, so I guess I didn’t come off as a complete novice.
There is no fixed end to the meal; it ends when you finally declare you’ve had enough. I had 25 pieces, which I suppose is a lot (Hiro-san said it was). I won’t enumerate all the different kinds of fish I had. The list includes tuna, yellow tail, salmon, trout, mackerel, crab, oysters, roe, and eel, among others. The quality of the fish and the delightful parade of flavors were superb. Most of the items were raw, of course, but for one fish he carefully removed the skin and fried it on an open fire. Three little pieces of fried fish skin were the last thing I had.
I was prepared for a staggering bill, but the whole thing added up to just $105.75—not inexpensive, but I was prepared for something like $140, and I tipped rather more generouslly than I normally would. A small pitcher of cold sake was just $10. The efficient staff kept my water glass full throughout the meal.
The sublime space is decorated simply, in blonde woods, and comfortably lit. There are only about a dozen seats at the bar, which must be reserved in advance. The tables are quite widely spaced, and the noise level is insignificant.
I look forward to giving Kurumazushi a try one of these days, and perhaps I’ll even work up the fiscal courage to visit Masa. But for now, I can say that Sushi Yasuda fully lives up to the billing.
Sushi Yasuda (204 E. 43rd Street between Second & Third Avenues, Turtle Bay)