Note: This is a review under founding chefs Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau, who left the restaurant in October 2013 to open their own place called Shuko. Sungchul Shim, one of their chefs de cuisine, replaced them.
The entrance at Neta could easily be missed. Like many sushi restaurants, it’s an inconspicuous storefront on a side street and does little to command attention.
That’s just fine for Neta, which is not meant to attract walk-ins, or those who just happened to stumble upon it. Everyone there, comes with a purpose.
Sushi aficionados have been packing Neta since March last year, when two former Masa acolytes fled the mother ship, and opened this much humbler joint in Greenwich Village.
All this is relative. At Masa, you’ll drop $450 per person before drinks, tax, and tip. At Neta, the omakase options are $95 or $135, or you can order à la carte (much like Masa’s sister restaurant, Bar Masa).
When you pay 70 percent less, obviously there is a difference. Neta is crowded and loud, even on a Tuesday evening. It serves mostly local fish species. The textural contrast between fish and rice is more blurry, less clarified. A piece of toro doesn’t bring the waves of unctuous flavor that it does at Masa.
But you’re paying $135, not $450, and surely that counts for something. Practically the entire $40 difference between the two omakase options goes into a serving of Toro Tartare & Caviar, a wonderful dish early in the meal, which sells for $48 all by itself if you order à la carte.
Altogether, there are 13 courses. The first half of this procession is more impressive. A Szechuan peppercorn spiced salmon stands out, as does a serving of grilled scallops and sea urchin; likewise, spicy lobster and shrimp. Among a sequence of sushi and rolls, a flight of fluke, soft-shell crab, and grilled and marinated toro was the highlight.
Sushi chefs in the U.S. send out desserts as if by obligation, though they haven’t much to say. Still, Neta has improved on Masa with a serving of peanut butter ice cream. I’m not sure I’d be happy if I’d paid $8 for it (the à la carte price), but at the end of a long omakase it felt just about right.
The service is far less formal than at classic sushi spots, but still reasonably good. We were seated at a table (the bar was full), and that makes for a less personalized experience. I frequently had to ask for dishes to be described a second time, when the first couldn’t be heard over the din.
I wouldn’t put Neta in the upper ranks of the city’s best sushi restaurants, a category that certainly includes Masa, along with Sushi Yasuda, Kurumazushi, Soto, Sushi of Gari, and 15 East. Neta’s not in their league, but it’s certainly very worthwhile.
Feel free to click on the slideshow below, for photos and descriptions of all the dishes we were served.
Neta (61 W. Eighth Street, east of Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village)
Food: Sushi and Japanese small plates
Service: Informal but attentive
Ambiance: A sushi bar and cramped tables, in a space that’s too loud