I’ve never really found it that difficult to get into popular restaurants. It may require advance planning, such as calling the exact day that tables open up, 30 days in advance, at the exact hour the reservations line opens. Or perhaps the opposite—walking in at 5:30 and sitting at the bar. But it can almost always be done.
Perhaps the toughest challenge was Momofuku Ko, when it was new. There was a science of out-dueling the restaurant’s notoriously finicky website. Even the New York Times critic, Frank Bruni, admitted he relied on “tireless friends and readers” to get him in. I wrote a series of posts about reserving there, which I finally did on the third or fourth try.
My Ko Kwest was child’s play compared to Sushi Nakazawa, the toughest table in town since Pete Wells gave it four stars last December. Reservations open at midnight, thirty days in advance. Four times, I tried exactly at midnight to book the 10-seat dining counter, and failed. Finally, I settled for the 25-seat dining room. This was fifteen months after the restaurant opened. By the time Momofuku Ko was in its second year, reservations at its 14-seat kounter were reasonably easy to come by.
The restaurant’s backstory has been much repeated. In the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, chef Daisuke Nakazawa was the apprentice who cried when, after 200 tries, he finally made an egg custard that his master, Jiro Ono, found acceptable. Alessandro Borgognone, owner of Patricia’s Italian restaurant in the Bronx, saw the film, found Nakazawa on Facebook, and lured him to New York.
Sushi Nakazawa is not a four-star restaurant. Pete Wells’s review made no sense, even if you assume that everything he wrote was true. How do you put Sushi Nakazawa on a pedastal occupied by only five other restaurants, when you concede that “not everything is the best in town,” and “the $450 menu at Masa may glide to a higher pitch of pleasure”?
Yes indeed, Masa is better. Nevertheless, if your standard is “pleasure per dollar spent,” Sushi Nakazawa is certainly compelling. To the owner’s credit, and unlike just about every other three- and four-star restaurant, he has not jacked up the prices since the review came out. It’s still just $150 for the omakase at the counter, $120 at the tables. (You cannot order à la carte, unless you want extra pieces after your set menu is over.)