In late October, a friend and I had dinner at Gari. The place doesn’t seem to be as crowded as reports after the restaurant first opened, so perhaps the buzz has died down. From the time we arrived (6:00) to the time we left (7:15), it wasn’t full. I do realize that those are early hours for a Saturday night dinner in New York, but we had an opera to catch. If you’re looking for another pre-Lincoln Center option, Gari should be on your list.
We also saw no evidence of the service issues mentioned in some early reports. The staff was helpful, attentive, and efficient. We were also pleased to find that Gari is a rarity among Manhattan’s newer restaurants: a place where you can actually hear yourself talk, without having to shout.
It’s rare that Frank Bruni covers a restaurant so well that there’s really nothing much for me to add, but his two-star review on March 2, 2005, sounded all the right notes. I agree with the two-star rating. We weren’t able to try as much of the menu as Bruni did, but we were most pleased with what we had.
We had the sushi omakase. As Bruni mentioned, the restaurant actively discourages the use of soy sauce, and indeed there is none on the table. Our server made a point of mentioning that none was needed. I’m no expert, but this was some of the best sushi I’d ever tasted. Every piece was unique, and already perfectly seasoned. To dip in soy sauce would have been a crime, and we remained honest citizens.
As others have mentioned, including Bruni, you aren’t going to get out of Gari cheaply. The recommended omakase came with ten pieces each, which wasn’t enough to sate us, so we had three more. None of the sake options was inexpensive, but we settled on a $47 bottle that we nursed through the meal. With edamame and dessert (a fig tart with green tea ice cream), the final bill for two including tax came to over $200 before the tip.
This is sushi on another level of skill and creativity than one finds at most Japanese restaurants. I can’t recommend Gari to people on a tight budget, but if you can afford the prices it’s well worth it.
Gari (370 Columbus Avenue at 78th Street, Upper West Side)