Sushi Yasuda

>>  Wednesday, December 09, 2009

There's plenty of hype surrounding this New York Sushi institution. It has won numerous awards, received high ratings from prestigious institutions, and has been muttered, more than once, in the same breath as Kyubei in Tokyo. While doing internet research for sushi restaurants in Japan, I repeatedly observed comparisons between top Tokyo sushi joints and this place.

Of course, "this place" is Sushi Yasuda.
The interior is bamboo colored, relaxing - almost zen-like. The sushi chefs are very serious about their craft - which is really like an art.
We start off with a small "amuse" on the house - a tiny deep fried croquette of sorts in a light umami broth.  Delicious.

We then order the "omakase" - essentially letting the chef decide what to feed us.  The waitress asks about preferences and the dietary restrictions.  I tell her, I prefer raw fish, and I'm not a huge fan of cooked shellfish, although uni is OK. Oh, and I LOVE toro.
A beautiful tray of sashimi arrives ($38.25).  The waitress gives us a description of each fish. Sadly, I can't remember the details anymore (and it's not on my receipt!)  All I can remember is that each piece of fish is wonderfully fresh, deliciously sweet, and amazingly good.  Fresh, well cut, and simple.  Nothing fancy.  Just good, solid, delectable slices of fresh fish.
The waitress teaches us the proper way to enjoy sashimi.  DO NOT put your wasabi in your soy sauce!  Instead, put a tiny bit on top of the sashimi, and then lightly dip the fish in the soy sauce (shoyu).  Bryan typically loves wasabi and usually his soy sauce looks more like a thick green paste with hints of soy sauce.  Here, he relents and agrees to eat sashimi the recommended way.
Our next course is the sushi.  With sushi, you should not put ANY wasabi in the soy sauce.  If the chef thinks wasabi is needed, he will have already put the perfect amount inside between the rice and the fish.  No need to add more!

Here is what we enjoyed (from left to right starting at the top):

Netoro Maki: this fatty tuna maki was sooo rich and delicious.  Toro is probably my favorite sushi of all times ($9 a roll)

Toro: I love love love toro, and this was no exception.  The rich fatty flavor of the tuna belly just cannot be surpassed.  Absolutely heavenly. ($8 each)
Maguro: Although not as rich as the Toro, this tuna still had very good flavor and texture. ($4.50 each)

Coho: This salmon is the state animal of Chiba, Japan, which is where sushi Chef Yasuda is fromThe fish was surprisingly lean yet still soft and flavorful.  ($4.50 each)

Shima aji: Striped jack - long considered a luxury fish in Japan, this white fish is reminiscent of yellowtail ($4.50 each)

Sanma: A type of mackerel, this fish was rich, buttery, salty, and just really deep in flavor ($5 each)

Hotate: Raw scallops - these were amazingly sweet with absolutely no hint of fishy-ness ($4 each)
Uni: Raw sea urchin - I had never liked this until I tried some in Japan and realized how sweet uni can be.  It's not always stinky like I thought!  The uni here was very good, though still not as good as Kyubei ($5 each)

Shirayaki: grilled eel - tender, fragrant, delicious ($5.50 each)
Dessert: mixed mochi ($8) - green tea and red bean. It's OK - nothing special, probably not the best mochi ice cream I've had.  I'll stick with the sushi.

Our Thoughts
Over all, we think the food is fantastic here. The sushi and sashimi are all incredibly fresh. The rice in the sushi is also perfectly cooked. Really good texture. Definitely one of the best sushi places I've visited in the US.
Having said that, we both agreed that Sushi Yasuda does not even come close to our experience at Kyubei in Tokyo.  At Kyubei we were given our own sushi chef who entertained us for the entire evening, teaching us about each fish and preparing each morsel one at a time.  The service was incredible and the experience unique and really fun.  Furthermore, the fish at Kyubei is truly top notch - Kyubei is right down the street from Tsukiji Fish Market. 

At Sushi Yasuda, even though the food was very very good, the experience felt more normal.  A waitress came and brought us our dishes and we ate our food.  And that was it.

But then, it's really not fair to compare Kyubei with Sushi Yasuda.  Kyubei cost us over $400 USD while this meal was closer to $200.

I still stand by my opinion that this is one of the best sushi places in the US.  However, if you ever make it out to Japan, you have to try a place like Kyubei!

UPDATE - 2011
As suggested, I returned to Sushi Yasuda and sat at the sushi bar by myself. I completely agree that the experience at the sushi bar is much more intimate, fun, and more similar to the experiences I had in Japan.

I was also able to get out of there with a total bill of "only" $34 by ordering one of the set-menus (instead of the omakase) and then supplementing with additional pieces that I wanted to try. The sushi was still absolutely fantastic, and I walked out of there a much happier person, having only spent $34 but enjoying one of the best sushi meals I'd had in a very, very long time.

Other posts from this mini New York Series:
Le Bernardin
Sushi Yasuda
H&H Bagels
A New York Birthday
Me Peche (Momofuku Midtown)

Sushi Yasuda
Midtown East
204 E 43rd St
New York, NY 10017
Sushi Yasuda on Urbanspoon

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