Not so long ago, with the economy in the tank and fish stocks slowly dwindling around the globe, members of New Yorks elite sushi-snob community were wringing their hands in quiet despair. Well, not anymore. Over the last several months, interesting omakase options have been popping up around town like proverbial mushrooms, including one opened just last week by the star apprentice of the wizened Tokyo master Jiro Ono that is already booked solid for the next month. Recently, your dutiful omakase correspondent spent a happy couple of weeks wandering the city, sampling the fruits of this new renaissance. Here are our favorites, ranked from one to six.
What makes this our favorite new omakase sushi joint in the city? Lets start with the clean, cubbyhole-size room, which looks like its been beamed in from one of the more discreetly posh neighborhoods of Tokyo. Then theres the impeccably sourced fishfour different grades of tuna, sea scallops tipped with yuzu, silvery slices of jack fish and sardineswhich the genial sushi-ya, Norihiro Ishizuka, serves to his patrons with a happy smile, two pieces at a time. And finally, theres the $85 sticker price for the most expensive all-sushi option, which in terms of quality and cost is the best deal in this omakase-addled town. $65 (ten pieces, a hand roll, and dessert); $85 (thirteen pieces, a hand roll, and dessert). 130 St. Marks Pl., nr. Ave. A; 212-228-1010.
2. Ichimura at Brushstroke
Presiding over an eight-seat counter inside David Bouleys restaurant, Eiji Ichimura serves his ultratraditional sushi with a minimum of ornamentation. Spoonfuls of uni are presented atop pats of rice, without the usual seaweed cone. Pearly, wet slices of tuna belly and goldeneye snapper are laid out one by one, with the friendly but firm instruction to not use too much soy sauce, please. At $160, this isnt the best bargain in town, but until we can gain entrance to Jiro apprentice Daisuke Nakazawas new place, this is as close to the real Jiro Dreams of Sushi experience as New Yorkers are likely to get. 30 Hudson St., at Duane St.; 212-791-3771.
3. Tanoshi Sushi Sake Bar
This York Avenue establishment is the kind of casual, slightly ramshackle little sushi joint that you find on the fringes of the great fish markets of Japan. The air conditioner works only intermittently, and the ten seats at the bar are filled, most evenings, with a scruffy collection of neighborhood regulars. The variety of fish isnt astounding, but everything on Toshio Ogumas omakase menu (fat Hokkaido scallops on the evening we dropped by, two kinds of tuna, a generous wad of fresh uni with a quail egg on top) is impeccably fresh and, starting at $60 for the standard omakase, blissfully cheap. 1372 York Ave., nr. 73rd St.; tanoshisushinyc.com.
4. New York Sushi Ko
The New Jersey sushi chef John Daley greets his patrons in a perhaps overly boisterous American voice, and, yes, those are the letters rice and fish tattooed on his knuckles. But Daley apprenticed with Masato Shimizu of 15 East, among other sushi masters, and like lots of zealous converts, he has a knack for thinking outside the box. Pay attention to the quality of the crunchy kettle rice (its scraped from the bottom of the pot) and the inventive riffs on tuna, which in the case of the house toro is dripped with blow-torched tuna fat and speckled with crackly tuna lardons. $65 sushi only (eleven to thirteen pieces); $125 (five-course); $175 (seven-course); $200 chefs omakase (nine to eleven courses). 91 Clinton St., nr. Rivington St.; 917-734-5857.
At this discreet new establishment in Soho, Hirohisa Hayashi specializes in the kind of quirky, traditionalist dishes beloved by Japanese omakase purists. Youll find expertly grilled servings of mackerel on the menu, braided little pieces of silver gizzard shad, and fried squares of soft, warm sesame tofu topped with spoonfuls of uni. The most lavish omakase option includes numerous non-sushi items and, at nine courses for $150, is priced for the expense-account, Tokyo-salaryman crowd (theres also a $100 seven-course menu). 73 Thompson St., nr. Spring St.; 212-925-1613.
6. Sushi Dojo
My tasters and I werent wild about the slightly antiquated, slightly jarring disco soundtrack pulsing through David Bouhadanas popular East Village restaurant (this New Age gaijin sushi chef hails from Florida), or the fact that we were consigned to one of the rickety tables instead of the bar. But theres nothing wrong with the quality of Bouhadanas glistening, bite-size, Yasuda-style sushi; the impeccably fresh sashimi platter of maguro and pearly shrimp, served with the head intact, that accompanies it; or the midpriced $70 omakase option, which comes out to roughly $3 per bite. $45 (ten pieces of sushi); $70 (sushi and sashimi); $90 Dojo omakase. 110 First Ave., nr. 7th St.; 646-692-9398.