The Insatiable Palate Review #19: Sushi Yasaka (Upper West Side, New York)

$40 Omakase: A Hidden Gem at the Upper West Side

After witnessing Sukiyabashi Jiro’s greatness in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I came to a conclusion that I would never be able to taste perfection unless I flew over to Japan within the next five years. It’s probably going to be as sad as the closing of elBulli when Jiro Ono retires.

To make myself feel better, my friends and I gathered at Sushi Yasaka, a newcomer in UWS. This place is for students who want to experience quality without having to sacrifice their kidneys to pay the bills.

Steamed Monk Fish Liver, Ponzu Sauce, Scallion, Spicy grated Radish
(アンキモ)

Our table started with a sampling of ankimo often tagged as the foie gras of the sea. I stumbled on a rather tough portion of the liver during my first bite and noticed that the texture reminded me of weeks-expired low fat spam (not the best first impression). However, some of the soft, creamy bits are delightful and buttery like our beloved foie. The citrusy notes from the lemons and the savory elements of the ponzu sauce balance out the monkfish quite well. A wonderful start to dinner.

Fried Japanese Oyster(カキ)

I often notice that the taste of fried oysters often range from “refreshingly briny” to “he-pissed-in-the-pool fishy.” I admit that the fried oyster roll isn’t listed as traditional Japanese fare in the history books, but anything reminiscent of a delicious crunch roll gets a greenlight into my mouth. When the rolls arrive at the table, please remember to graciously offer the pretty-looking pieces to the guests and to hog all the meaty end pieces to yourself. It’s extremely satisfying.

Chef’s Omakase Vegetable Tempura

A tempura tasting can become tremendously exhausting after the first few rounds. Our table became worn-out after the 4th piece of tempura, but we finished the entire plate (of course we did).

At Sushi Yasaka, the chef offers homage to the twelve seasonal vegetables from the farm (it’s probably from C-Town). It’s served with a dipping sauce and shredded daikon as well as a trio of salts (green tea, sea, and curry).

My favorite tempura during the tasting was the kabocha, the green Japanese pumpkin that are common stables in Asian households during the winter-early spring. The squash is moist and sweet. When it’s dipped in Yasaka’s panko and tempura-ed, it’s even better.

The Main Event: Chef Omakase

The chef’s omakase is the Sushi Yasaka team’s selection of the best fish. At $40, the 12 courses + toro maki roll is an absolute steal. Although it’s no Masa’s ($450) omakase, the taste is still remarkable for the value. The staff initially asked if we had any allergies or restrictions. Of course we don’t. WE EAT EVERYTHING. Well then, these are some of my favorites.

Sake

Although salmon is very prevalent even in fast food nigiri sushi, the quality is noticeable after one bite. The sake has a subtly salty note and a clean finish.

Japanese Snapper

You might notice from the picture that there is a generous dollop of wasabi tucked inside this baby. I almost choked to death. I gathered myself and gulped it down. The texture is very delicate.

Medium Fatty Tuna (中トロ)

HOLY MOSES. The medium fatty tuna is the greatest-prized possession in the fish market. After entering the mouth, the tuna melts at the tip of your tongue. Although chu toro ranges from $6 to $15 per piece at m/p (market price), we were delighted to see that these babies arrived at our table. It’s like the excitement you feel during New Year’s Money season. You can probably picture how happy I was.

Horse Mackerel

Mackerel is notorious for being the stubborn member of the sushi family. As soon as they are caught and caged in water tanks, the fish will start banging its head and instantly commit suicide. The mackerel has a subtly spicy texture and also has a nice gamey taste.

Giant Clam

The giant clam tastes very much like….CLAM. It’s chewy and tough, but goes down well.

Tuna

The tuna is probably the most distinguishable piece of sushi after the salmon. The perception of tuna is ruined by fast food sushi. At Yasaka, the quality is evident. I just wish the experience lasted longer in my mouth.

Botan Shrimp

Compared to some of my friends who are grossed out by the taste of raw shrimp, I take tremendous pleasure in sampling briny, salty, juicy goodness. I wish that SYbrought the head of the shrimp as well.

#12: Sea Urchin (Uni)

The servers instructed us to sample the uni at the very end of the meal. For people who are accustomed to sea urchin, it can pretty much taste like….poop. Sea poop to be exact. However, this delicacy gets better and better the more you try it.

Toro Oshinko Maki Mono Roll

The chefs at Sushi Yasaka must have seen our table’s reaction to the chu toro. At the end of the meal, we were treated to toro rolls. Although it’s nowhere comparable to the nigiri sushi, these rolls are delectable as well.

My only gripe was that the ambience of the restaurant was clinical. The white walls, the stairs in front of the entrance and the table arrangements made it look as if Sushi Yasaka was still under construction. The takeout man rushing back and forth also slowed down dinner service.

The meal still exceeded my expectations. The quality (for the value) and the service were exceptional. I couldn’t believe how the place wasn’t packing in every table on a Friday night.

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