The Main Attraction | Neta

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It’s a rainy Saturday evening at Neta in Greenwich Village. For an outsider, it’ll be difficult to ever know that a restaurant exists behind these draped glass windowpanes. But for many of the people who’ve chosen to dine here during the past year (like me! I ate here!!), they’ve probably been treated to Chef Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau’s sushi and impressive cold/hot plates.

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The menu reflects the seasons and availability at the market (as it should), but dishes like dungeness crab with dashi vinaigrette and Spanish mackerel with tempura flakes, ginger and soy seem to be eternal. First impressions matters. Neta knows how to start the date off right.

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Then there are the grilled scallops. There must have been a sea urchin scarcity that day as I was shorted with pieces of maitake mushrooms (still very delicious). This dish has stirred lots of enthusiasm around the internet. “It’s this year Marea fusilli with octopus & bone marrow” “last year’s best kale salad” “the everlasting Shackburger.” It’s evolved into an item that will presumably remain on Neta’s menu for a very long time. The morsels of scallops are piping hot and dosed with garlic soy butter and lime. I’ve had this in a Japanese pub once, but it was never this good. Savory, buttery, luxurious bites can be the answer after several drinks. Then here comes the tempura of blowfish, lotus root, chrysanthum and asparagus! (not available at your state fair).

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Unfortunately, even great restaurants slip sometimes. One dish that really drops the ball is the Szechuan spiced salmon. It’s a bed of crispy rice and semi-hot salmon mixture that is topped with bonito flakes. The dish has received praise from some, detested by others. In comparison to the other three dishes, perhaps it needs time for reevaluation.

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–    Sushi    –

Bluefin Tuna “Toro
Sea bream “Tai
Kanpachi from Japan
Salmon with Sichuan sauce
Scallop “Hotate
Grilled Toro Sinew “Suji
Softshell Shrimp
Sweet Potato Roll
Unagi and Avocado Roll
Lean Tuna “Akami
Toro & Scallion Roll

Sushi establishments take pride in their ability to source the best fish from Japan. Cue the b-roll footage of the Tsukiji fish market and thirty second clippings of tuna auctions.

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Perhaps this footage would be inaccurate to describe the variety of fish at Neta. It seems that the chefs have mapped out the globe. The world is your bluefin tuna. There is salmon from Scotland, cobia from Australia.

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From a sushi purist’s mentality, it would be immoral to mess with a pristine piece of fish. However, Neta has rewritten the script on tantalizing New Yorkers. The Kanpachi is dusted with crispy, spicy potato flakes. The salmon is topped with a dab of Sichuan sauce. The all-American couple next to me who nervously uttered “omakase” thirty minutes ago seemed to be really into their meal. Sushi is fun when the bar is thumpin’ Magna Carta and Life After Death for hours.

However, I’m not blown away by these reinterpretations and brush ups. I want the good stuff.

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Like this. A piece of grilled toro sinew. It makes you flutter with joy. The char on the fish renders the sweetest, unctuous juices.

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Or more common intricacies like soft shelled shrimp. Shellfish dream of moments like this.

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After more Westernized attractions like sweet potato and unagi/avocado rolls, then rolls a shimmering piece of akami. Neta rolls deep with bluefin tuna. Even the self-proclaimed “Neta Roll” consists of toro and scallion. It’s an unsustainable pleasure, but a delicious pleasure.

So does Neta compete with sushi bars like 15 East and Yasuda? Does it deserve to be mentioned next to its holy father who resides in Columbus Circle? It’s a much different game.

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Neta has firmly chosen to serve New York an American experience. Is it better? That’s subjective. It’s louder and more experimental than the best Japanese restaurants that thrive on purity and sushi sanctity. The two different types of experiences are contingent the level of formality. I don’t think flip flops would pass through the doors of 15 East.

I don’t remember what I was wearing on the day I visited Neta. However, I do remember biking back home that night in the pouring rain, happy as a clam.

For my entire meal at Neta: neta, new york on flickr


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