At times, Sushi Nakazawa can feel more like the stage for a celebrity sighting rather than the playing field for one of the greatest restaurants in the city.
It’s understandable. Chef Daisuke Nakazawa’s relocation from Washington to New York was one of the greatest transactions this season. After training at Shiro’s in Seattle, he has more than tamago under his belt.
Rather than falling into the line of many great New York sushi restaurants, Sushi Nakazawa chooses to only serve sushi. There is no sashimi. There are no hot plates from the kitchen. Some might find this style unaccommodating, but New York diners seem to put full trust in the Chef Nakazawa’s hands every single night. Although the dining room is less expensive and easier to access, all the action is at the bar. For one of the ten seats, you’ll have to check in four weeks ahead. There are only three seatings per day.
By eliminating à la carte, Chef Nakazawa and his team serve sushi under the right time and temperature. The Sushi Nakazawa platoon runs like a well oiled machine. Some chefs will go out of their way to criticize diners to prevent them from doing anything that upsets the temperature of the food or the flow of service. However, Chef Nakazawa cheerfully embraces photos. “But not too much,” he says.
It’s overwhelming not to get videos of pulsating scallops from Maine still buzzing after a dust of Yuzu Lemon. Then there’s the Live Tiger Shrimp from Florida jumping around before getting their heads and shells yanked and the pressed under a bed of rice by Chef Nakazawa and his team. This show and tell is years beyond the onion volcano.
The theatrical atmosphere isn’t just for the spectacle. Chef Nakazawa says that torching the Geoduck from Washington State immediately changes the flavor and smell of the giant clam.
My favorite part of Sushi Nakazawa is learning about Chef Nakazawa’s technique for smoking fish. Chef Nakazawa takes Chum Salmon from Hokkaido and Skipjack from Kyushu under a bed of smoking hay, leaving an aroma of firewood crackling in the mountains. This taste is oddly familiar, but where?
PASTRAMI! It’s like memories of tasting pastrami for the first time. The smell of burnt wood and the taste of smoked meat is like a happy marriage.
Although the bluefin Akami, Chūtoro, and Ōtoro from Boston at Sushi Nakazawa are outstanding, Chef Nakazawa’s skipjack tuna is the piece to beat.
Sadly, there are shortcomings throughout some parts of the meal. During my visit, I noticed several sardines from Portugal left with pins on the flesh. Although the wonderful taste of the sardine was enough to make me forget about the bones, it does indicate room for improvement. The eel is also less memorable than the one at at 15 East. Then again, Shimizu-san’s anago’s is the best in the city.
It’s almost heartbreaking to accept when the meal draws to a close. Fortunately, the last piece is the iconic tamago. Chef Nakazawa’s tamago is made from mountain yam and shrimp which takes on a moist cake like texture. It’s better than any that I’ve ever had. For the women at the table, he splits the custard into two smaller bite pieces. His charming and effervescent personality makes the ladies at the bar melt with joy. Perhaps it’s just the tamago talking.
Chef asks everyone if they’d like to repeat any pieces. The majority of people respectfully pass after the twenty pieces. A few others at the end of the table enthusiastically ask for more Chūtoro.
As Chef Nakazawa sent the last pieces of sushi to the guests at the bar, he looked over to the people holding cameras at the table and said “I wonder what you guys do with all these pictures of me.”
We revere you, Chef Nakazawa. We, New York City, are your biggest fans.
For my entire meal at Sushi Nakazawa: sushi nakazawa, new york on flickr