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Sushi Sasabune


Todd36
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This appears to be related to the famous LA place. They only serve sushi, nothing cooked, not even miso soup. I know the space has a kitchen, it used to be Y's Place, which served very good sushi and good cooked food. Sasabune is a different level. Fish choices are not exotic, it not like say Ushwakamaru. But what they have is top notch. Competes with the best sushi in the city. It's a tiny place, veru modest looking. No set menu, it's basically omakase. Price range is reasonable for what you are getting, Waiter told us $70-100 for dinner and that seems accurate based on our experience. Fish appears to be fresh, as in fresh and not frozen clam, that sort of thing.

I don't know what no one has noticed this place yet, its been open for about two weeks. A friend of mine lives across the street......

401 East 73rd St., at 1st Ave.

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It's getting a fair amount of talk in the blogs and other food boards, so yes it's surprising it hasn't gotten more attention here.

Did you go Todd or is that report based only on what you've observed w/o eating there? If you have, I'd love to hear a little more, as I'm thinking of going in the next few weeks. I'm looking for something traditional that's less than Kuruma and perhaps a different experience than Yasuda.

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I ate there Friday night. The best uni I've had in NY, also very good Ikura, they were clearly proud of both. Giant clam is not my favorite, but this was different, and according to my Japanese dining friend, very good. Several types of kampachi and yellowtail were also very good. Style is not quite traditional, but close. Rice style is soft and warm.

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Some of the items are presauced, but he doesn't put things like tomato on top. I'd call it pretty tradional. We didn't each that much, damage was around $80 a head. Now that I am remembering a bit more---started with sliced abalone in the shell (smallish one) and a generous plate of white tuna sashami in a citrus-soy sauce. We ended with the uni and ikura and yes, it was better than Yasuda, although I don't eat at Yasuda very often---it was better than the uni at Sugiyama and you know how much I like that place. In between, we had tai, giant claim and several kinds of yellowtail and relatives. And a piece of salmon.

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Better than Kuruma's uni?  (Kuruma's uni is really fantastic.)

I have not been to Kuruma in a very long time, so I can't comment.

While I can't comment on those iterations of uni in particular, I think the sushi geeks on the board here will back me up when I say that ALL uni of any quality comes from one or two places, so there's likely to be almost as much variation from day to day at any given place as there is between places. In other words, if it's a top notch sushi purveyor (and differences aside, I'd include all the usual suspects in this category...e.g. Kuruma, Ushi Wakamaru, Yasuda, etc.), they're probably going get their stuff from the same source, and the best places get first choice. It's probably from either Santa Barbara or Catalina. Very few get the Japanese stuff, as it doesn't travel well. So what the main provider in Santa Barbara gets on a given day is more or less what you'll have at Yasuda, Kuruma, etc. If it's particularly good, they'll tell you, and if it's having an off day, they may steer you away. On one day you might get a better piece at one retaurant, on another, the second place might be better. Storage, etc. may also play a small role. However, when it comes to fish, the differences are more subtle, and the market action (at Tsukiji) relates to how good the stuff is much more.

On to Sasabune. While I haven't eaten at the NY one yet, I've eaten at the one in LA numerous times. It's actually an offshoot of the famous "sushi nazi", Sushi Nozawa, and Sasabune's owner is a former assistant of Nozawa's. The best way to describe it would be as offering fish of very high quality and freshness, though not with the wide range of offerings or exoticness of Kuruma or Ushi. Any sushi lover will enjoy the freshness, taste and quality here, and it's usually VERY good value. The sushi is prepared "Edo style", meaning the rice is slightly warm and loose, and the itamae will often request that you not dip in soy, as he lightly pre-sauces many pieces. They highly recommend ordering omakase, or as they refer to it, the "trust me special". Definitely worth a try for the sushi fans on eGullet.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Stopped by Sasabune for a very nice dinner tonight. Sat at the counter, did the omakase thing, then ordered a couple extra pieces, etc etc. I have a lot to say even though this is a very small, very simple restaurant.

First of all, I'm not one of those "I'm so downtown I don't go above Delancey" types, but 73rd and 1st might as well be Newfoundland. At least we didn't have to walk through Times Square, which was a total zoo later on in the night, on the way there. To say the space is modest is putting it lightly. Some may say that it gives it a more "Tokyo side street" feel. Others may liken it to a strip mall sushi joint. Take your pick.

Anyway, with the standard sushi bar greeting out of the way, we were served immediately, even before tea, water, or other drinks were offered. I thought this was kind of weird since there were only two other parties in the restaurant, but it's clear they like to keep things moving, more than any other sushi bar I've been to. After taking a moment to decompress and obtain some of the aforementioned beverages, we began feeding. I stole our "fish receipt" so I actually know what we ate.

Sashimi - Albacore sashimi with ponzu - This was very tasty. Salty, buttery, acidic, and slightly sweet. The only problem was that there was seriously at least 4 ounces of fish on the plate. It opened the palate but, even for me and my ravenous appetite, it was too much. Furthermore, this dish is listed at $12 and could have easily been shared by two diners.

Then the sushi barragge began in very rapid succession. If you think things move along at Yasuda, then get ready for warp drive here. This wasn't so much a problem for me and the g/f since we eat at warp speed, but other diners were kind of letting the pieces sit for a minute or two before actually going at them.

Tuna - yellow fin and blue fin chu toro

Yellowtail - loin (toward the "back") and belly

Kanpachi

Salmon - Scottish with kelp and sesame seeds. Interestingly this was my favorite piece of the night and I requested a second one. Salmon is always tasty but often boring. The kelp added a nice bit of "green" salt and the sesame seeds a nice bit of nutty bitterness.

Scallop - Creamy, sweet, damn good. Though I missed Yasuda's sea salt and yuzu treament.

White tuna

Fluke- Caught off the coast of Boston. The daikon-chili topping on this one really added a nice bit of bitter spice to this piece.

Spanish mackeral - More assertive pieces suck all the more in the mediocre sushi places making good versions all the more satisfying. Obviously, this was satisfying and one of the more recognizable varieties offered.

Bonito - Similar to the mackeral, another fish that is ignored in medicore places but was nice here. Both the bonito and mackeral had a bit more texture and chew than most of the other pieces, in a good way.

Black cod - This was cooked and topped with the sweet eel sauce. A nice piece that was rich and warm and offered nice contrast between the others.

Oyster - A pair of Kumamotos from the the left coast. I loved slupring them up, then biting into the the briny goodness.

Crab roll - Here blue crab was used, which I thought was interesting. I think I still prefer the more typical snow or king crab preparation, but this more "rustic" preparation was still very tasty.

Kenji then asked if everything was satisfactory and if we had any requests. I requested oh-toro and uni only to find out they didn't have any that day. I was heartbroken. To clarify, he did say that they had some uni but said he'd rather not serve it because he wasn't getting the best stuff from Catalina because of weather. Not sure if I buy it, but at least he didn't serve me what he deemed an inferior product.

So instead, I got another piece of the aforementioned salmon, some wonderful ama-ebi (sweet shrimp), a piece of fresh water eel--very good but not as memorable as Yasuda's--and a piece of aji. Was it more than I needed? Yes, but all the pieces were tasty in their own right.

The damage for the sushi and a shared small carafe of hot sake, including tax and tip, was $105 per person, about what we expected to spend.

Service from the support staff was fine and generally efficient but not really evocative of true Japanese hospitality. No complaints other than tea and water glasses that could've been filled more frequently. That and paper napkins. Why?!

In critically assessing the sushi itself, however, I still find myself without a New York sushi restaurant that truly blows me away. For me, Yasuda hit the transporting level from time to time and Sasabune slightly less often. Although the quality at both is very good to excellent, I find problems with both. At Yasuda I feel that the fish is cut too thinly and isn't quite in balance with the rice to my preference. At Sasabune, the hot, heavily seasoned rice (lots of salt and vinegar) sometimes overpowers the fish despite his more generous cuts. At Yasuda you sometimes find yourself wanting just a bit more fish to accentuate his great rice. At Sasabune you find yourself wanting the rice a little tamer to let the great fish really shine. Sushi experts will cringe at this, but I sometimes crave the gargantuan slices at Tomoe just so I can really get into the fish part of the game. Yes, you're right, I should be eating sashimi if that's what I want, and I agree, but that extreme example kind of exposes the feeling I've experienced at both Sasabune and Yasuda. Sushi is technically about the rice, yes, but it's the fish and the inherent balance with that that keeps me coming back for more. I'm going to end this pissy sushi rant on a good note. I really, really liked the fish quality at Sasabune, despite its somewhat limited selection and its having to compete with the rice. Not a single piece was a clunker and for this I am grateful.

Regarding another popular topic of discussion when dealing with top-level sushi bars, Sasabune admits to serving different meals and charging different prices to Japanese vs. non-Japanese customers. For some background, I had my mother call to make the reservation (in Japanese) for me since I thought I'd have a better chance of securing a chance at the counter if they thought Japanese patrons were coming. When I had her call back to confirm the reservation she started talking the reservationist/host about the rough price of the omakase. The host plainly explained that they serve different things to Japanese patrons and more basic items to non-Japanese diners. When my mother revealed that it was not her coming and instead her white-looking son and his very white-looking girlfriend (pardon the ethnic reductionism) they said the chef would only serve us the more tame omakase. For the first visit, the reservationist claimed, the chef wants to observe how open patrons are to the restaurants offerings. A similar thing happened to me at Yasuda. Damn my white father. Damn those stubborn Japanese sushi chefs. If there is some justice in the world, it lies in the fact that Japanese customers do have to pay more for their more unique offerings, not less as supposedly happens at other top establishments. Furthermore, toward the end of the meal I upped my Jap-cred and was served an extra course not served to another, less engaged party at a table behind us. But then again, we had to pay for that extra course anyway. You win some, you lose some.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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This has happened to me as well, Kanoyama, I've seen my omakase bill jump from 55 to 275 because of a little spoken japanese. LOL

I've been to the honolulu location and Sasabune and wasn't too impressed. Even though they claimed edomae, they used the same bottled unagi sauce on everything.

Edited by dabestspooner (log)
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  • 2 months later...

I read BryanZ's review from Dec 24 and, frankly, I'm relieved that I'm not the only person in who thinks that the portion sizes of fish served at Yasuda are too small and apparently not the only eGulleter who likes the massively sized sashimi slices at Tomoe.

I also agree that it's unfortunate that there are different levels of omakase service. But in a way I guess it's like the situation of going to a Thai restaurant and trying to convince them to make something full-bore spicy.

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Just wanted to weigh in with my own experience here. I have been trying to try Sasabune for a while but every time I called the bar was packed. As I would later find out, however, my experience would be no different if I sat at a table. More on that below.

Sasabune is very good and had a few unique characteristics that set it apart from the other high-end sushi places. I would put the sushi quality on par with the more basic-style pieces that are served at Gari. The overall sushi is probably a shade below Jewel Bako, Shimizu or Ushi Wakamaru and not quite at the same level as Kuruma or Yasuda.

1. Albacore sashimi in ponzu

2. Kumamoto oysters w/ daikon and ponzu

3. Yellowfin tuna (two pieces, one with unagi sauce, one without)

4. Yellowtail (two pieces, one with lemon, one plain)

5. Striped bass w/ponzu and daikon & fluke w/ponzu

6. Scottish salmon w/kelp and toasted sesame seeds & scallop

7. Horse mackeral (aji) & bonito (katsuo)

8. Sea bass & kanpachi

9. Black sea bass & cooked butterfish (modai) w/unagi sauce, gunkan-style

10. Blue crab hand roll

11. (my request) katsuo & uni

total cost: $83.50 before tax and tip

A few things to note:

- Everybody gets the same thing, in the same order, which I guess makes sense. Normally omakase is a bit more of a personalized experience, though. At the end of the meal Kenji mentioned that next time I should tell him if I preferred a Japanese omakase, where I would have received some of the more exotic offerings (which aren't TOO crazy), like amaebi or mirugai.

- All of the fish is pre-sliced (this might explain the above); even the albacore plates are in a fridge with seran wrap on top. This is understandable, since there is only one chef to serve sushi to an entire sushi-only restaurant of people, but it seems to go against the whole point of omakase. I think many people expect their omakase meal (especially if it will be north of $80 bucks/per person) to not be pre-prepared. I'm not sure if this is the modus operandi at all the Sasabune locations, but it was something I had never seen before. That being said, the fish was still excellent and delicious -- and I would not have been able to tell if it had been pre sliced or not had I not glanced behind the counter.

- The accompaniments to the fish are sometimes a bit overwhelming. The pieces with lemon tasted as if they had been soaked in it. The albacore was swimming in its ponzu.

- The rice is very warm, and heavily vinegared. This gives it an interesting taste, but sometimes provides too strong a counterpoint to (rather than complementing) the fish it comes with. Because of this (and the aforementioned over-saucing), it also tends to fall apart rather easily, even if the pieces are held super-carefully.

My final verdict is that I indeed enjoyed my meal at Sasabune, but can't say I would be back unless I happened to be in the neighborhood. For that price point, you can approach the omakase offerings at Yasuda, Shimizu or Ushi Wakamaru (nothing beats the 15-pc omakase for $49) with much greater variety.

Sasabune, however, was alluring for a few important reasons:

- the mode of serving -- receiving two complementary pieces at a time -- was enjoyable and unlike most other omakase selections (except for Yasuda, sometimes)

- Sasabune did have some things that I have not seen at other sushi restaurants: the raw (not seared) bonito was great. The blue crab roll was the best hand roll I've ever had.

- All of the pieces are very generously-sized. They are not massive unwieldy slabs of fish (Tomoe, Yama), but are nicely shaped thick cuts. The hand rolls are absolutely massive and stuffed to the point of overflowing. My uni piece had 4-5 tongues of roe in it.

- It's rare (for me at least) to have an omakase with the more basic fishes. To be fair, it might be easy to feel a little cheated without any sayori, toro or uni, but there is a beautiful simplicity in having an ultra-really-good version of the "sushi deluxe" that your neighborhood sushi bar offers.

Hope this is illuminating for some people interested in trying out the restaurant.

Edited by jkaw (log)
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With respect to uni, Mr. Sugiyama does not like the stuff this year from CA, he has been serving stuff from Maine---or so he tells me....I don't think they all get it from the same place---you clearly see different kinds of packing trays at different places.

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Stopped by Sasabune for a very nice dinner tonight.  Sat at the counter, did the omakase thing, then ordered a couple extra pieces, etc etc.  I have a lot to say even though this is a very small, very simple restaurant.

I'm really surprised you haven't been "blown away" anywhere because all that leaves is Japan. I've travelled extensively and have been told to go to places that are better than NY; LA, SF, Hawaii, you name it, and let me tell you these are always cases of bigger fish in smaller ponds. Look at the selection of sushi bars you have in NYC! Yasuda is just one. I would say there are at least a dozen sushi bars in NYC that could easily be located in Tokyo. What you will get in Japan is a wider selection, a lower price-point, more consistency, and many sushibars has their certain thing they do that sets them apart. Then there are countless anonymous sushiya at every old trainstop that will still be as good or better than what you may pay 40% more for here. If you can't put together a show-stopping dinner at one of these dozen places in NYC then you aren't ordering well! Omakase is a two-way street baby; tell him not to waste your time and move straight to the shiromi (whitefish) or kai (shellfish) if you want to try the more exotic.

Among Japanese owned and run restaurants, for the most part you get what you pay for. Surely regulars will eventually be rewarded the same way a bartender you are acquainted with will engage in the seemingly forgotten "buyback" at a bar. Don't forget, sushi is served at a "bar".

I'm not Japanese, although I can and have passed for half. I lived there and my sushi-bar japanese is damn near fluent. My anecdotes of a foreigner living in Japan, or what the latest trends are, will more often than not entertain and break the monotony for the itamae and maybe it's a bit of relief that he can speak Japanese to this dude sitting in front of him. There are few sushi chefs who are good and dedicated who still had time left to learn a decent amount of English. When they figure out I know my shit about sushi then yes, often I will be offered something that I might agree that only a Japanese might want or appreciate. But when the chef's course ends, I order some of my personal faves, like negitoro, aburiengawa, amaebi, or something that I liked from the omakase.

Sasabune sounds like it's not worth the trip and "LA-cred" goes nowhere with me. Why not try Shimizu, Sushizen, Sushiden, Gari, or any other of the Midtown places without going all the way up there?

The last omakase I got was in November (!) at Shimizu. I never got to posting. I will now. Read it and give him a try! The only downside of Shimizu is that he is a bit "tsumetai".

It seems like I can't afford to go out for an omakase as often as some of you, but if you think Jap-cred will get you a better omakase, as I've said before I'm available for rental, i will downright embarass myself if it will get you VIP-end of the fish.

PS Doesn't Yasuda pre-slice and store much of his fish in lacquered boxes?

PPS Many of the higher-traffic sushiya in Tokyo pre-slice fish. I would say a just-in-time slice is great for presentation but it tastes the same....

Edited by raji (log)
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I couldn't find a thread for Shimizu.... is there one? Time for one?

This is roughly the omakase I had at Shimizu; he was very nice and I left there stuffed. This was back in November but from what I remember it was $110 each for the fish. We were a bit sticker-shocked at first but on further review I think it was pretty reasonable, but certainly not cheap. What do you guys think?

Sashimi platter

Kanpachi, Otoro, salmon, octopus, whitefish, scallops, shiromi with liver in it

King crab

Ika with ikura

tai

sayori

botanebi

abalone (awabi)

uni

aburiotoro

butterfish

unagi

aburiengawa

negitoro

iwashi

hirame, shimaaji, sawara

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I have never seen fish pre-sliced at Yasuda...I always see the chefs at the bar slicing the fish (especially if you're asking for something a little more bizarre, like engawa). Perhaps the fish for the prix-fixe sushi combos is pre-sliced? I don't know.

As far as omakase being a two-ways street goes...of course I agree. You can't expect to walk into a place one time and have it be tailored to your tastes or expect special attention. What struck me is that while Sasabune is an omakase-only restaurant, there is absolutely NO personalization in the chef's selections. I have not seen that anywhere.

I also want to second Shimizu as a great omakase choice: he has great fish, is very skilled and is an all-around nice guy. He's the only chef there (an assistant helped him with the cooked sushi pieces) and the place has always been near-empty whenever I've been there. If you ask him for a "small appetizer", he'll usually put together something interesting like mirin-marinated salmon, crispy kohada bones or fried whole smelt with ponzu dipping sauce.

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It's been a while I've been to Yasuda, (and certainly a lot of my requests must be hand cut) and now my memory is a bit hazy and I might be mixing him up with a similar itamae I see in Tokyo who also employs the boxes (most higher-traffic sushiyas in Japan I've noticed also employ wooden boxes for refrigeration and storage and it's not necessarily great for the fish to be sitting out, exposed and under the lights. Others use copious amounts of plastic wrap, and one wonders what sushi chefs did before that was invented) ... So you may be right. Maybe someone who's been recently can answer; what are the thin sheets of cedar separating, sections of fish or individual pieces?

"While Yasuda brings in fresh fish from all around the world and much from Japan, he highly values good domestic fish. Yasuda personally selects the fish one by one, evaluating each for freshness, size and its "spirit" or "energy." He then carefully begins his comprehensive process of cleaning, preparing and storing. Paper-thin sheets of delicate Japanese cedar-wood line the many of the boxes, and different varieties of fish are stored in separate boxes. Yasuda carefully controls the aging process of his fish—an essential part of making sushi. "Just-caught" fish is not always ideal for being eaten immediately as sushi, and different fish require different methods of refrigeration and storage for preservation and taste."

Edited by raji (log)
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I think the beginnings of sushi were quite humble with zero refrigeration. Apparently it wasn't so bad that enough people died from it, so I guess chefs got along fine without plastic wrap back in the day. ;-)

Pre-slicing the fish may have no effect on the taste. But, as you say, if you're eating at a sushi bar and the prep work is pulling out a few pre-cut slices, I think the experience is quite underwhelming.

I don't know what the obsession with cedar is. I hope it's not fresh cedar. I'm really not a fan of taru sake, for example. I don't need to feel like I'm repelling moths. On a side note, I always groan a bit when sushi comes with a garnish of lemon. WTF?

(Okay, maybe Yasuda and Masa don't do that, and maybe it's not done at Sasbune... just venting).

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I also want to second Shimizu as a great omakase choice: he has great fish, is very skilled and is an all-around nice guy.  He's the only chef there (an assistant helped him with the cooked sushi pieces) and the place has always been near-empty whenever I've been there.  If you ask him for a "small appetizer", he'll usually put together something interesting like mirin-marinated salmon, crispy kohada bones or fried whole smelt with ponzu dipping sauce.

Off topic, but:

I've had less-than-fabulous experiences with the rice at Shimizu (colder than I'd expect, and a little dry). How have yours been?

Back to topic:

Anyone other than BryanZ have a thought on how the rice at Sasabune is?

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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I also want to second Shimizu as a great omakase choice: he has great fish, is very skilled and is an all-around nice guy.  He's the only chef there (an assistant helped him with the cooked sushi pieces) and the place has always been near-empty whenever I've been there.  If you ask him for a "small appetizer", he'll usually put together something interesting like mirin-marinated salmon, crispy kohada bones or fried whole smelt with ponzu dipping sauce.

Off topic, but:

I've had less-than-fabulous experiences with the rice at Shimizu (colder than I'd expect, and a little dry). How have yours been?

Back to topic:

Anyone other than BryanZ have a thought on how the rice at Sasabune is?

I had this to say about Sasabune's rice in an earlier post:

"- The rice is very warm, and heavily vinegared. This gives it an interesting taste, but sometimes provides too strong a counterpoint to (rather than complementing) the fish it comes with. Because of this (and the aforementioned over-saucing), it also tends to fall apart rather easily, even if the pieces are held super-carefully."

As far as the rice goes at Shimizu, I did notice it to be uncharacteristically cold maybe on one or two pieces (there were also times when the fish was so cold it did not even taste fully thawed), but as that was really a one-off occurrence I pretty much ignored it. I find the rice there, on the whole, to be pretty much average for a restaurant of that caliber.

Edited by jkaw (log)
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I had this to say about Sasabune's rice in an earlier post:

"- The rice is very warm, and heavily vinegared. This gives it an interesting taste, but sometimes provides too strong a counterpoint to (rather than complementing) the fish it comes with. Because of this (and the aforementioned over-saucing), it also tends to fall apart rather easily, even if the pieces are held super-carefully."

Sorry; I just completely missed that! :unsure:
As far as the rice goes at Shimizu, I did notice it to be uncharacteristically cold maybe on one or two pieces (there were also times when the fish was so cold it did not even taste fully thawed), but as that was really a one-off occurrence I pretty much ignored it.  I find the rice there, on the whole, to be pretty much average for a restaurant of that caliber.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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