modern sushi

modern sushi


Sushi of Gari, 370 Columbus Ave, 212-362-4816

I first met Chef Akaboshi at Riki, the ultra-tasty, ultra-Japanese izakaya -- or eating pub -- in midtown. As I started dining there regularly, I found out that Akaboshi-san cooked a dozen or so dishes off the menu each night. I also found out that the specials weren't exactly your Japanese grandmom's home cooking. Like tuna sashimi served with a Middle Eastern tahini ground sesame sauce. From his station behind the open dining bar, Akaboshi-san noticed that I appreciated his more creative dishes. We started saying hello, and a few months later I invited him to lunch. Middle Eastern, of course.

Over a meal of meze-style small plates, Akaboshi-san told me he worked for three years as head chef of the Japanese embassy in Beirut. That explained the tahini sauce. After Lebanon, he arrived in New York to become chef of the Japanese consulate before leaving to cook at Riki. Akaboshi brought along photo albums of the elaborate official dinners he prepared during his Beirut stint. I got the feeling his creativity and cooking talents needed a bigger culinary stage than what Riki offered.

So I was thrilled to hear that Chef Akaboshi moved on to become head chef of Sushi of Gari's West Side branch.

My friend Alex and I checked it out last night. As we walked in, Akaboshi-san greeted us with a big smile from behind the sushi bar. He graciously offered to prepare an omakase course for us. We quickly agreed. "Omakase," the Japanese word for 'entrusting,' also means 'chef's choice' -- but it's much more than that: With his offer, Akaboshi-san put his honor on the line to deliver us a great meal.

Well, I can tell you that the chef has found his stage. Last night was remarkable.

Akaboshi-san prepares an updated, sophisticated take on sushi at Gari. This sleek, modernist restaurant is a perfect venue for his creativity, curiosity and worldly experience. I've been avoiding sushi lately, to be honest, and sticking to other Japanese cuisines. I just got bored of it. Akaboshi's stylized creations cured me after the first taste.

Here's some of what Akaboshi-san made for us: chopped eel and avocado; red snapper topped with jellied vinegar, like an aspic, and a sliver of shiso, a tangy Japanese herb; hamachi with a touch of ground jalapeno; yellow-tail with white and black sesame sauce (homage to tahini); seared tuna belly with ginger sauce; and grilled snow crab topped with sea urchin (even the rice on this one was delicately grilled and carmelized).

Between bites, swoons and sputtering conversation, Alex made a great observation: "We haven't even thought about using soy sauce." Indeed, our little soy dishes were dry. And our little mound of wasabi -- the real stuff, grated from the root -- was also untouched. Akaboshi-san added wasabi to each piece of sushi. "It's the finishing note," Alex said. "I love how all the flavors open up right in your mouth."

The sushi arrived on dishware that was all white -- unusual for a Japanese restaurant. But the vessels were stylish and modern, with different shapes and textures that gave the white color depth. The presentations were beautiful: bright colors of the sushi popped off the plates.

Alex's eye met Akaboshi-san's as we ate. He's watching our reactions, Alex said. We gave Akaboshi-san a big thumbs up. He liked that. As we walked, or rather floated, out of the restaurant after our meal, Akaboshi-san came to the door to bid us a traditional goodbye. He had fulfilled his omakase promise, and so much more.

Posted by Harris Salat in Restaurants | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email | Print

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