This week, The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviews Sushi Dojo in the East Village and Kurumazushi in Midtown, both of which remind him of one of his old favorite disco-playing sushi bars on Avenue A, Disco Sushi, which he loved for "reasons that had nothing to do with the food."
Sushi Dojo, where Wells says "you can see customers in lip locks, customers waving their arms in full I-love-you-guys mode, and customers buying rounds for the chefs, a Japanese custom that the staff avidly embrace," plays retro disco music "with an evident love for high-sheen, poppy neo-disco." "I didn’t spot any sake bombs, plenty of people were getting bombed on sake," he says. "Ask the sommelier, Max Lidukhover, for a recommendation and he’ll give you two samples that would pass for full pours in other places, and if you’re not wild about either, he’s likely to uncork a third. Along the way he’ll teach you the basics."
According to Wells, the party "worth getting crazy for" is the sushi made by three chefs with a "strong traditional bent": Hiromi Suzuki, Makoto Yoshizawa, and David Bouhadana.
It was more than raw seafood. "It was the work of a thinking chef, and it was a treat," he says. "The streaks of fresh wasabi I drew with a chopstick tip underscored what Ms. Suzuki had already done with her knives, her torch and her seasonings to enhance the texture and taste of each kind of sashimi. Next, she placed one matchbox-size piece of sushi at a time on a banana leaf: glistening golden-eye snapper; a purplish strip of needlefish with skin that flashed like steel; yellowtail belly that melted like whipped lard; wild Alaskan salmon warmed by Ms. Suzuki’s blowtorch just long enough to melt some of the oils; and a delicate slip of sea eel, one of the finest I’ve found anywhere."
Then there’s Kurumazushi, hidden on the second floor of a small Midtown office building, where Wells says he would have eaten "in [his] Disco Sushi days if [he’d] been able to afford it." Of the cuisine, he says the sushi bar offers "extraordinary tastes," including the king crab from Canada, "very sweet squid made tender by a fine lattice of crosshatched cuts," "gleaming amberjack and horse mackerel," and "a hand roll of fatty tuna and scallions that made [him] forget how to speak for a minute or two."
But Wells has some complaints to make: "Some of the sushi might have come from a far less exalted restaurant: the eel drenched in sugary sauce, the forgettable salmon roe, and an array of seafood that would have had no character at all if not for the dab of fresh wasabi. The fish was too cold, a particular issue with fattier cuts like toro. The main culprit, though, was rice, a mass of starch so in need of seasoning that it erased the flavors of the fish like blotting paper."
Wells concludes his review by replaying a show by Kurumazushi’s greatest asset: Toshihiro Uezu, the chef.
"An antic, grinning presence, Mr. Uezu has as much fun as anyone in the restaurant. Standing between the sushi counter and a wall that looks like a raked sand garden in Japan, he slams metal trays of fish on top of one another, catches his breath, and turns to a customer: ‘OK! Sushi or sashimi? You choose or I choose?’ And then he is off. ‘Horse mackerel,’ he says, reaching across the counter with a length of pinkish fish draped over rice."
And then in response: "'Horse?’ a customer asks, unsure he’d heard it right. Mr. Uezu loves this. 'Yes! Horse!' he says. ‘Secretariat!’ He laughs. Everybody laughs. Just like that, it’s a sushi party."
For Wells' full review, click here.