Monday, March 19, 2012

Dinner | East

On St. Paddy's Day, I met up with Lisa and Dani, an awesome girlfriend of ours from high school to catch up over some sushi over at East (full name: East Japanese Restaurant).

What's so special about this sushi joint is its kaiten sushi -- Japanese for "rotating sushi," which is essentially Japanese fast-food-style. Just as a little background, kaiten sushi (i.e., conveyor belt sushi) was invented by Yoshiaki Shiraishi, who had problems staffing his small sushi restaurant which resulted in difficulties managing the restaurant solo. Consequently, he came up with a solution, after watching beer bottles move on a conveyor belt in an Asahi brewery. After five years of development, including the design and the speed of operations, Mr. Shiraishi opened the first kaiten sushi restaurant, Mawaru Genroku Sushi, in Osaka in 1958, which eventually expanding to about 250 restaurants all over Japan. However, by 2001, his company had diminished to eleven restaurants.

I haven't come across any other kaiten sushi places in the city, so it was nice to finally find one! I've only had it one other time (in Hawaii actually), and it was so much fun!

Ultimately, the sushi rides along a long conveyor belt that runs through the length of the restaurant from the kitchen and back. The plates ride along, each with plastic lids.

Then the kitchen will replenish the belt with raw and cooked items as it becomes necessary.

Wonder how they keep track of what you've eaten? Well, they have a color-coded plate system (as shown here) that ranges from $1.50 per plate to $6.50 per plate (this excludes other menu items and "specials"), so all the "plates" of sushi that you eat are piled up right in front of you so that at the end of the meal, they can tally them up to come up with the final tab owed.

Our feast of kaiten sushi included some tuna rolls . . .

. . . salmon lover's roll (salmon tartare and veggies on the inside, salmon sashimi on the outside, topped with red onion and ikura),

. . . spider rolls,

. . . octopus nigiri sushi (just okay -- a little chewy),

. . . uni (pretty fresh considering we were at a kaiten sushi joint)!,

. . . and tuna toro nigiri sushi for $8.50 (a little stringy, but still melted in your mouth)!

By the end of our dinner, we had about 10 (or more) small plates each, all stacked up neatly. We certainly pigged out and took advantage of the "instant gratification" aspect of kaiten sushi. So be wary -- your eyes can become bigger than your stomach at
East, so slow down and make your choices count!

Dani, Lisa, and me at our counter seats at East.

Findings: Kaiten sushi reminds me a lot of Chinese dim sum (small plates), only with sushi. I'm not gonna lie -- I definitely found the gimmicky aspect of conveyor belt sushi quite amusing and really fun as it makes dinner a little more interactive on part of the diner. The quality of sushi at East, surprisingly, was pretty decent quality -- nothing to brag about, but certainly edible! This was a great spot for our trio of girlfriends to catch up -- no interruptions by the waitstaff as meal was dictated by whatever we pulled off the conveyor belt.

I would recommend this spot for a girls' night out, decently sized groups, or even for a quick bite of sushi. You can share plates or pick something for yourself -- that's the beauty of it! But don't expect anything lifechanging -- that's not what East is about. Rather, expect an exciting dinner where small plates of yummy sushi under flashing neon lights are brought for your leisure without you having to wave down a waiter.

Price point: $1.50-8.50 for each plate of sushi.

--March 17, 2012

East (Japanese Restaurant)
366 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10016

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