Monday, September 16, 2013

Chef's Tasting | Sushi Dojo

{1} On Friday, Lisa and I made reservations at the sushi counter at Sushi Dojo (honestly, the only place where you should be sitting whilst dining here, in my humble opinion), a little sushi joint in the East Village that's been getting lots of raving reviews and press as of late. And you know us, we're always ready to get down and dirty when it comes to sushi with absolutely no sugar coating -- just telling it like it is. When I called to make the reservation earlier this week, he told me that the restaurant was pretty wide open for counter seating as Friday was Yom Kippur. We got really lucky with our last minute reservations, for sure!

{2Sushi Dojo has an intimate, 14-seat counter as well as a number of tables in its surrounding dining area. Dojo is Japanese for "a place to study and train" and Sushi Dojo takes on this "philosophy to educate its clientele about Japanese cuisine and culture." With a decade of experience in training with top sushi masters both in the U.S. and Japan, Chef David Bouhadana is the mastermind behind Sushi Dojo. He spent three years living in the Kansai region of Japan, where he learned "the pure art of what making sushi is all about" as well as "the Japanese culture of hard work and discipline."

Sushi Dojo
{5} Sitting at the counter at Sushi Dojo was tranquil and captivating, as we watched the sushi chefs slice, plate, and serve some wondrous dishes like {3} this interesting display of mackerel and {4} freshly grate wasabi root.

Seeing that they had some oyster dishes on the menu, we were sure to dive right into trying them.

The first oyster dish had raw oysters from Stellar Bay, Canada -- each with a Japanese style garnish of chives, turnip, and soy sauce. Really delicious for East Coast oysters -- lightly sweet with an underlying brine.

The other oyster dish had sautéed jumbo oyster from Washington state. It was sautéed with a light battering of salt and pepper and a bit of a savory sauce. Given that it was a "jumbo" oyster, we were able to enjoy it in smaller quantities without being overwhelmed by its sheer size. Very well done!

For our main course, Lisa and I thought it'd be best to test out the $45-priced 10-piece chef's choice of sushi (i.e., the most talked about item on Sushi Dojo's menu) to see if it really has that bang that everyone says it is. Each piece, as with all traditional sushi counters, was served over an oblong mound of carefully cooked sushi rice (swept with a wee bit of wasabi) then finished with a delicate brushing of soy sauce.

First up on the chef's choice of sushi was the madai (Japanese red snapper) which was decent, though on the blander side. It seemed more like a good piece of fish to get our toes wet for the remaining flight of fish remaining.

Next, we had Alaskan king salmon, where this cut of fish could surely stand by itself without rice, any soy sauce or wasabi -- in its purest form. It was this sensation I can only use Cantonese to describe -- guum, which essentially comes closest to meaning gold, savory, and rich.

The third was shimaaji (striped jack), which had a smooth, milky taste to it, and shockingly enough, Lisa even said tasted better than the Alaskan king salmon (her favorite variety of sushi, besides uni, of course). Loved this one!

This one was the aji (horse mackerel). The aji was quite intense and fishy, as expected with most mackerels, but for me, it was fishy in a way that was different than usual. It was good, but I wasn't a complete fan. Lisa, on the other hand, actually liked it, which was strange because she usually stays away from mackerels. Either way, the cut of aji was super fresh and well-garnished.

Then we had the kanpachi (amberjack) -- a beautiful slice of fish that was a little peppery with a touch of citrus. Really enjoyed this one!

Of course, an omakase flight wouldn't be complete without some chu-toro (medium fatty tuna). A deliciously melty piece of fish -- just as it should be.

The chu-toro was of course followed by o-toro (fatty tuna), which was nice, but not as savory and meaty as the chu-toro surprisingly enough. Really good quality tuna in both cases!

Nearing the end of the chef's choice of sushi we were served iwashi (spotted sardine), which had the most beautiful iridescent skin (look at those spots!). It had that fascinating oiliness that you'd typically see in mackerel with a certain je ne sais quoi that you'd only bear witness to upon tasting it. Good stuff!

The penultimate piece of sushi was uni (sea urchin roe), one of our favorite must-eats when we're dining at a sushi counter, from Santa Barbara. The creamy golden hue of the uni proved as a testament to how incredibly good it melted onto our palates. It was a beautiful piece of sea urchin roe, both inside and out -- buttery and creamy with the sweetest finishing brine. Definitely one of the best quality ones I've had here in New York City.

Our last piece was the anago (sea eel), the only "cooked" piece within our 10-piece omakase. Completely boneless, it had a gorgeous flakiness to it, without being overcooked. Plus, there was only a touch of kabayaki sauce and nothing else, proving that the preparation alone could stand without any help from the glaze of sauce. A great piece to punctuate the flight of 10 pieces.

Our palates were still inkling for some more morsels of something raw, so we did three more rounds each.

Sushi Dojo 2

First Round
{1} Lisa had to get a taste of the other uni on the menu that was from Hokkaido, Japan. The Hokkaido uni had a little more of a muted marigold hue to it, and although it was less plump, it was a lot more savory and guum than the usual Santa Barbara ones we see more available here in the U.S. {2} I had to check out the mirugrai (live giant clam), which had a sharp, snappy yet firm bite to it and not at all chewy like ones I have had before. So, so good!

Second Round
{1} Because of how much Lisa raved aboout the Hokkaido uni, I made sure I could try some myself, too! While I had that, {3} Lisa saw one of the sushi chefs preparing something for another table, so her curiosity got her to ask her what it was. It turns out it was shiraebi (Japanese white baby shrimp), and the chef told us that it was one of the items not even on the menu that evening. You know what that meant -- had to try it! Unfortunately, Lisa's deadpan reaction upon tasting it was, "I don't get it..." so that was that.

Last Round
Lisa's last bite was one last taste of the California uni (which I am sure was an outstanding encore!), while {4} mine was hotate (scallop) which had just a smidgen of minced shiso leaf and a wee bit of lemon zest. What a delectable piece of bivalve to end this perfect progression of nigiri-sushi.

And last but not least, Lisa and I got our fix of green tea ice cream. Pretty good!

Findings: Our dinner at Sushi Dojo proved to live up to all of the recent hype, and was lighter on the wallet than other sushi counters in its caliber. The 10-piece chef's choice of sushi had really lovely progression, beginning with lighter cuts to heavier/more savory cuts, gradually moving from raw to lightly cooked. In addition to its spot-on progression, the selected cuts by the sushi chefs are of high quality and is a pretty thorough showcase of many varieties of sushi families -- maguro (tuna), shiromi (white fish), aji/achi (yellowtail), hikarimono (silver fish), sake/masu (salmon/trout), kai (shellfish/roe), etc. -- in a mere ten pieces. The sushi chefs are quite friendly, especially if you show enthusiasm in the experience, the preparation, and the fish, so as with most (read: all) sushi restaurants, seats at the counter at Sushi Dojo are key. If you're jonesing for some sushi without breaking the bank too much, reservations at Sushi Dojo will get your fix.

Price point: $45 per person for a 10-piece sushi omakase (chef's choice), $6-8 per additional piece of sushi, market price* for each oyster dish, $4 for each ice cream plate.

* Please note that our bill came out to be around $82 per person before tax and gratuity.

--September 13, 2013

Sushi Dojo
110 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009

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