Good things are often hidden in life. In the quest to find good sushi, this is very often true.
American and Italian restaurants pride themselves in a sense of grandeur. Outside Bar Americain you’ll see the name displayed on every pane of glass, and you can easily look in at the soaring ceilings and stylish decor. Classical Japanese restaurants, on the other hand, enjoy the sense of secrecy. Many Japanese restaurants in the Land of the Rising Sun have zero signage from the outside, barely any decor on the inside, the true definition of a “hole in the wall”. If you find them, you’re in the know, and worthy of its fine creations.
Some Japanese restaurants in New York have carried over this tradition. Sushi Yasuda only shows its fish print logo on the outside, no name. Sasabune has its English name printed on something that looks like a piece of cardboard, in light letters, 15 ft from the ground. Masa, during the day, literally veils itself from the world at Time Warner Center with an heavy, seemingly immovable wooden door. Then there’s Kuruma Zushi, which I’m dying to try, tucked away in an office building in midtown.
So when I found out that Sushi Azabu, which was awarded 1 Michelin star this year, is located in a basement, I was quite intrigued. Then I found out that it’s in the basement of the Greenwich Grill, now that concerns me. Would this be classic Japanese discrete or some bastardization of cuisines. While I do trust the Michelin guide, they are famously inconsistent with Japanese food. Why Yasuda doesn’t have 3 stars is beyond my wildest imagination.
We arrived at Greenwich Street in Tribeca on a quiet Thursday evening, and walked into Greenwich Grill. Most of the employees who greeted us at the door spoke to us in Japanese, so apparently this is a Japanese operated Western restaurant, a positive sign. We were then lead forward, into a dimly lit dining area. Just as I was discussing with Jessie how this looked quite like the lighting and mood of modern Japanese restaurants (like Nobu), we took a left turn and descended into the basement.
What I saw at the bottom of the stairs brought excitement and joy. A sushi bar with about 8 seats, 3 chefs behind the counter executing their craft, and a few tables along the narrow walkway. It felt like an utopia of Japanese cuisine, intimate and authentic. We sat down at the bar, which I have to admit is a first for me.
Sitting at the bar, we wanted to sample what the chef thought was the day’s best. So we both went with the Azabu course, at $65 each. There was a true omakase selection starting at $100, and an assortment of cheaper, a la carte menu selections. We also ordered 2 dishes off the menu, because Jessie saw a few keywords that she could not resist: uni, wagyu.
The first dish, uni served over a ripe avocado, was simple and well executed. It doesn’t seem too difficult to do, the key would be getting good uni. This was some pretty damn good uni.
The other menu item we ordered was the Wagyu beef, which was slightly more cooked than Jessie anticipated. The choices of 4 different types of seasoning made it very unique and enjoyable.
With the special orders out of the way, we started the Azabu Course. The first course was sashimi, which was as fresh and delicious as they come. Then came tuna cheeks, lightly seared and dripped with a unique citrus juice.
After some refreshing marinated seaweed to clear the palette, the sushi began. Sitting at the bar, the pieces came one after another instead of all at once. All the pieces were pretty both visually stunning and taste near perfect. The highlights were the lightly seared scallop, and the salmon roe with citrus zest.
With the egg sushi, we both thought it was over. Then the sushi master behind the countered asked if wanted a bonus piece, ANY piece. Jessie said uni, I requested the same. It was blissful.
At this point Jessie officially titled the sushi chef the “coolest man in the world”.
A nice cup of miso soup with shrimp finished the dinner. Even a simple miso tasted amazing.
For sushi enthusiasts of New York, I definitely rank it up there among the best in the city. For once, the Michelin guide is spot on with raw Japanese fish. Don’t forget to sit at the bar, and be amazed by the cool man himself.
What does this rating mean?
428 Greenwich Street (bet.Vestry&Laight)
New York, NY 10013
Sushi bar reservations by phone only, not online.