Sushi devotees all dream of finding a neighborhood gem, a destination where a weekly visit will not break the bank, and where you will be able to establish a relationship with the chef. Yet as I frequent more and more fine sushi restaurants in Manhattan, the bar is set fairly high, and my definition of neighborhood has expanded to “outside Manhattan”. Some restaurants came close (Sushi Yasu, Katsuno), some disappointed, the search continues.
The search brought me to Port Washington, right across the street from the LIRR station. Reviews from many years ago in the New York Times states that this was a classy, no frills Japanese operation. That was 24 years ago. Nowadays Chinese and Korean run sushi joints are popping up everyone, so to find a restaurant where Japanese cuisine is still a respected craft is increasingly rare. Hoping that the restaurant kept its charms from nearly a quarter century ago is a strange thing to seek, but for nigiri sushi purists, new isn’t necessarily better.
While the proprietor of the restaurant is still Japanese (according to the framed certificates and government paperwork on the walls), most of the staff are now Chinese. Luckily the menu is still very much rooted in tradition, encompassing a wide variety of Japanese styles of cooking. Yakitori, soba, udon, tempura, and of course sushi. As I started ordering, my choices are perhaps more Japanese than their average patron. The waiter kept giving me looks as if saying with his eyes “are you sure”, and sometimes even explained what a dish was (“Japanese yams, grated over rice, is that what you want?”) thinking I might want something else. It was slightly uncomfortable, but he was genuinely trying to help and avoid any surprises.
The meal started with appetizers. Small bites with hints of Japanese influence but could pass for most Asian cuisine. Most meals come with your standard fare of salad with ginger dressing. Hoping to sample a wide variety of what Yamaguchi had to offer, we ordered a yakitori beef skewer, which was quite tender and very nicely flavored.
The grated mountain yam over rice was very nice, fresh and gooey, just the way it should be. The fresh wasabi here was a good positive sign.
The octopus salad was slightly disappointing. The ingredients lacked flavor, so the bowl relied on this sweet and savory sauce that tasted a bit flat. Tako’s not the easiest ingredient to work with, but this did not do it justice.
Finally, the sushi and sashimi. At quick glance, it was disappointing to see that the main entree came with the imitation wasabi. As for the sushi, the rice was too soft and were clumped in areas where the chef used too much pressure. The fish itself was fairly fresh and well cut, though i tasted some cross-contamination of fish types. It’s not Manhattan top tier quality, but it’s above what you’d find at most Japanese restaurants.
Will I be back? Maybe next time if I’m in the area near Americana Manhasset. However a neighborhood-find, or destination restaurant this is not. My search continues.
What does this rating mean?
63 Main St.
Port Washington, NY 11050