For decades, the sushi dining masses in Japan shunned female chefs, because their hands were deemed too warm. Apparently when God created fish, its raw flesh was designed to be held by the hands of men, not women.
How then will the sushi diners feel about a “Gaijin” standing behind the counter?
The term gaijin, which literally means “outsider”, is considered derogatory to some, but very much heard and seen as a part of daily life for a westerner in Tokyo. Therefore I was quite baffled when I received an email about the opening of Sushi Dojo in the East Village, by a white sushi chef who trained in Japan, and also some of the top rated restaurants in New York including Hatsuhana and 15 East.
For most aspiring Japanese sushi chefs, their journey starts with washing dishes, bussing tables, often for years before you’re allowed to do any vegetable prep work, and another few years before you get to touch fish. For Dave Bouhadana, his journey actually starts with learning the language, and absorbing the culture, and physically moving across the world. If you ask me, Dave’s path requires a lot more commitment and passion. Therefore I cast my prejudice aside and ventured to the Dojo.
The space is designed with the long L-shaped sushi bar as its focal point, a sight to please any enthusiast of traditional sushi. The floors behind the counter is elevated to give chefs an easy way to reach over and serve sushi to diners, and the counter itself is not too high, giving guests a great view of the action. Three chefs are lined up behind the counter, with Dave taking the spot at the front of the house.
The first thing I noticed when I sat down is the meticulous dedication to cleanliness, something you see at all the top rated sushi bars. Chefs are constantly washing their hands, and wiping knives and every working surface with fervor. Inside the refrigeration box, rows of perfectly executed neta in every color await the artist’s final touch.
A chef’s choice 10 piece sushi dinner starts at $45, and is a wonderful way to experience Sushi Dojo for the first time. The benefits of a bilingual sushi chef means great communication in either languages. Through some interaction with chef Bouhadana, the 10 pieces can go in many different directions.
For our meal, we started with white fish: red snapper, shimaji (striped jack), and kinmedai (golden eye snapper). The striped jack had a delightful firm texture, almost to the point of being a bit crunchy, and very subtle and pleasing flavor. For the golden eye snapper, chef Bouhadana broke out the torch to lightly scorch the red skin, and give the piece a lightly charred flavor profile.
Tasmanian trout is a transition from the white fish to the darker shade meats. The sea trout, which from afar looks like a wild caught salmon, has a delectable creamy texture and rich flavors.
Next up was the trio of tuna, with ascending fat content. Chef Bouhadana first presents all three slabs of fish in a tray, then cuts them and wait for the perfect serving temperature. All three were fantastic, though my personal favorite was the chu-toro.
Asked if we preferred to venture down shell fish or silver fish for our remaining pieces, we chose silverfish. Though in our minds we’ve already committed a few extra dollars to get some shellfish after.
The four types of silverfish being offered were aji (horse mackerel), kohoda (gizzard shard), saba (mackerel), and sardines, each marinated differently with salt and vinegar. Each type had a distinct texture and flavor, and are all more complex in flavor profile than white fish or tuna. My favorites were gizzard shard and sardines, though everyone might have a different preference.
With three types of uni offered, it would be a crime not to take a piece. The Japanese uni from Hokkaido is the most unique, with the most intense flavor, and is not to be missed when available.
Hotate, scallops, were purchased live from Maine. The sweetness, accentuated with a tiny bit of yuzu shavings, is fantastic. Not to be outdone, the orange clam was also ridiculously sweet. These are two of the best pieces of shellfish sushi I’ve had in a long time.
Hoping to try something unique, chef Bouhadana recommended fluke fin muscle (engawa). The fin muscle of a fluke, which is only about a quarter of the mass compared to the other fillets, provides a nice resistance in texture.
Thinking that the meal was complete, we were given a piece of tamago, because “no meal should end without tamago”.
Throughout dinner, a gentleman sat next to us alone, eating quietly while ordering a la carte from the menu. When he was done, he stood up introduced himself as a 6th generation sushi chef. Chef Bouhadana bowed respectfully, and joked that he’s but a half-generation sushi chef. In the art of sushi making, his journey is far from complete. On the shelf behind the sushi bar is a new set of wooden boxes, as he’s soon to experiment with box pressed mackerel sushi.
Join him on this journey. Get a seat at the bar.
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110 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009