Note: NY Sushi Ko no longer allows photos. The picture above is from an earlier visit when the shop first opened.
- Cost: $115-$190, before drinks, tax, and tip
- Size: 10 seats at counter, one small table
- Style: otsumami + sushi omakase
- Reserved: 2 weeks in advance
Perhaps the biggest endorsement of a sushi chef's skill and influence is how many of his itamae go on to open successful shops of their own. In Tokyo, there are masters like Jiro Ono, Shinji Kanesaka and Keiji Nakazawa, whose disciples have opened numerous critically-acclaimed spin-offs. In New York, a few of Masa Shimizu's itamae have gotten acclaim for their own shops.
Sushi Ko is run by John Daley, who trained under Shimizu for several years and then spent time in Tokyo working under Shimizu's master to further hone his skills. He is essentially a one-man band, which is an extraordinary achievement for a sushi chef at this level, and quite rare. Everything from fish-cleaning to rice preparation is done without assistants.
There are basically two options - a 15-piece sushi omakase or a larger meal that includes two otsumami, soup, and sashimi alongside the nigiri. The level of precision and technique is high: the consistency of rice and balance of neta/shari is excellent and steady throughout the meal. There is particular attention to the temperature of specific neta, which is a rarity in US sushiya. Like at 15 East, the shari is fairly dry, lightly seasoned, and served at body temperature. The neta quality is very good, and is probably most visible through the beautiful sashimi plates that John prepares.
The best parts of a meal at Sushi Ko are where Chef John moves just outside of the expected, whilst remaining within the paradigm of traditional sushi. For example, in honor of hanami season recently, several nigiri featured neta that had been expertly smoked over Japanese cherry wood. Kohada served without skin, and very lightly cured, was a completely new taste for me, and truly excellent. One notable dish from my memory is a "triple toro" tsumami featuring negitoro, crisped toro skin, and melted otoro fat over crispy rice.
The "one-man-band" aspect of Sushi Ko comes with its own idiosyncrasies. With one chef serving otsumami, arranging sashimi, and forming nigiri, the wait between bites can sometimes be as long as 10-15 minutes. And neta that takes a disproportionate amount of time to prepare (anago, tamago, various shellfish) is notably absent from the menu. I don't consider these to be major negatives, but they are aspects of the experience worth noting.
In some ways, my earlier and later visits to Sushi Ko have been a study in contrasts. When the shop first opened, there was a bit of sense of whimsy whilst still adhering fairly closely to traditional sushi flavors. The omakase featured 5-6 creative otsumami rather than two, and John's attitude was enthusiastic and boisterous. More recently, the environment - whilst still retaining a few more subtle flashes of creativity - was much more serious, somber, and even dour. When I asked the chef to choose some add-on nigiri to my recent omakase I was told I was "quizzing him". Personally, I preferred the former attitude.
Sushi Ko is at the high end of the cost range compared to other top sushiya in New York and North America. As an example, I was billed a flat $45 charge for 4 additional nigiri after the omakase had ended (three of which, at the chef's selection, were repeats). I will leave others to decide if this pricing is an appropriate reflection of the shop's omakase offerings. Personally, I am a bit torn - when the shop first opened, I found there were enough unique surprises to represent a more differentiated experience; but on recent visits, the overall meal was more difficult to distinguish from other high-end in America. Not that this takes away from the quality or seriousness of the shop, but it definitely has an impact on my personal preference.
NY Sushi Ko
91 Clinton St., New York