- Cost: $135-$175, before drinks, tax, and tip
- Size: 20 seats at counter
- Style: kaiseki + sushi omakase
- Reserved: 3 weeks in advance
The best way I can describe Shuko is as a distinctly American omakase restaurant. I mean that as a compliment: the ingredients and technique are at a high level, and there is a serious reverence for authentic Japanese flavors. It's just that the experience is completely different than what one might expect at sushiya in Japan. Even overtly designating a restaurant as "omakase-only" seems like an American concept - at Japanese sushiya where omakase is the only option, this is more a function of tradition and the small number of seats and staff, rather than a philosophical choice on the part of the chef.
Shuko's head chefs Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau first met at Masa, and it's clear Masa Takayama's style of combining luxury ingredients and creative flavors within a traditional kaiseki/sushi paradigm is their major influence. Kawagishi toro, for example, is served with a generous dollop of osetra caviar and a slice of housemade milk bread. Unlike almost every other high-end Japanese restaurant in the US, Shuko actually makes the proper distinction between "kaiseki" and "sushi" menus, and offers two choices: a kaiseki-like procession of otsumami followed by sushi, or sushi only.
Of the kaiseki items several dishes stood out on my visit: the aforementioned toro dish, and a yakimono plate of grilled lobster with shards of bacon, shiitakes and shaved black truffles. More authentic and equally excellent was an intensely-flavored honshimeji mushroom broth. Some of the other dishes, like chunks of braised veal shank (perhaps a riff on kakuni) were well-prepared but a bit too large and monotonous flavor-wise.
It was not surprising that in a meal that begins with eight decent-sized kaiseki plates, the nigiri are on the smaller side - so small, in fact, that the balance varies from piece to piece - not a major issue, but also an oversight. The neta is generally of high quality, and I was impressed by the variety available on my visit, which included first-of-season hotaru ika. The shari was not terribly notable, but well-prepared and of very good consistency (i.e. in most pieces rice grains were fairly firm and distinctive). Minor technical elements, such as ensuring crisp nori with various maki, were on point. The most enjoyable moments of my meal were the "inauthentic" flashes of creativity, like a slice of grilled otoro sinew topped with chilies and ponzu, and wrapped in a sheet of nori.
The operation at Shuko is quite different than a Japanese sushiya, where one master might work with 1-3 assistants to serve 6-10 customers at a time. In contrast, the counter at Shuko seats 20, with 4-5 chefs (not assistants) working at any given time. My impression was that all of the itamae are equally capable of providing an excellent experience, and there is no real "premium" for being served by either of the head chefs.
As an experience that melds traditional and nontraditional ingredients, it's tough to draw a comparison between Shuko and some of New York's other top shops (like Ichimura, or 15 East) that more closely represent the experience at a sushiya in Japan. But Shuko is nonetheless a worthwhile experience, and given the volume of food and quality, an excellent value when compared alongside other high-end sushiya in America.
47 E. 12th St., New York