- Cost: USD $160, before drinks, tax and tip
- Size: 10 seats at counter, plus dining room
- Style: Nigiri sushi omakase
- Reserved: One month in advance through online reservation system
The last time I was in Tokyo, a sushi chef asked me if Nakazawa served "Jiro-style" sushi. Having never been to Sukiyabashi Jiro (I'm not enticed by the idea of a JPY 30,000 meal that takes place in 30 minutes), it was difficult for me to opine. But the question stuck with me.
Daisuke Nakazawa is probably the most famous sushi chef in New York, due both to his reputation as Jiro's itamae from that movie and a ultra-rare four-star rating from the New York Times. Add in a reservation system that is online-only and books up at midnight within seconds, and you've got a recipe for countless reviews overflowing with all sorts of hyperbole. But how is the food?
In a nutshell, Nakazawa-san serves a nigiri-only omakase (just like Jiro) with a clarity of technique and balance that in my opinion is among the top 3 in New York. By extension, it is certainly among the best sushiya in America. The shari makes an impact, but is not overly assertive, and the neta are seasoned traditionally but with artist-like precision (the hay-smoked katsuo and toasted nori are good examples).
Getting back to the original question: Nakazawa-san serves a set of 20 nigiri (I believe Jiro's magic number is something like 16) plus 1 "request" from the diner and a small dessert, and there is basically zero variation in the experience or pacing from individual to individual. Unlike Jiro, there are some concessions to American palates (such as the inclusion of a few neta from the trout family), and Nakazawa-san himself is much more boisterous and friendly. But beyond the superficial, there is also an openness to introducing American diners to some more traditional flavors, such as aged nigiri of chutoro and saba (7-8 days), the use of fermented mustard (instead of wasabi) with some neta, and items rarely seen outside of Japan, like aga yagara (cornet fish).
The one drawback of Nakazawa in my view is that the high-demand reservations and strict timing on turning over seats make it all but impossible to become a regular there and develop any sort of individualized experience. This doesn't make the food any less tasty, but in some ways also robs an omakase of one of its most important facets. More concerning (to me, at least) is that Nakazawa-san has now mentioned he will begin serving nigiri with ingredients like truffles and foie gras while in season, which suggests a growing focus on "luxury" rather than on sushi (the story of the $450+ omakase at Masa is an instructive warning in this case).
But don't let that scare you. Nakazawa-san is serving Tokyo-level sushi in a distinctively "New York" environment, and that's more than enough to recommend a meal there.
23 Commerce St., New York