The far east in midtown: Sushi Yasuda
In August I spent two weeks in Japan. I ate sushi at 7am (twice). I ate sushi that came in a plastic container at a train station (several times). I ate an omakase meal at a tiny shop in Shimbashi (once). I ate sushi whenever I could, even when my expat friends begged me to eat Italian. Now that I am back in New York, these meals, or rather my memory of these meals, has been a hard act to follow.
It took me a bit of time after reading the Times review of Sushi Yasuda to actually call and make a reservation at the restaurant (almost one year to be exact). It was a worthwhile wait.
From the outside, on an unassuming block off 3rd Avenue in midtown, the modern glass and steel shapes forming the front window beckoned us in. Once inside we were surrounded by warm pale bamboo walls and greeted by smiling hosts who asked for our jackets. When I made the reservation, I requested to sit at the sushi bar, which is really the only place to sit in my book. I'm sure this comes from a childhood where I spent my Friday night with my family eating sushi at the local revolving sushi bar–which only had seats at the counter. Eating sushi at a table just doesn't feel right.
The photo above was my view: busy men in white with their heads down, their hands resting on a clean surface, ready to cut our next order. We ordered a few things from the menu. A seaweed salad that was the polar opposite of what you know as seaweed salad. Gone were the identical strips of tough dark green seaweed sprinkled with sesame seeds that all stick to your teeth and, placed in front of us, in a delicate ceramic bowl, were light and delicate fronds of different colors: yellow, pink, green, and white. Along with the seaweed was a sesame-based dipping sauce in a small bowl. We also ordered the grilled cod in a sake reduction. I've had a dish like this before, miso-marinated sea bass, and it's always good–rich and buttery, the white fish flaking in bite-size pieces that dissolve on your tongue. This version was no different, if perhaps only a little more delicate and presented with a bit more care.
I'll tell you that the best part of the meal was the folded white sheet of paper set next to my chopsticks, which detailed what was fresh that day–a red x next to the type of fish. Along with the list I consulted the chef, letting him know what we were interested in and asking him what he thought was best. He nodded and smiled and replied "Spanish mackerel today" or "now best is sea water eel" and a minute later we would be served. My favorite bites of the night were the uni, soft and liquid it tasted pure and untouched, direct from the ocean it was collected in, and squid, an opposite texture to uni but still soft and supple and evoking a mysterious place: the sea.
We drank cold sake of course, not too much to forget the meal and just enough to compliment the dinner. Sushi Yasuda is perhaps a bit too far from my apartment to go again (phew) and a little too pricey (thank you @lpicard) but maybe in another year I'll be back.