Sushi Ginza Onodera
$300 Seasonal Omakase $400 Premium Omakase (gratuity included)
We paid $400 a person for dinner at Sushi Ginza Onodera New York and quickly reaffirmed the notion that price does not reflect quality no matter how many Michelin stars a restaurant may have. Sushi Ginza Onodera is on its fourth year in business and they’ve certainly cemented an impressive reputation amongst 5th avenue business lunch goers, Michelin star collectors, eager foodie tourists, and diehard sushi fans willing to shell out the pretty penny it costs to dine there. This year the sushiya said goodbye to its Two-Michelin-Starred chef, Masaki Saito, and with him, its two star rating. Sushi Ginza Onodera NYC was just recently demoted from two stars to one, with the Michelin inspector reporting that “this year we did have several meals at Sushi Ginza Onodera that did not confirm its two-star level”. Whether this was a direct consequence of Saito’s departure we’ll never know, but based on our meal we would have to agree with the demotion and are disappointed that we weren’t able to experience the sushiya in its prime. There were definitely some highlights and stand out dishes throughout the omakase; however, when you’re looking at a four figure bill at the end of a meal that is not quite mindblowing, you’re inclined to judge it a bit more harshly.
When it comes to quality sushi rice, it’s all about the taste, texture, and temperature for us. Ginza uses an akazu (red vinegar) combination for the seasoning and we were looking forward to this preparation as it’s our personal favorite. Ginza’s seasoning was light on the sugar and this let naturally sweeter bites like uni really shine through with a nice balance from the vinegar. The texture of the treasured Koshihikari rice was a little disappointing as it seemed a bit too sticky and dense, causing you to chew in order to break it up rather than having it fall apart on your tongue. And sadly, the temperature of the rice was completely room temp from the start of the service and throughout.
Our meal was divided between 6 otsumami (appetizer) courses, and 10 pieces of nigiri sushi. The otsumami courses were hit or miss and lacked consistent quality. We love a good chawanmushi to whet the appetite, and Ginza did not disappoint here. Topped with bright ikura and sweet Hokkaido uni, the meal started off on a good note. Next up was a play on fish & chips, featuring a ruby snapper (onagadai) that was overcooked with homemade lotus and potato chip. An otsumami stand out was Ginza’s well-massaged and pampered slow cooked tako accompanied by its own jelly and topped with chive and edible flower. We raved about 15 East’s tako, and this preparation definitely gave them a run for their money. The last otsumami course was a decadent bite of uni-shiso tempura topped with caviar that would have been a $60 add on had we not chosen the premium omakase. We really couldn’t discern the flavor of the sea urchin at all as it was overpowered by the hot tempura, but it still made for a deliciously rich bite.
In traditional Edomae style, most of the fish at Ginza Onodera undergoes varying lengths and methods of aging. Squid is aged 5 days, each day covered in salt, rinsed in hot water, and wrapped in paper and vacuum sealed. The golden eye snapper (kinmedai) is aged for a week in konbu sea kelp, and the striped jack & red snapper are both soaked in hot water then cured in salt for 3 days. These ancient practices are successful in elevating the fish and we loved that the fish was served simply with minimal adornments letting the fish truly stand on its own. A few highlights included a deceptively simple soy marinated lean tuna (akami) topped with yuzu zest, the fattiest, most flavorful piece of horse mackerel (aji) that we’ve had to date, and our favorite bite of the whole night—ensui uni gunkan. Ensui uni is sea urchin that is packed with saltwater, void of any preservatives or chemicals that typically accompany boxed uni even of the highest quality. The texture and taste are supreme. That being said, the nigiri offering was not without its faults. Our main issue was the overuse of aburi style sushi, where high heat is applied to the neta (fish) in a grilling manner which serves to release the oils in fattier pieces bringing out more umami and simultaneously adding a smokier flavor profile overall. While this style can be quite effective, especially with fattier fishes, we were disappointed to have three pieces in a row served aburi style where the smoky flavor overpowered the natural flavor of the fish including surf clam (hokkigai), ocean perch, and barracuda (kamasu). We did love the usage of yuzu kosho, a fermented paste made of chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt, which accompanied the barracuda because the spice from the pepper cut through the fat and the smoke providing more of a balance.
The next piece was otoro which is usually a favorite, but for one of us, the fish was the chewiest piece of otoro that we’d ever had. Otoro is known to practically melt in the mouth with its buttery, fatty, deliciousness (to put it technically), but this piece was so chewy that Natalie found herself still chewing while Josh was ready to move onto the next piece. This piece alone affected our rating, as we just cannot fathom having a piece of otoro so chewy at a Michelin starred restaurant.
The meal ended on a good note with the next few courses. When asked if we’d like to add any pieces onto our meal we thought about what we’d not yet had and decided to go with squid (Ika) which the chef adorned beautifully with a generous helping of Hokkaido uni and a few gold flakes for some extra flair. Ika often allows a chef to show off his knife skills as it requires lots of micro slicing in order to make it more tender, less chewy, and more receptive to a brushing of shoyu. This bite was our second favorite from the entire omakase and we were very happy we decided to add one more piece to our meal though we’d have preferred not to have to pay extra for it.
Rounding out the meal was Ginza’s tamago which we both agreed was the best we’d had. The texture and flavor was spot on; very satisfying. Lastly, for dessert we had the signature Green Tea Blacmange served cool with notes of uji matcha and coconut that cleansed the palate effectively. All in all, a very sweet end to a great—but far from excellent—meal.
There could be no faults found in the service at Sushi Ginza Onodera. They clearly run a very well-oiled machine and take great pride in demonstrating the traditional service and customs of Japan. All of the severs and waitresses had lovely demeanors, lightning-quick to replenish our sake glasses, wipe a drop of soy sauce from the counter, or to use an iPad to point out an unfamiliar fish we were curious about. Getting to choose your own gorgeous sake glass is always a fun, personal touch. Our chef, Chef Taka, warmed up to us quickly and obliged us in conversation and question answering. After we paid for our meal we were lingering at the bar wondering where Chef Taka had gone so we could properly thank him—we turned around and there he was on the other side ready to walk us out! These small touches in service were not overlooked and added to the overall experience in a positive way.
We can only speak to the omakase we had which was the one that included the most food. This being said, Natalie was content (not stuffed) but Josh could have definitely kept eating. We only ordered one extra piece each and absolutely would have ordered more if we weren’t already anticipating a four-digit bill.
The atmosphere at Sushi Ginza Onodera NYC is indicative of its 5th Avenue location. Spacious and pristine with elegant light wood finishes, the interior of Ginza manages to be modern while still paying homage to traditional Japanese sushiyas. The ceiling is extremely high, giving the restaurant a museum-like feel. Besides the 16-seat counter, there are a number of tables for larger parties that line the opposite side of the restaurant, though we’d say the sushi bar is definitely the place to be. The price point is bound to draw in slightly older clientele and finance bros reliving their frat days; this is clearly a place where business dinners are held to impress potential clients. That being said, though the vibe may be a bit pretentious, it refrains from being too stuffy.
Overall, while we did enjoy our meal and appreciated the efficiency of service that went with it, there were just too many misses throughout the omakase to warrant a whopping $400 price tag. The fact of the matter is there are just too many competing authentic sushiyas in New York City these days that are less expensive and more exciting. If you have an extra $400 and want to go just to say you’ve been, go for it—otherwise, for $100 less you could go to Sushi Noz and have the meal of a lifetime. Thank us later. :)