$50 (10 pieces, soup, handroll) + $30 (5 piece add-on)
With Saturday night plans in place to see a Broadway show, the hunt for a non-touristy midtown sushi spot was on. Having recently visited Sushi by Bou located under the Sanctuary Hotel, we took notice of the restaurant’s new neighbor residing just inside the hotel: Sushi Lab. We’d seen countless instagrams of Sushi Lab’s gorgeous uni macaron dish, and thoroughly intrigued, decided that Sushi Lab would be the perfect pre-show omakase. The unassuming yet sleek sushi bar is serving up some fresh and innovative bites, offering both omakase and a la carte dining options while the sushi chef and staff keep guests excited and entertained throughout the meal for an overall super satisfying experience.
Chef Chen is certainly playing with the restaurant’s moniker, experimenting and creating twists on what we have come to expect. This starts with his smoky miso soup, which gets its special flavor from the burning of wood chips covered by the chemistry beaker in which the miso will be served. The smokiness this adds to the miso is not overpowering but rather serves to awaken the senses and create what we both agreed was our favorite miso soup to date.
Instead of diving right into the sushi, we also opted to try two of Sushi Lab’s most popular appetizers—the Blue Fin Toro Tartar with avocado and nori crackers, and the famous Uni Macaron, a delicious rice cracker sandwich filled with seasonal sea urchin, marinated ikura and shiso leaf, adorned beautifully with a flower petal and gold leaf. It’s true that you eat with your eyes, and these first courses were absolutely gorgeous—dare I say, almost too pretty to eat. But, eat we did and we concluded that both dishes have rightfully earned their popularity. Josh had a differing opinion on the tartar—he’s not a fan of taking such a beautiful cut of fish like toro and macerating it. Understandable. But, both appetizers were surprisingly creative and left an impression that lasted well after the meal was over. Having successfully whet our appetite, we were excited to see what intriguing bites of sushi were in store for us.
Continuing to put the “lab” in Sushi Lab, Chef Chen’s pieces of sushi were playful but smart—pieces of fish we would expect, accompanied by unexpected yet welcomed ingredients. These adornments included little surprises such as cherry blossom jelly, black charcoal salt, truffle mushroom and even crushed rose petals. And while many pieces of fish were part of the standard omakase, there were also a few pieces such as lobster claw and miso glazed king crab that kept us guessing as to what would come next. Omakase highlights included beautifully butterflied hotate (scallop) with truffle mushroom, shoyu marinated otoro wrapped in a toasty seaweed blanket, soft and tender ebi with a bright yuzu cream, and a melt-in-your-mouth otoro with scallop which was finished with a light char. The omakase ended with a handroll of otoro, ikura, and microgreens that wrapped up the meal nicely. The only bites that disappointed (albeit slightly), were the uni and the lobster claw. The super-fresh, super-delicious uni rested on a large shiso leaf that extended past the bed of rice on both sides. While I’m not opposed to the uni-shiso combination, in this iteration the shiso overpowered the bite. The uni was not the star here, and you know we take our uni very seriously. The other lackluster bite for me was the lobster claw with cucumber on a bruschetta-like cracker. The problem was that the cucumber made the cracker soggy and the lobster claw itself was slightly dry. Overall, there are thrilling risks taken with this omakase, and for the most part, they do pay off. We’re excited to see what new “experiments” Chef Chen tests out in the future and we’ll definitely be back to taste them.
The service at Sushi Lab was a major contribution to what made the experience so fun. The floor manager, Jazzmin, greeted us with great energy and kept the party going throughout the whole meal. She worked in tandem with Miguel who was also excellent, making sure our sake glasses never went empty. Chef Chen and his partner explained each bite with passion and attention to detail, and joined in the fun we were all having. The whole experience was light-hearted and everyone around the bar was made to feel like Sushi Lab’s special guest.
The satiety level at Sushi Lab was good for the price. We did opt to add an additional 5 pieces to our omakase, and I would argue that this is almost necessary to be full even with the appetizers we had if you’re going the omakase route. Otherwise, you’d probably have to add on a handroll or two to be full. At the end of our meal I was content, but as per usual, my fiancé Josh could’ve kept eating.
The atmosphere has to be judged by acknowledging the sushi bar’s location—just inside The Sanctuary Hotel, opposite the hotel’s concierge desk. Having noted this, the sushi bar is still totally its own thing. Though there is some foot traffic as hotel guests enter behind you, all of the eight seats at the sushi bar face inward so that there aren’t any distractions. The Sushi Lab has created a chic little nook inside The Sanctuary with an elaborate chandelier, a glowing marbled façade on the bar’s sides, and a beautiful, smooth wooden bar top that work together to create a pretty elegant atmosphere for a semi-casual spot. Combined with the geniality of the staff, Sushi Lab has a great vibe that could easily translate to their own larger space someday in the future.
Tip for future diners: We wish we would have known that if you request the chef’s special omakase ahead of time, the omakase experience will be a bit different. From a wider range of fish to specialized bites according to your preferences, the floor manager told us that if you let the chef know you’d like this, they can set this up for you with enough notice. We would definitely love to try this in the future.