$150 at the bar, $120 at a table
Any self-proclaimed sushi connoisseur has most likely seen the wildly popular Netflix documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, starring world renowned sushi master Jiro Ono and featuring his apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa. The documentary inspired restauranteur Alessandro Borgognone so much, he reached out to Chef Nakazawa on Facebook and soon after, they were opening Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village. Although Chef Nakazawa himself is not behind the counter as often as he used to be, reservations are still fairly difficult to procure, though much less difficult than in years past. Reservations used to be made months in advance if you were lucky enough to snag one at midnight when they were released, and it looks like we could make a dinner reservation at the sushi bar right now for just 10 days out. Based on our experience on the night we came, the restaurant is currently coasting on its commercial success and has lost that special spark that it once must have had. If only we could take a time machine back to about 5 years ago when the restaurant was all abuzz, we believe our review would be different—unfortunately, our meal did not live up to the hype on the night we were there.
We believe that the shari (rice) in an omakase is what creates the entire foundation for the meal and sets superior sushiyas apart from others. We have what we call the 3 Ts when assessing shari—taste, texture, temperature. The shari at Nakazawa was unbalanced in taste, leaning toward sour; the texture was surprisingly gummy and didn’t have that fall-apart-in-your-mouth quality; the rice was nowhere near warm, and bordering on stale.
When discussing the fish, which ranged from very good to uhh yikes, we again wished we had been able to visit Nakazawa sooner to determine whether the quality has gone down over the years or if a point has been reached where there is just too much competition at a similar price point for Nakazawa to be serving anything mediocre in comparison. Let’s get some of the more critical aspects out of the way and then we’ll move into the complimentary. There were some questionable pieces in terms of quality but there were also some expected pieces that were notably missing such as chutoro, medium fatty tuna. We love when a chef shows off his progression of lean tuna (akami) to medium fatty tuna (chutoro) to fatty tuna (otoro), but the tuna tasting consisted of three lean tunas and one fatty tuna, with the fatty tuna poorly cut and falling off of the rice it was on. The real let down was what is usually the highlight of an omakase for us—the uni (sea urchin). Uni is one of those pieces that has a very fine line between amazing and stomach-turning; unfortunately, the piece we had fell into the latter category. Our waiter was very sweet when we gave our feedback and brought us out a couple more pieces to try. Those were also off but the gesture was greatly appreciated. All of the above being said, there were certainly some great, memorable bites. There was also an interesting variety of fishes, some we’d never had before such as blackfish, cutlass fish, and silver striped round herring. Highlights included tiger prawn with an egg yolk crumble, hay smoked sockeye salmon, and A5 Wagyu with shaved truffles.
The service at Sushi Nakazawa was…decent. Since we were celebrating Josh’s birthday with a few friends, we had to sit at a table instead of at the sushi bar. The trays of sushi came with about 2-4 pieces in each serving, and the meal still took an incredible 3 and a half hours from start to finish. Granted, we were in no rush and were enjoying our evening, but our dessert came after midnight for a 9pm seating. We were also surprised by the seemingly green sommelier who was not very familiar with the sake list. When asked to point us in a certain direction and a certain price point, he recommended a bottle that was over $1000. In what world is a thousand dollar bottle of sake mid-tier price level?! There was a gentleman, I think the maitre d, who was a delight and was happy to chat with us about sourcing, preparation, etc. and he alone elevated the service experience.
Having finished the premium omakase with all additional supplements, the four of us were all still hungry. Pizza was picked up and devoured on the way home. It’s always disappointing to have such a steep bill and not have full bellies, but we were sake-tipsy enough that we didn’t mind throwing down on some pizza after. Overall, we would say there isn’t a great value at Nakazawa considering the price, amount of sushi, and quality.
The atmosphere here is a bit of an enigma. The sushi bar is bright, sleek and modern with a stretch of white counter and black padded stool-chairs. The main dining room in contrast was dark, loud, and lacked character. For this reason, we would definitely suggest sitting at the sushi bar if you pay Nakazawa a visit. Though we would always prefer to sit at the bar ourselves, in the event that we can’t, we would hope to have had just as positive an experience as those at the bar.
As excited as we were going in, we just weren’t as impressed with Sushi Nakazawa as we were hoping to be. If it was somebody’s first time enjoying omakase, they’d probably be blown away, but at this point in Manhattan there are just too many competitive chefs, menus, and overall omakase experiences for this place to be counting on Netflix documentary fans and its current reputation to keep the brand going strong.