By now, you’ve probably heard about New York Sushi Ko. (Or not.) It’s part of the new order of sushi joints popping up around New York City (hurray!). And by new order, I mean hip, laidback, and excellent. Let’s face it: Most sushi temples (the great ones anyway) evoke solemn dining experiences, like eating in church, speaking in hushed whispers, careful not to disturb or annoy the chef behind the sushi counter. (And I won’t even get into it that Los Angeles has always trumped New York in the sushi department.) That is, until now anyway. Now, there’s Sushi Dojo in the East Village with its thumping music and late-night dining scene. Oh yeah, and one of the chefs is a young, white guy named David Bouhadana. There’s Sushi Nakazawa with its sleek, un-sushi bar decor, West Village location, and a sommelier pairing, not just sake, but bubbly with the $150 omakase tasting menu. And then, there’s New York Sushi Ko, perhaps the most subversive sushi joint of them all.
You can call and make a reservation at New York Sushi Ko, but they prefer if you text them. Seriously. They take your credit card information to hold your reservation because there are only 11 precious seats in the entire restaurant and they don’t want you cancelling on them last minute. Of course, the Saturday night I make a reservation at Sushi Ko there’s a snowstorm. No cabs in sight and Uber is charging an epic 6.5 times normal rates. I call to cancel my 8 pm reservation, but no one answers the phone. So I text them. No response. I want to bail on dinner, order in Chinese, and watch the snow fall on Manhattan from my bed, but they have my credit card number and I’ve missed the 24-hour cancellation window. (They can’t really charge me during a snowstorm… can they? Argh.) So I suck it up, press the “Request Black Car” button on the Uber app and brave New York’s first winter storm of the season in the name of sushi.
Sushi Ko has 11 precious seats and a $200 omakase, which pales in comparison to my $222 Uber ride from 63rd Street down to the edge of the Lower East Side on Clinton Street. (I wanted to throw up when Uber emailed me the receipt.) If you don’t want to fork out all that cash for the omakase, you can order five courses for $125 or a few pieces of sushi for $65 (though I’d recommend you’d splurge for the balls out omakase, but we’ll get to that a little later). It’s not what you’re expecting.
For 200 bucks, you’d expect a super somber sushi master religiously molding nibbles of rice with fresh from Tokyo over the top. The fish is most definitely fresh from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, most of it anyway, but the master is a white guy named John Daley with the word “Fish” tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and “Rice” tattooed on the other… wearing a button down and a black tie. He’s serious, but he’s also humming the words to a mix of reggae, rap and George Benson playing over the speaker. Like I said, this ain’t your average sushi joint.
Daley may look like a guy who beats to his own drummer (to say the least) — an anti-establishment kind of chef — but he studied under some of the most traditional and serious sushi chefs at New York’s Masa and 15 East as well as in Japan under his master’s master, Rikio Kugo, at Sukeroku. But his style of Japanese cooking and sushi is all his own. Take a Hotate Scallop, for instance. In Daley’s hands, it’s a blissfully complicated dish; a petal of raw scallop, blowtorched uni sauce, and yuzu foam, finished with a delicate squirt soy sauce from a spray bottle. It’s divine. So is the duo of Kampachi Sashimi alongside Kampachi Tartare, flavored with Shiso and Ponzu Foam, both teasing out the sweetness of the yellowtail.
You don’t usually think “rich” when you think of sushi, but some of Daley’s creations are just that. There’s Tuna Tartare (so sweet, fresh, and delicate it literally melts on your tongue) draped over kettle rice, anointed with what Daley dubs “Chicharróns,” a drizzling of rendered fat (code for blowtorched) from a tuna belly over the top. The result is so simultaneously decadent and delicate it compels a moment of silence. One of the richest concoctions is Daley’s B.U.T., a glorious layering of “tuna bacon,” tuna, and uni.
Daley is a man with an uni fetish; that’s my kind of chef. In fact, there are four kinds of uni on the menu: A mind blowingly delicious and sweet uni from Maine, another smooth and elegant from Santa Barbara, and two, deeply flavored varieties from Japan. (Maybe it’s the patriot in me, but I much preferred the domestic uni.) My favorite incarnation of uni is an intensely flavored arrangement of Maine Uni with a Dashi Gelee, Ponzu Foam and Smoked Sea Salt.
Not everything is as complicated or as rich, which is a good thing, considering there are so many courses. There’s a simple, barely seared piece of Kinmedai Snapper Sushi, anointed with a dab of sea salt and lemon. Or one of my all-time favorite kinds of sushi, Botan Ebi (itty bitty shrimp) over warm, sweet sushi rice, crowned with ponzu and sea salt, and Scallop Sushi enlivened by Yuzu Foam. Nearly every morsel is dreamy. Hell, I don’t even like Mackerel much, but Daley’s Mackerel Tartare is unforgettable. That is, as long as you don’t drink too much sake along the way. And do try the Red Maple, an unpasteurized sake, aged two years to beautiful effect.
Either way, dinner at New York Sushi Ko was well worth braving the city’s first snowstorm… and even a $222 Uber ride downtown. Yes, really.