Wednesday, November 30, 2011
It has been many years since I have been to Sushi of Gari. In my memory, I never thought they were that special because when it come to sushi I am a purist. Chef Masatoshi "Gari" Sugio has always taken a modern and innovative approach to sushi. Recently I have been on a sushi high where I must indulge myself in the bliss that is raw fish every few days or else I start having withdrawal symptoms.
I wanted something light and tasty before my 2nd dinner at Le Bernardin in the Theater District. Since I had not seen Tofu in so long, I thought I would take this opportunity to remind him the joy of sushi and satisfy my craving! Don't get me wrong, I love fine dining but sometimes you have to cool the palette with some melt in your mouth sushi!
At lunch on that day, I called up all 3 locations to try and make reservations. Not surprising, but the first two were booked. Finally when I called the newest addition, Gari on Columbus Ave in the Upper West Side, and they were able to squeeze us in. Reservations are a definite must. It's better to be safe than sorry.
If it is your first time at any of the Sushi of Gari locations, I'd highly recommend their Omakase so that you may experience their well known dishes. They have a few options of omakase, but I prefer the pure sushi omakase. First you can choose how many pieces that you would like to begin with. The server kindly asks what fishes you like or dislike and if there is anything that you would definitely like to see. Since this was not my first time, I had a general idea on what pieces that would suit my taste. They actually did a pretty good job into tailoring the menu to my liking and even Tofu loved what he ate.
No soy sauce is provided as each piece is already season or soy sauced to the way the chef's liking. On each plate there is a recommended order on where to start. Of course this can vary by personal preference.
For the first set of four sushi was Toro, Lobster, Yellowtail, and Cod. They call their toro the "Melting Toro" or Hagashi (or it might have been spelled Higashi). The toro is topped with grounded daikon and ponzu. My recommendation is to eat each piece in one bite and savor the moment as the fish melts in your mouth. I thought the flavor was subtle and sweet. The toro was not as fatty as I like it but still tasted very fresh and soft.
I was delighted to see that lobster was on the menu since I live for lobster. On top was a nice helping of Osetra caviar. The lobster was either semi-raw or might have been lightly poached. This was a little piece of heaven to me. It was sweet and very tender.
Next was Tofu's favorite, the yellowtail with chopped jalapeño and yuzu. I've had this concoction in many Japanese restaurants, but this was a first for Tofu. This is my favorite preparation for yellowtail. The spicy kick from the jalapeño and the citrus flavor explosion from the yuzu stimulate all the senses on your tongue. If you have never tried yellowtail this way, I recommend going to one of your favorite fresh sushi restaurants and ask them to make you an order in this fashion. It will change your perception of yellowtail and sushi fusion.
When I saw the seared cod, I was a little afraid that this was another overcooked piece of fish. To my surprise, they actually did a very nice job on just searing the outer surface and keeping the inside rare. I loved the delicate sweet texture of the rare cod that blended perfectly with the delicious smokey burnt flavor of the outer layer and the sweet sushi rice below.
For the next set of four sushi pieces Tofu and I differed in the last piece of sushi. We both would start off with the Tempura Fish, Mackerel, Black Sea Bass, and then finish with either the Maguro or the Uni. As many of you know, I am not a fan of regular tuna. My love is for Toro, fatty tuna!
They recommended to start with the heavier piece. It was a little hard to hear through the loud noises and accent but I heard Amadai and Tai as the type of fish that was fried in tempura batter. At first I thought it was Red Snapper but now I am leaning more towards Tile Fish. Regardless it was a white fish that was fried then topped with black pepper, sea salt, and lemon. I felt the fist was a little bland overall. It would have been a lot better if it was served raw or if they marinated the fish before battering it.
The Chopped Horse Mackerel with scallions and ginger was surprisingly tasty. I am normally not a fan of mackerel but they seasoned it nicely. Mackerel can tend to be a little fishy but here it tasted fresh and sweet. The ginger was not overpowering and everything just blended together nicely in unison.
I thought the Black Sea Bass with roasted seaweed on top was a creative touch. The roasted seaweed had a unique taste and added a crunch to the texture. It really reminded me of fresh tea leaves being toasted. Everything was fresh and flavorful.
Tofu enjoyed their signature Maguro with spicy tofu on top. After seeing this dish again, I was a little tempted to try it since it has been a while and I know that this is one of their signature sushi.
Then I had my Uni with wasabi on top. All my jealousy and envy went away as I reveled in the sweetness of the uni. The wasabi they glazed on top was made from fresh wasabi and most likely yamaimo that makes it more gelatinous. Since this was omakase style, everything is seasoned ahead of time or I would have added a drop of lemon to kick it up a notch. Nonetheless, the uni was fresh and sweet.
Last but not least was the finale for the night. We both had the Wild Striped Bass, Salmon, Seared Toro, and for Tofu he had the Shima Aji while I had the Seared Foie Gras. I believe they did suggest an eating order but I knew what order I was going to finish my last plate.
Before the batter becomes soggy, I chose to have the Wild Striped Bass katsuage (or that is what I heard) first. The batter reminded me of chicken karaage. A very light and thin batter. This was much better than the tempura fish. It was savory and still had a very nice texture.
Throughout the last plate, I had to sneak many bites of the Seared Foie Gras with reduced balsamic vinegar on top of a steamed daikon. They actually give a very generous cut of foie gras. The balsamic vinegar was a nice blend of sweet and sour to cut down the fattiness and bring out the savory component. Everything melted in my mouth and brought a huge smile to my face. I simply adore any and all foie gras!
Another one of their signature dish is the Salmon topped with a salted tomato. In my memory it tasted better. This time around, I felt that the salted tomato really took away from the natural taste of the salmon. I couldn't really taste the freshness of the salmon or experience the smooth texture. The tomato was too overpowering and dominated the palette.
We both had the Seared Toro with ginger soy sauce. I was really looking forward to this but I felt that they overcooked the toro. Both sides were seared so the toro ended up being fully cooked. This was a bit disappointing because I am trying to turn Tofu into a toro lover like I am, but this definitely wasn't the way to go.
For Tofu's final piece, he had the Shima Aji (Striped Jack) with sesame sauce. He seemed to love all the types of yellowtail and I can't really blame him because I do love yellowtail. They have just the right texture that is not too chewy and not too soft. It is a firm and tasty fish.
All in all I was pretty impressed this time around. Everything was much better than I remembered. Even though I am a purist at heart, I enjoyed the freshness and tasty concoctions. The server was super friendly and they listened to what fish I liked and disliked. As a first meal of the night, it really hit the spot and left me with a happy feeling. I think Tofu also liked it, which is always a good sign since he use to be so opposed to eating raw fish. Glad that our reunion could open his eyes to a new world of sushi. =DGari
370 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024