Sugiyama (NY) – Supreme Japanese

There was no putting it off any longer – it was time for Sugiyama. Some argue it’s the best Japanese meal (re: meal, not sushi) in NYC. Nao Sugiyama worked as the omakase chef for Matsuhisa (LA, the original Nobu) back when that meant something. It’s also rumored he also created the infamous, and ubiquituous, miso black cod dish that every “asian fusion” restaurant in this country serves.

I opted for the 9-course kaseiki w/ Wagyu beef at the omakase bar. They were also offering Fugu for an additional supplement of $30/dish or so – not worth it to me. (As an aside, I don’t understand the fascination w/ fugu. Do people find it thrilling to eat since might kill you?)

I don’t think I’m fully qualified to judge Japanese food yet but this was a fun and delicious meal. Nao is a great entertainer. The food falls short of Urasawa – it doesn’t quite have the precision or refinement – but the format is better for non-foodies (one could also argue it’s 1/2 the price if you don’t get the beef.) A fun time that I will repeat in the future.

1. Tofu / Monkfish Liver w/ Hakkaido Octopus

The monkfish liver tofu was very light yet quite rich – two seemingly opposed qualities. The octopus had a sweet miso sauce that didn’t cloy it. Very Good.

Sugiyama (New York) - Tofu / Monkfish Liver w/ Hakkaido Octopus

2. Sashimi – Toro, Bluefin, Kampachi, Octopus, Tai, Scallop, & Maine Uni

A decent collection of fish w/ the Tai and Uni being first-class stars. The rest of the fish was good but not at the highest level (maybe a 1/2 notch below Yasuda.) The wasabi was also world-class – possibly the best I’ve had. I kept eating it plain – hot but nutty.

Sugiyama (New York) - Sashimi - Toro, Bluefin, Kampachi, Octopus, Tai, Scallop, & Maine Uni

3. Appetizers

  • Mt Peach w/ Wine Sauce Jello – easily the best, sweet yet complex. Very Good.
  • Sliced radish – intricate cutting, very bright flavor, possibly accented by yuzu. Very Good.
  • Shrimp – Good.
  • White fishcake – Good.
  • Edamame – it is what it is. Good.
  • Tuna fishcake – forget details but it had an intersting texture. Very Good.
  • Grilled pepper – it is what it is. Good.
  • Crab – quite crunchy and tasty. Very Good.

Sugiyama (New York) - Appetizers

4. Soup w/ Tofu Skin, Tai, & “Special” Mushrooms

Pleasant, fish a bit overcooked. Good.

Sugiyama (New York) - Soup w/ Tofu Skin, Tai, & Special Mushroom

5. Wagyu

The chef lightly coated w/ salt and cooked the first piece. I was surprised by how long you need to keep it on. On subsequent pieces, i heavily coated in butter and salt and it was delicious. The meat is buttery without being fatty; and the stone is hot enough to give the meat a nice crust. Outside of the 40-day aged Morimoto wagyu I had, these were the best pieces of wagyu I’ve had. Excellent.

Sugiyama (New York) - Wagyu

Sugiyama (New York) - Wagyu

6. “Sushi”

Not really much sushi (fine by me) but an interesting collection of dishes.

  • Tuna salad – piece of tuna plus a tartar-like preparation. Good.
  • Watercress salad – is what it is. Good.
  • Squid roll – very spicy. Very Good.
  • Blowfish skin Jelly – different (I wish I would’ve thought about this a bit more but it was gone in 2 bites.) Good.
  • Shrimp sushi – Ok.
  • Eel & pickles roll – Ok.

Sugiyama (New York) - Sushi

7. White Miso Black Cod

Perfectly cooked, extremely buttery, easily the best dish of the night. I’ve had other versions of this (Matsuhisa, Nobu, many asian fusion restaurants, and a home cooked version or two) but this was easily the best I’ve had. It was right up there in quality with the best cooked fish dishes of Le Bernardin (NY) and Gagnaire (Paris.) Excellent.

Sugiyama (New York) - White Miso Black Cod

8. Rice w/ Miso Soup

Rice wrapped in a banana leaf, somewhat anti-climatic after the black cod. I could see the idea of a soft landing but this didn’t do it for me. Ok.

Sugiyama (New York) - Rice w/ Miso Soup

9. Grapefruit Jelly

Sour without being too sweet. Excellent.

Sugiyama (New York) - Grapefruit Jelly

This is a weird report – some very average dishes (the rice) combined w/ some excellent ingredients (wagyu & black cod) combined w/ some excellent technique (black cod & mt peach.) I guess this is why it’s not Urasawa-quality to me – it’s inconsistent. The highs more than make up for the lows but the meal doesn’t reach for that level of perfection that Urasawa might.

The report also doesn’t convey how much fun the meal was – if you go, make sure to reserve a spot at the bar. If you’re already feeling light in the wallet, opt for the normal 9 course *without* Wagyu option – rumors are the normal beef is nearly as good.
- chuck