Up close with three virtuosos of sushi
Shoji at 69 Leonard St. New York City
Though you can’t get dinner for less than $190 at Shoji, “there should be no empty seats,” said Pete Wells in The New York Times. In the year since Derek Wilcox took over the 12-chair tasting counter in Tribeca, “he has firmly placed it in the top tier of the city’s Japanese restaurants”: It serves sushi that very few rivals can match, and “for sushi embedded in a longer kaiseki-derived menu, it has no parallel.” Wilcox, who acquired his mastery while working seven years in Kyoto and three in Tokyo, might start with bafun sea urchin over chilled noodle-like coils of eggplant. Next up: eel with pureed salt-cured plums and a lick of wasabi. He knows precisely which seafood specimens are most worth tracking down and serving on any given day, so my cuttlefish was “meltingly soft,” and one mixed plate included “the most flavorful piece of octopus I have ever put in my mouth.” The standard menu is $252, drinks not included, and that does leave seats unclaimed. Grab one, because Wilcox—right now—is staging a “spectacular” one-man show. 69 Leonard St., (212) 404-4600
Sushi Nakazawa Washington, D.C.
Daisuke Nakazawa’s new venture, astonishingly, is drawing even thinner crowds, said Ann Limpert in Washingtonian. “What gives?” Nakazawa, whose Manhattan flagship restaurant earned a rare four-star rating from The New York Times’ Pete Wells, is perhaps being punished for opening this handsome offshoot in D.C.’s Trump International Hotel. But there are other hurdles: a co-owner (Alessandro Borgognone) who was once dubbed the most hated restaurateur in America; the $150 price on the sushi bar’s omakase menu; the speed with which the omakase flies by; and the general manager’s demand for precision, even from diners. If, however, you visit despite all that, “you’ll encounter a 20-course parade of some of the very best sushi in Washington.” The chef, an alum of New York City’s Sushi Nakazawa, is Masaaki Uchino, and he’s the reason you want a seat at the sushi bar, not in the dining room. Each piece he prepares—including something as simple as a Vancouver spot prawn crowned with pearls of finger lime—is “a tiny masterpiece—a poem captured in a bite.” 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 289-3515
Omakase Yume Chicago
“Until recently, Chicago was one of the few major U.S. cities that didn’t have at least one omakase-only specialist operating at the level of Nakazawa,” said Mike Sula in the Chicago Reader. But South Korean–born Sangtae Park has risen to that level with his new eight-seat wooden box in the West Loop. For each 15- or 17-course progression, “he opens with an audacious assertion of where he’s from”: a slab of fluke on lightly vinegared rice dabbed with puréed one-year-old kimchi. “It’s a bold choice, but it has the effect of waking up the palate and priming it for subtler yet no less enjoyable feats of fishery,” including a tuna trio, Ora King salmon injected with smoke, and a blood-red cut of bonito—dressed with onion and grated ginger—that’s “like the duck breast of the sea.” Park’s omakase costs $125, but especially because guests for now bring their own wine, that $125 “seems like a steal for this level of performance.” 651 W. Washington Blvd., Ste. 101, (312) 265-1610 ■