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Friday, July 18, 2014

Bites: Omakase @ Sushi Azabu, Tribeca

One of the most memorable meals I had in NYC was at a no nonsense sushi place in Tribeca.  Coming at 5.30pm it was just me,  a sushi counter and 3 Chefs. Sushi Azabu is a 1 Michelin starred restaurant. Serving only Omakase at the counter, it was perfect as I did not want to be making amateur decisions like the typical salmon and tuna cliche orders.  Instead, trust the chef to deliver what was in season.

After a courteous bow and jovial introduction, I had a go at a broth meant to clear the palate prior to starting the Omakase.

Then, an Amuse Bouche consisting of a slice of grilled Ayu (sweet fish) and sakura shrimps with Dengaku (eggplant) marked the start of my meal.
I was a little skeptical at jumping right into it as I felt it looked like a mackerel and I have always felt that mackerel carries a strong fishy taste.  To my surprise, every bit was super fresh.  No fishy gut taste and even the bones were soft. It was really quite sweet too.  Eggplants on the other other hand were well marinated and went very well with the shrimps that had a little saltiness to them.  In the hands of a good chef, some impossible looking ingredients become the most palatable.  True enough!

Next was a unique seasonal course consisting of a slice of white fish, and sea urchin set a top a curd.  I found it hard to understand and neither was the taste really outstanding but it was simply different.  In a good way of course.

Then came a dish more familiar to my taste buds minute seared tuna with wasabi honey miso.  The elements critical in delivering such a dish were aced with no mistakes.  Seared to perfection was one and balance in the sauce was the other.  A minute or a notch over and it all goes to waste.    The lean tuna slices here will not melt in your mouth but the flavours of the fish mixed with the sweetness of the honey and heat from the wasabi made it all a very pleasant bite.  Yummy!  

The sashimi course which came up next was splendidly fresh.  On the plate I had Chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), Snapper, Fluke, live Squid and live Alaskan Prawn.  Whilst the squid was less apparent to be alive, the prawn’s moving pods and antenna really caught my eye.  The other couple who had their's later in the night was too shocked to eat it that the chef offered to had the brains removed to kill it off lol.
What can I say?  So much to like but the prawns had to be the sweetest protein on the plate.  It was just tantalising! I am drooling thinking about it already!  The snapper was the least impressive fish for me.  The Tuna was yummy and the squid was the most unique considering the its combination with the plum sauce.  After finishing this course, the prawn head was deep fried and served again to me.  Crispy, and slightly salted.  It was the tastiest bit in the Sashimi course!  

I never had the chance to go to Japan to experience the full sushi experience for various reasons. Nonetheless, I have heard enough from experienced people that a meal at Sushi Azabu is as close as you will get to Japan’s best sushi meals in the States.  Without a doubt, I was impressed about what Sushi Azabu served next.  To prevent a massive repeat of the F-word for fresh, I shall let the pictures do the talking here. Shim, the sushi master said that the fish arrives fresh every Monday at Sushi Azabu which was the day I went.  So now you know when to get your sushi fix :)!

Kohada, Japanese Gizzard Shad with Marinated Seaweed.  

Herring with Shiso Leaf.

Salmon Aburi, Torched Salmon

Zuke, Marinated Tuna.

O-toro, Fatty Tuna.  Picture says enough I believe :)!

Shiro Ebi, White Sweet Shrimp.  At this point, I started thinking of how people say that prawns need to be cook right and wondered whether prawns when fresh should just be eaten raw.  It was sweeter than ever!

Unagi Sirayaki, Fresh Eel Simply Grilled.

Anago, Conger Eel.   This was perhaps my least favourite.  I never quite liked eel but this one tasted more fishy due to its minimal preparation.  The difference between the two was the origins of the eel.  This was a salt water and is usually prepared with minimal season whilst the fresh water one above is usually grilled.

Yariika, Spear Squid. 

Alaskan King Crab with Caviar.  You know that feeling when you bite into a thick piece of a crab claw flesh that has been freshly steamed following its catch from the sea?  The tender flesh overflowing with the mild saltiness?  Noms!

Clam miso.

Uni, Sea Urchin.  I never had a good Uni before.  Until I came here.  It was top notch.  Briny, sweetish, creamy and just so decadent.  Booms!

The last savoury piece was the Negitorotaku-Maki or Blue Fin Tuna with Takuan and Scallion Roll. The apprentice’s special.

Tamago, Tokyo Style Egg Omelet.  I loved this and it was prepared by the apprentice too.  He got me two more slices cause I really liked it haha.  Biting into the Tamago, the crisp outer parts tasted like a really enjoyable eggy cake before going right into the middle  where you get this false feeling as if you are biting into a creamy custard.  Absolutely lovely.  Some criticise it for being not sweet enough, which is true when served as a sushi.  On its own, it was just perfect.

Mochi filled with a strawberry and red bean paste (Azuki).

At the end of the meal, I stayed to finish my tea.  My time spent stoning suddenly turned to thinking of how awesome this meal was.  In front of me was a ranked crew from master to apprentice folded my rice to shape, sliced the fish and prepared every piece of sushi I polished.  It was made to look simple that perhaps, even a baby could do it.  Yet, the rice is compacted enough to hold itself when lifted which chopsticks and loose enough to just unfold in your mouth at the slightest touch.  The seasoning in the sushi rice hit all the right notes.  Sweet, salty and sour.  Temperature was right for my common tongue.  I would be proud to be them for one night.

Kept safe from all the unnecessary hype, Sushi Azabu serves authentic style sushi for good value. $120 got me an amuse bouche, 2 seasonal cooked dishes, 1 sashimi platter, a sushi course (10-13pcs) and 1 dessert.  This is nowhere near cheap obviously but at this level of dining, Sushi Azabu felt like a bargain.  Not to mention the enjoyable perks you get in such a place that you do not get at other Michelin starred restaurants.  Proximity was one of my biggest likes at Sushi Azabu.  By the end of the night I knew all three of the chefs names and it was pretty cool.  The careful explanation of the chefs about each sushi and their attentiveness in folding the sushi right before you makes it a very special occasion.  Also, do note that other similar places would charge upwards for $180 with Masa apparently charging close to $400 for their Omakase. Other types of fine dining establishment would easily be double or similarly priced and all you would get is a table with food coming from the appetisers through to dessert.

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