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Sasabune


Guest Aaron T

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Guest Aaron T

Sasabune at 401 East 73rd Street near 1st Avenue opened last week in the Upper East Side. It is a NY outpost of an LA sushi place.

 

Their motto is "No Spicy Tuna, No Calidornia Roll. Trust Me." Sasabune only offers omakase. You tell the sushi chef (or waiter if you are seated at a table) if there is anything you don't eat and then the food starts coming. The just got their liquor license on Monday so don't have much beer or sake selection yet.

 

My dinner last night began with a large portion of albacore sashimi in ponzu sauce. The albacore was of high quality and melted in your mouth. The portion size (not of each piece) was perhaps too large as there were more pieces of sashimi than my friend wanted to eat so I had some of hers too. :blink:

 

Then sushi came - two pieces at a time. It included fluke, salmon, blue fin tuna, striped bass, yellowtail. kanpachi, spanish mackeral, skipjack and a few others. Many came sauced (the waiter would say "no soy sauce please") and the ones that weren't we were told to add sauce. Kind of funny. The set meal concluded with a crab handroll (a tuna handroll for me). Then if there are other things you want he will bring them out (but no funky rolls). We had some great ikura to conclude. He had some nice looking eel and sea urchin (separately) that went out to another table. The table next to us had ankimo, but it was the last the chef had so I didn't get any.

 

Price was quite reasonable - $70 per person all in, with no alcohol. Reservations are advised as it is not a large spot. (main room is 6 seats at the bar and 12 seats at tables - there is a second room but I didn't see it.) The quality of the fish was very high and service was friendly.

 

Some people may be turned off by the only omakase and others by the fact that on a given night everyone gets the same omakase more or less until you have the chance to customize the end by adding on more of something you liked or trying sometyhing you didn't get. I assume this is because those items are the best he has available that day.

 

The chef recently moved from LA to open the restaurant and surprisingly there were several people there who had been customers of his in Los Angeles. Actually probably not that surprising.

 

The rolls I know he offers are yellowtail, crab, salmon skin, tuna, freshwater eel, sea eel and toro.

 

The telephone is 212 249 8583.

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years ago i used to eat here whenever in la.......it's been awhile and i'd heard it wasn't quite the thing anymore. maybe because the chef is here? ahh, who knows. but it was great at one time so maybe that old banner can fly here for awhile.

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Sounds very interesting but just to be a stick in the mud, I don't think you should eat albacore tuna. It has very high levels of mercury and the price is also significantly lower than it used to be because of this.

 

Otherwise, having only omakase is a good thing as far as I'm concerned as long as the fish is of high quality.

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Hi, I'm Bryan. This is my first post here. I'm a pretty heavy poster on eG, but I like the discussion here, too. I've seen other people post the same review of a meal on multiple boards, so I think this is legit. After all, more information can't hurt prospective diners looking to read up on a restaurant.

 

Anyway, here's my take on Sasabune.

 

Stopped by Sasabune for a very nice dinner tonight. Sat at the counter, did the omakase thing, then ordered a couple extra pieces, etc etc. I have a lot to say even though this is a very small, very simple restaurant.

 

First of all, I'm not one of those "I'm so downtown I don't go above Delancey" types, but 73rd and 1st might as well be Newfoundland. At least we didn't have to walk through Times Square, which was a total zoo later on in the night, on the way there. To say the space is modest is putting it lightly. Some may say that it gives it a more "Tokyo side street" feel. Others may liken it to a strip mall sushi joint. Take your pick.

 

Anyway, with the standard sushi bar greeting out of the way, we were served immediately, even before tea, water, or other drinks were offered. I thought this was kind of weird since there were only two other parties in the restaurant, but it's clear they like to keep things moving, more than any other sushi bar I've been to. After taking a moment to decompress and obtain some of the aforementioned beverages, we began feeding. I stole our "fish receipt" so I actually know what we ate.

 

Sashimi - Albacore sashimi with ponzu - This was very tasty. Salty, buttery, acidic, and slightly sweet. The only problem was that there was seriously at least 4 ounces of fish on the plate. It opened the palate but, even for me and my ravenous appetite, it was too much. Furthermore, this dish is listed at $12 and could have easily been shared by two diners.

 

Then the sushi barragge began in very rapid succession. If you think things move along at Yasuda, then get ready for warp drive here. This wasn't so much a problem for me and the g/f since we eat at warp speed, but other diners were kind of letting the pieces sit for a minute or two before actually going at them.

 

Tuna - yellow fin and blue fin chu toro

 

Yellowtail - loin (toward the "back") and belly

 

Kanpachi

 

Salmon - Scottish with kelp and sesame seeds. Interestingly this was my favorite piece of the night and I requested a second one. Salmon is always tasty but often boring. The kelp added a nice bit of "green" salt and the sesame seeds a nice bit of nutty bitterness.

 

Scallop - Creamy, sweet, damn good. Though I missed Yasuda's sea salt and yuzu treament.

 

White tuna

 

Fluke- Caught off the coast of Boston. The daikon-chili topping on this one really added a nice bit of bitter spice to this piece.

 

Spanish mackeral - More assertive pieces suck all the more in the mediocre sushi places making good versions all the more satisfying. Obviously, this was satisfying and one of the more recognizable varieties offered.

 

Bonito - Similar to the mackeral, another fish that is ignored in medicore places but was nice here. Both the bonito and mackeral had a bit more texture and chew than most of the other pieces, in a good way.

 

Black cod - This was cooked and topped with the sweet eel sauce. A nice piece that was rich and warm and offered nice contrast between the others.

 

Oyster - A pair of Kumamotos from the the left coast. I loved slupring them up, then biting into the the briny goodness.

 

Crab roll - Here blue crab was used, which I thought was interesting. I think I still prefer the more typical snow or king crab preparation, but this more "rustic" preparation was still very tasty.

 

Kenji then asked if everything was satisfactory and if we had any requests. I requested oh-toro and uni only to find out they didn't have any that day. I was heartbroken. To clarify, he did say that they had some uni but said he'd rather not serve it because he wasn't getting the best stuff from Catalina because of weather. Not sure if I buy it, but at least he didn't serve me what he deemed an inferior product.

 

So instead, I got another piece of the aforementioned salmon, some wonderful ama-ebi (sweet shrimp), a piece of fresh water eel--very good but not as memorable as Yasuda's--and a piece of aji. Was it more than I needed? Yes, but all the pieces were tasty in their own right.

 

The damage for the sushi and a shared small carafe of hot sake, including tax and tip, was $105 per person, about what we expected to spend.

 

Service from the support staff was fine and generally efficient but not really evocative of true Japanese hospitality. No complaints other than tea and water glasses that could've been filled more frequently. That and paper napkins. Why?!

 

In critically assessing the sushi itself, however, I still find myself without a New York sushi restaurant that truly blows me away. For me, Yasuda hit the transporting level from time to time and Sasabune slightly less often. Although the quality at both is very good to excellent, I find problems with both. At Yasuda I feel that the fish is cut too thinly and isn't quite in balance with the rice to my preference. At Sasabune, the hot, heavily seasoned rice (lots of salt and vinegar) sometimes overpowers the fish despite his more generous cuts. At Yasuda you sometimes find yourself wanting just a bit more fish to accentuate his great rice. At Sasabune you find yourself wanting the rice a little tamer to let the great fish really shine. Sushi experts will cringe at this, but I sometimes crave the gargantuan slices at Tomoe just so I can really get into the fish part of the game. Yes, you're right, I should be eating sashimi if that's what I want, and I agree, but that extreme example kind of exposes the feeling I've experienced at both Sasabune and Yasuda. Sushi is technically about the rice, yes, but it's the fish and the inherent balance with that that keeps me coming back for more. I'm going to end this pissy sushi rant on a good note. I really, really liked the fish quality at Sasabune, despite its somewhat limited selection and its having to compete with the rice. Not a single piece was a clunker and for this I am grateful.

 

Regarding another popular topic of discussion when dealing with top-level sushi bars, Sasabune admits to serving different meals and charging different prices to Japanese vs. non-Japanese customers. For some background, I had my mother call to make the reservation (in Japanese) for me since I thought I'd have a better chance of securing a chance at the counter if they thought Japanese patrons were coming. When I had her call back to confirm the reservation she started talking the reservationist/host about the rough price of the omakase. The host plainly explained that they serve different things to Japanese patrons and more basic items to non-Japanese diners. When my mother revealed that it was not her coming and instead her white-looking son and his very white-looking girlfriend (pardon the ethnic reductionism) they said the chef would only serve us the more tame omakase. For the first visit, the reservationist claimed, the chef wants to observe how open patrons are to the restaurants offerings. A similar thing happened to me at Yasuda. Damn my white father. Damn those stubborn Japanese sushi chefs. If there is some justice in the world, it lies in the fact that Japanese customers do have to pay more for their more unique offerings, not less as supposedly happens at other top establishments. Furthermore, toward the end of the meal I upped my Jap-cred and was served an extra course not served to another, less engaged party at a table behind us. But then again, we had to pay for that extra course anyway. You win some, you lose some.

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Hi Bryan and welcome.

 

I went to Sasabune just after they opened, and I was disappointed. It's not that the quality of the fish wasn't good - it was mostly quite good - but I thought the rice was way too warm and loose, I didn't think the fish was well cut, and I was served a ridiculous chopped fish roll that was laughable. I also thought it was very rushed at the bar, and I disliked the vibe in the room. I have not felt a desire to return, but I may at some point. I will insist on slowing it down, however. Maybe I'll just ask for sashimi (I saw someone else do that when I was there).

 

I was really disappointed with the crappy cheap wasabi. And my first course was a plate of miso-marinated tuna which was drowning in sauce and was just not good.

 

Have you tried Inase, on 1st Ave near 83rd? It's quite traditional, and if you hit it on a fish delivery day, it can be very good. I think his rice and his cooked dishes are better than Sasabune's. It's also serene, nicely paced, and no-nonsense. And he fries the shrimp heads and serves them - I asked if they'd do that at Sasabane and they said no.

 

Inase fills up with Japanese business types in the later part of the evening. I have not sensed any differences between what the Japanese customers are served and what I have been served, and I've been there 5 or 6 times over the last couple of months.

 

Have you tried Gari on the west side, at the bar?

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So here's the deal. I definitely understand your complaints but they didn't bother me too much. Overall, I'm a fish guy so I happy to see nice even cuts (I found only 1 piece to be downright cut poorly) that balanced the proportion of the rice nicely. For me it was the aggressive seasoning of the rice that was slightly off-putting on certain pieces.

 

The temperature was something new to me, as I'd never had sushi with warm rice. I HATE noticeably cold rice and fish, which far too many places do in an attempt to portray the illusion of "freshness," so I thought this was a novel approach. At times I thought the rice could have been tighter with certain pieces, such as the eel and black cod which were heavily sauced, thus making them easier to eat. Again, however, I much prefer loose rice to cold, hard rice rocks.

 

The speed was okay for me since I have no problem eating fast (I've done 54 pieces of sushi at my favorite kaiten in Shibuya in about 30 minutes). The g/f (whom you at MF don't know yet but is a 5' 90 lb. eating machine; she got through the entire Tour at Alinea with plates cleaned) was feeling a bit stressed by the time the crab roll got around but was happily plump at the "end" of the omakase experience. We took a break for about ten minutes, sipped some tea, and naturally got a couple more pieces until we were very full. For most people they should probably have slowed it down, but I suppose you could just ask.

 

In general, I don't eat much sushi in NY because I am able to get to Japan every couple years with the family and eat ridiculously on my parents' dime. If I hear a good amount of buzz about a place in NY and it's not super-duper expensive, I'll check it out. Sasabune's lure was the omakase-only experience that seemed to promote a traditional sytle of sushi offered by a chef only serving what he thinks is best. Overall, I would probably return to Yasuda first, but getting a seat at Yasuda's section can be a bit of a challenge from my experience and based on what I've heard. This place is absolutely not pretentious, which other high-end places can be.

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I thought the rice at Sasabune was waaay too warm and too loose. I don't like cold and hard either...but there is a happy medium. Gari west achieves this. Ushiwakamaru achieves this. I've had good experiences at Seki and Ichimura too.

 

I can eat a ton of sushi, and do it fast, but I don't like to do it that way. I like to savor each piece, enjoy the aftertaste, the texture...drink a little in between anticipate the next piece...

 

Bryan, you should try some other places, like the ones I mentioned above. There are other chefs in NYC who serve what they think is best. And none of the places I listed are pretentious. Ichimura and Inase are quite traditional. Seki, Ushi, Gari - more experimental but very good. They are all more expensive than Sasabune - but you get what you pay for.

 

There is a thread called NYC sushi rankings - take a look. Seo is on my list to try. Haven't been to Shimizu in a good long while, and the place Evelyn recently posted about it too (fka Sushisay?)

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