I made a reservation for me and James for Valentine's Day only two weeks in advance, so I knew I could not hit up the usual romantic New York suspects. Instead, I chose a sushi restaurant considered sublime by those in the know, but not flashy like Nobu, Megu, Masa, Morimoto. I chose Sushi Yasuda, on a Little Tokyo block near the UN.
From the second we walked in, at an early 6pm (even two weeks ahead I could only secure an early reservation), I knew we were in for an experience. The sushi chefs, all five of them, heartily greeted us, as did the staff. We sat at the sushi bar, where a Hawaiian tea leaf garnished with ginger and wasabi was promptly placed in front of us. A server brought over warm towels so we could wash our hands because, as as I learned that night, sushi can be eaten with ones hands. (What an ideal beginning for a germaphobe like me!) We ordered dry cold sake and two kinds of fish to start: flash-fried striped bass with pickled radish on top, and sake-soaked black cod. Both were outstanding. The second we finished the plates, servers whisked them away. The second I took more than three sips from my water, it was replenished. I have read that service, for example in department stores, in Japan is phenomenal. I had my first taste of it that night.
Basically, we had our own private sushi chef. He would give us a piece of sushi, we would eat it, muse about what we wanted next, and then he would prepare it for us. What a delightful way to eat! I can't say it was the most romantic meal, since it was almost like eating in a kitchen, but it was a way to learn about fish, knife work, and Japanese traditions. We ordered Spanish mackerel, yellowtail, giant clam, sea urchin, squid, cuttlefish, and a toro scallion roll. The roll was the only thing we dipped in soy sauce. The chef prepared the fish in a bit of sauce or sea salt and told us simply to pick it up with our hands and eat it. The fish was clean and delicious, on perfectly warm sushi rice.
The standouts: toro was buttery and divinely rich. We asked the chef's recommendation to end the meal, and he gave us two heavenly chunks of Alaskan crab, decorated with squeezed lemon and sea salt. Sweet and luscious. But here were my two favorites: a sea scallop from Massachusetts and white freshwater eel. I had never had raw scallops before; these were so sweet and succulent. The chef apparently prizes domestic fish, and this was an excellent specimen. The chef's press materials say he is an eel expert, and I would corroborate that from the eel I tasted, the best I have ever tasted. Usually sushi eel is kind of hard and blocklike, apparently because chefs re-heat the eel in a toaster oven. Our chef took raw eel and cooked it in front of us on a small grill. The result was the kindest, tastiest, most tender flesh. Changed the way I think about that sea creature.
The second we told the chef we were full our tea leaf was withdrawn, our plates carried off. We received a complimentary brown tea and the bill. Expensive, but worth every penny. The cheapest trip to Tokyo I can imagine. When I went to the restroom on the way out and heard someone speaking English, I was thoroughly disoriented.