Scott took me out for a special dinner and we went to perhaps the most well known sushi restaurant in New York: Sushi Yasuda. Because it’s such a famous temple to the art of sushi, it’s been on my “must try” list for a long time. What amazing Sushi and Sake combinations await me here!? Such a famous place must have a top notch sake list to pair with all that sushi. I was very excited.
However… things didn’t go quite as planned on the sake front. Let me start off by saying the sushi was delicious. If anything threw a monkey wrench in my experience at Yasuda, it certainly was not the presentation, quailty or taste of the fish. My first order of business at any Japanese restaurant is to look at the sake menu. To my surprise, I only found 5 or 6 sakes offered cold. huh? …and of those sakes, there were some solid, upstanding choices, but nothing out of the ordinary. What’s going on here? I was looking at Ichinokura, Otokoyama and even domestic Ozeki. Does not compute!
Most of the top tier Japanese restaurants I’ve been to pride themselves on an extensive sake list. Most even have a sake sommelier on staff. At Yasuda, of the few choices I had, I decided to go with the one I knew the least and hope for the best. I ordered myself a serving of the Takenotsuyu Junmai (Yamagata, SMV: +2 , ALC: 14.5%). The Takenotsuyu was served in a beautiful ceramic carafe and I took a sip… Then it hit me like a ton of bricks! finally, it all made sense. This Junmai was mild and unobtrusive, light and drinkable. Yasuda is about the fish, the whole fish and nothing but the fish. The thinking must be that any flashy sakes would upstage or overwhelm the fish. I guess this is kind of along the lines of “never wear white to a wedding” lest you upstage the bride on her special day.
Well, this is Yasuda’s place, so I decided to chill out and let him offer the sakes he thinks thinks place his fish in the best light. The Takenotsuyu was so mild, it worked like a tasty palate cleanser between bites of buttery fish, but really put the fish in the foreground, sake in the background.
The atmosphere at Yasuda was minimalist and quiet. I quickly got the sense that this was a high profile “special occasion” destination restaurant. The clientele seemed less die-hard New York City foodie and more well-to-do tourist or Birthday/Anniversary Couple. Consequently, the service seemed geared for the uninitiated sushi goer. Despite this, and all my other quibbles about the sake list, the experience was authentic and delicious.
In the final analysis, however, given the lack of Sake options at Yasuda, I won’t be chomping at the bit to go back anytime soon. But no worries – there is always a line out the door of folks wanting fish and sake just the way Sushi Yasuda is serving it.