Can anyone recommend a Japanese restaurant with equally strong sushi and non-sushi menus for a sushi first-timer?
December 19, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

NYC-foodie-filter: A friend of mine wants to try sushi for the very first time. The game plan is to order a couple of pieces as an appetizer and either proceed to a full entree if she enjoys it or bail and order something different if it turns out that raw fish is not to her liking. Can anyone recommend a Japanese restaurant with equally strong sushi and non-sushi menus for this culinary adventure? I'd prefer a place in Manhattan or Queens, easily accessible from Midtown Manhattan and reasonably priced. Not too fancy.

Many thanks in advance, as always!

Happy Holidays!
posted by jason's_planet to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The sushi at Izakaya Ten isn't at all bad for a non-sushi place.

You're never going to get the best sushi at a place that isn't all about the sushi, in my experience. At least not in New York.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:58 AM on December 19, 2010

You're never going to get the best sushi at a place that isn't all about the sushi, in my experience. At least not in New York.

Well, the goal here is not so much world-class sushi as pretty damned good sushi that would be a good introduction for a first-timer.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:07 PM on December 19, 2010

The game plan is to order a couple of pieces as an appetizer and either proceed to a full entree if she enjoys it or bail and order something different if it turns out that raw fish is not to her liking.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:24 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most Japanese restaurants I've been to in New York offer a variety of options, sushi and non. Even the takeout place my office orders from has sushi/sashimi/chirashi a la carte and in a few basic combos, as well as some entrees* and a few noodle dishes.

I would suggest just going to Yelp and finding a Japanese restaurant that is conveniently located and decently-rated.

When I was introduced to sushi about a decade ago, the classic newb combo was california roll and spicy tuna. That's a good start, at least, though there is plenty of stuff on your average New York sushi menu that I'm sure your friend will like. Sushi is somewhat intimidating before you've ever tried it, but the flavors and textures are not challenging at all.

*Some restaurants serve a full menu of entrees for both lunch and dinner, while others serve entrees in the form of bento boxes only at lunch. If your friend is highly unsure of any Asian food at all, it would be better to do research in advance and make sure they will be offering Chicken Teriyaki and the like when you guys are there. If it's just sushi that is new to her, she can probably hang with noodle dishes and it won't matter as much.
posted by Sara C. at 12:26 PM on December 19, 2010

Well, it's in Brooklyn so this may not be helpful, but one of my favorite sushi joints is Geido in Brooklyn. Basically right off the Q 7th Ave. stop. But they have pretty decent sushi and plenty of other Japanese food too. The vibe is great, there is writing all over the walls.

Chowhound may be a big help here too.

You're never going to get the best sushi at a place that isn't all about the sushi, in my experience. At least not in New York.

Yeah, I don't think a "beginner" could tell anyways. As long as the fish is pretty fresh and good quality it should be a good introductory experience, and many places which also serve other non-sushi Japanese fare can swing that in NYC, I expect.
posted by dubitable at 12:33 PM on December 19, 2010

In Midtown, I like Tokyo on Lex (bet 39th and 40th I think).

Tokyo has sushi, and personally, I'd say its sushi is a few notches above the hordes of undifferentiated sushi places in midtown , but its also not fantastically expensive. It also has a menu of other non-sushi Japanese dishes, friendly staff, etc. Its not too fancy but its not a whole in the wall either. Honestly, I think its probably just what you're looking for.
posted by jeb at 12:43 PM on December 19, 2010

I love Sapporo East. They have excellent sushi but their other non-sushi things (ramen, udon, teriyaki) are really good too. Try the deep fried asparagus. Yum!
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 12:47 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

[A few comments removed. The question is about suggested restaurants, not what to order or whether it's a good idea to go to sushi.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:51 PM on December 19, 2010

Keep in mind that there is sushi that does not consist of raw fish. In my experience, this can be a useful starting point for beginners.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:54 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go here.

It's in Williamsburg, but as you know that's just over the river. One stop. No problem. Why go there? Because it does the whole raw fish thing, and does it well, but it has lots of other dishes that would delight anyone who turns out to be freaked by the raw fish thing. Get a plateful of "bombs" and see how she gets on. Oh, and they have a great sake list. And there are good bars nearby.
posted by Decani at 12:55 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would take a person fitting this description to Ocha, on 46th Street between 8th and 9th ave. Very reasonable prices and I've never had a bad piece from there (I only ever get the basic stuff there). And if she doesn't like the sushi, they have plenty of other decent hot items. It isn't the most authentic Japanese place around, but it's my go-to place in midtown for inexpensive, decent sushi and definitely a place I'd take a first-timer who's a little squeamish at the thought of it. Their non-sushi items have been fine also, nothing spectacular, but I'd eat them again.
posted by wondermouse at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2010

Dang. I was going to suggest going to MeFite owned Sushi Uo, but it looks like it closed on December 10th and is only going to operate as a party space.

I highly recommend Sushi Zen. I went here with my family and we didn't order from the menu. We just went with recommendations. I found the staff helpful and I'm sure they would be happy to help your friend ease into the experience.

It is on the higher price end, but in this instance where you are dealing with raw fish, I would want to make sure that my friend didn't like it at its best rather than "Here is some mid-grade product, let's see how it goes."
posted by spec80 at 1:07 PM on December 19, 2010

I can't tell if you want to introduce her to maki, nigiri, or both, but my pick for this adventure would be Blue Ribbon Sushi. There are two: one in Soho (though there's always a bit of a wait for dinner, lunch can be pretty chill), another by Columbus Circle (the latter being closer to Midtown).

Blue Ribbon Sushi's nigiri is solid but not spectacular. However, their maki and cooked dishes are surprisingly good. My husband is very fond of the Kyuri special roll: eel, crab, cucumber, avocado. I also like the above suggestion of starting out with a California roll and/or spicy tuna roll, and might also add in a tempura (or something else fried) roll.

Maki overall seems more accessible than nigiri for beginners. I'd just make sure I skip over salmon and mackerel items if she doesn't like "fish"-y fish. Same for egg, uni and octopus if texture is an issue.

And if she bails, Blue Ribbon's menu has a lot of safer options: a few types of steak, 1/2 a grilled chicken, duck breast, etc. And you can still have your nigiri platter.
posted by kathryn at 1:36 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

My first exposure to Sushi as a child was the always-fun conveyer belt joint near Alexander's, now long gone. I just searched and it looks like East on 3rd Ave at 27th St. is the only conveyer belt sushi left. Your friend might like being able to eyeball the dishes before picking one. Reviews seem mixed on the quality of the fish. But hey, it's a conveyer belt!
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:20 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

My favorite sushi place is Takahachi (warning, annoying music auto-plays). Really delicious fish of all sorts, including items that are cooked instead of raw, and if those don't work out, they've got noodles and tempura and the like. And sake in little wooden boxes! Who doesn't like sake in a little wooden box?
posted by whitneyarner at 2:48 PM on December 19, 2010

The sushi bar at the Whole Foods on Houston and Bowery has a conveyor belt. It's not the most atmospheric place, but to be honest they serve fresh ultra-basic maki in a non-intimidating environment. All in all it's probably not a horrible place to try sushi for the first time. You can also sit right at the bar and watch the chefs at work, and each of the rolls on the belt comes with a little card that explains what's in it. They also serve rice bowls and limited Japanese entree items, though there's a huge salad bar, pasta station, and other meal options on site if she doesn't take to sushi.
posted by Sara C. at 3:29 PM on December 19, 2010

With all due respect, I would not recommend taking someone to Whole Foods for their first sushi.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:39 PM on December 19, 2010

I would generally agree, though I think it depends on the friend, the situation, and what exactly they find intimidating about sushi.

On the one hand, it's a fun yet unpretentious dining experience which fits the needs of the situation (101 level rolls, fresh and well-prepared, but other stuff available too).

On the other hand, there is no "Oooh, fancy ethnic cuisine!" romance to it, or cachet of being able to brag to your friends that you at The Best Sushi In All New York.

Though on the other-other hand, in my experience a lot of people claim to dislike X Exotic Food because of the intimidation factor - in that situation Whole Foods would be ideal. Sushi is just food, after all. You don't need Masaharu Morimoto scowling over your shoulder to eat sushi.
posted by Sara C. at 3:50 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to give a shoutout to Mefite newpotato's Sushi UO restaurant in Rivington St, Lower East Side - we had a meetup there when I was in New York & the food was fantastic.

(for what it's worth, I eat Japanese food almost weekly in Sydney, from any of dozens of restaurants near my work or home, so it's a cuisine I'm pretty familiar with)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:08 PM on December 19, 2010

What no mention of Masa?
ny mag review
posted by Ad hominem at 4:11 PM on December 19, 2010

I would shy away from the super-fanciest places for connoisseurs, and pick a nice, mid-sized, middle-of-the-road place. The actual mechanics of consumption of sushi can be a bit intimidating; I was grateful to not be in the sight line of the sushi chef or any expert sushi-eaters. You either have to put the whole piece in your mouth and make a huge commitment to an unfamiliar texture and flavor, or you have to bite it in half unsteadily and catch it as it falls apart.

I think that the unknown-territory aspect of "raw" gets overplayed. When converting my mom to sushi, it was the salmon that led her to the revelation that this really isn't such an unfamiliar food after all.
posted by desuetude at 4:14 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

What no mention of Masa?

Masa is good but very very very expensive. I do not recommend it for the purposes of this question.
posted by wondermouse at 4:57 PM on December 19, 2010

UbuRovias, Sushi UO closed.
posted by spec80 at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2010

That's a shame. Seems like the chef left, then there was some kind of promotion / street performance art with latex-clad Japanese bondage, giant red snapper and six-foot long octopus tentacles, before the restaurant disappeared from Open Table. Disregard that suggestion then.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:17 PM on December 19, 2010

Thanks, everyone!
posted by jason's_planet at 3:55 PM on December 20, 2010

Have you considered perhaps checking out Mitsuwa Plaza in Edgewater, NJ? There's a bus that runs there fairly frequently from the Port Authority for free (or nearly so) and it's a supermarket/shopping plaza meant for actual Japanese people, so the sushi there is going to be good and at least fairly reasonably priced. Plus if your friend doesn't take a shining to sushi, there's plenty else there that's delicious (such as Santouka Ramen, an actual chain from Japan that's pretty tasty overall).
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:36 PM on December 20, 2010

For the benefit of the search engines: We went to Izakaya Ten, recommended in the very first response, and had a blast!

Thanks, all!
posted by jason's_planet at 11:21 AM on April 2, 2011

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