Sushi Yasuda

Sashimi at Sushi Yasuda – a beautiful sight

We’re fortunate that New York has a lot of excellent sushi restaurants. Many others have unfortunately embraced a recent trend of focusing on overpriced Japanese-American “fancy” rolls with half a dozen kinds of fish, sauces, and condiments – perhaps as a way to distract from having not the freshest of fish. While these fancy rolls have their place from time to time – such as when paired with large amounts of sake – a meal at Sushi Yasuda is a helpful reminder of what traditional sushi can be at its best.

Assorted pieces of maki: tuna, yellow tail, arctic char

Founded over 10 years ago, Sushi Yasuda still serves the best sushi in New York. And they do it in a traditional and understated way. Just unbelievably, uniquely, fresh fish and expertly skilled sushi chefs. After a meal at Sushi Yasuda you may believe, as I did after a recent meal, that all other sushi you’ve ever had before were imitations. This is the real deal. 

It is also not that expensive – many other places with far inferior sushi are pricier. For example, for $22.50 you can have 5 pieces of nigiri and 2 rolls or 4 pieces of nigiri, 1 roll, and 3 varieties of sashimi (2 pieces each). 3 rolls are $20.50.

A variety of nigiri: orange clam, scallop, mackerel,  fluke, yellow tail

The restaurant is small with only a few tables and an L-shaped sushi bar. It’s best to sit at the bar and have one of Sushi Yasuda’s expert sushi chefs guide your meal. The menu changes daily and they helpfully mark on the provided paper menu which fish is particularly fresh that day. It’s best to stick to order what they mark as freshest – don’t worry about what it is or even if you don’t usually like that kind of fish. Any of the prix fixe options noted above provide a great meal. An even better one would start with that and then supplement it with a few choice selections, depending on what is fresh that day. An omakase option (starting at $80) would be transporting.

Miso soup

Traditional is the predominant word to describe Yasuda. The website provides an exhaustive explanation of the tradition of sushi making and even eating. Only traditional portions of fish are served. There are no “creative” rolls or seasoning such as spicy mayonnaise or even avocado. The restaurant even (helpfully, actually) instructs against overly aggressive soy sauce dipping or ginger eating. Don’t mix the wasabi with the soy sauce either, they advise — and this is real grated wasabi, not the dyed-green horseradish that the vast majority of sushi establishments pass off as wasabi.

Even the soy sauce tastes different here – it has a fuller, more umami, taste than at most other places.

The miso soup has no tofu, just incredible  miso combined with rich dashi and a few slivers of scallions. It makes other miso soups – ours included – seem like a completely different dish.

More varieties of nigiri including bonito, a type of tuna
White fresh water eel sushi – grilled to order

Most negiri comes with soy sauce and wasabi pre-applied (often meticulously – the soy sauce is usually applied with a paint brush) and you are advised not to add anything more. Don’t. The ginger, if you want, is a palate cleanser between pieces. Some pieces come with a slight addition of sea salt; others with a small squeeze of lemon juice.

The fish is breathtakingly good, making you want to close your eyes so there are no other distractions. Some, like the blue fin tuna, seemed to melt in my mouth. (Yasuda has taken some heat for continuing to serve the imperiled blue fun; you can certainly do without it). 

Green tea and red bean mochi

Each bite seems better than the next. An arctic char at the peak of freshness, a perfect sea scallop, a creamy and pure sea urchin, a white fresh water eel grilled to order with a subtle squeeze of lemon juice and a few sea salt crystals.

The variety is also unparalelled. On a recent visit, the menu featured five different kinds of eel, three different kinds of tuna, six different kinds of salmon, etc.

There isn’t much of a dessert menu, but for an extra $2 on the prix fixe, they will bring you green tea or red bean mochi, homemade ice cream wrapped in delicious sticky rice cake.

For more information about Sushi Yasuda, including advice on reservations, see our friend Roger’s post at lifelaidout.

Matsu, the sushi chef who prepared my meal on a recent visit

Sushi Yasuda
204 East 43rd Street
(212) 972-1001

Recommended Dishes: Sushi and sashimi, whatever is freshest that day, don’t worry about what it is ($3.50 – $8.50 per piece). Prix fix ($22.50). Omakaze starts at $80.

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