It is hard to imagine New York without sushi, but when Shinbashi first opened its doors in 1974, it was one of the very first restaurants to offer Japanese cuisine—including sushi, tempura, and even an omakase menu—to adventurous diners in the Big Apple. Forty years later, it still turns out sushi and other dishes that are just a step or two above the ordinary, all in a comfortable setting with helpful and attentive service.
We loved a dish of assorted mushroom tempura, with mushrooms that were still juicy and tender despite having been battered and fried. The dish had great variety: saucer-shaped shiitakes, large halved king oyster mushrooms, layered leafy-looking maitakes, funny three-headed hon-shimeji mushrooms, and clumps of stringy enoki mushrooms. These were high-quality, flavorful mushrooms and the tempura did not mask their flavor. They were served with a nice squeeze of lemon and a side of tempura broth.
A dish of agadashi tofu pulled off the same effect, with silky tofu that was fried in a light crispy coating. The tofu arrived in large cubes, sitting in a dashi soy broth and decorated with thinly-sliced scallions and grated daikon. A really nice dish.
The service had those extra touches that make dining a pleasure. Warm towels greeted the beginning and end of the meal. Our waitress perceptively brought a new side of spicy mayo just as the last one was running out. A half-finished beer was replaced free of charge on the off chance it had gotten too warm.
|An attractive platter of sushi nigiri (eel, salmon, tuna, and yellowtail) and rolls (yellowtail, spicy tuna, spicy scallop)|
And then came the sushi. I like to evaluate sushi on four criteria: the quality of the fish, the quality of the rice, the ratio of fish to rice, and the quality of any sauces or other “extras”. Here is how I come out:
The fish quality was quite high. Scallop had a great hint of sweetness; we enjoyed big chunks of it rolled up with spicy mayo for a delicious combination of savory and sweet. Delicate salmon pulled apart with a gentle bite. Tuna had that lovely buttery quality. Yellowtail was at its best: fresh, clean, and pure.
The best sushi rice is freshly cooked, still slightly warm, and sticky but not too caked together and dry. At Shinbashi, the rice was a little dry, as if it was not quite fresh enough from the steaming. The fish-to-rice ratio, however, was strong, with generous slices of fish that draped themselves over both sides of their beds of rice.
The “extras” made me happy in a way they normally do not, as they were deployed in a way that enhanced and did not overwhelm the fish. Spicy rolls were made up of generous fresh chunks of fish rolled together with spicy mayo applied separately, rather than all mixed in. Yellowtail nigiri arrived with a sprinkle of finely sliced scallions on top, subtly adding great texture and flavor. Eel was served with a glaze that was just right, savory and sweet but not too sweet, with a gentle dusting of sesame seeds.
When I go back, the mushroom tempura and spicy scallop roll will be repeat players. So will the yellowtail nigiri sushi with its sprinkling of scallions.
7 East 48th Street
Tel. (212) 813-1009