I’ve been spending a good deal of time in Japanese restaurants over the past few years. Call it in search of the best kaiseki. The opening of Masa in the Time Warner building was what really kicked it off. Masa, with a price point of $350, raised the question of whether dinner at a Japanese restaurant in the U.S. could be worth that amount of money. It also posed the more interesting question (at least to me) which is, does Japanese cuisine rise to the same level as western haute cuisine? Without digressing into the substance of that topic – after all this thread is a restaurant review and not an comparative analysis of cuisines, it does serve as helpful background information for readers when they wonder how I reached my conclusion that Sugiyama is the best overall Japanese dining experience I’ve found in the U.S.
Sushi Yasuda– Many people think sushi is about the fish. But at Sushi Yasuda, my sushi restaurant of choice, the key to greatness lies in the rice. Of course that isn’t to say that they don’t use top-quality fish at Yasuda. On an average day, they might serve you five to seven different varieties of tuna or salmon, or three or four different types of yellowtail, as well as superb specimens of numerous other fish that are fresh that day. But what makes this restaurant special is the way Yasuda can grab 264 grains of creamy and firm, slightly warmer than room temperature short-grain rice, and pair it with perfectly trimmed slices of cool fish. Of course, the best way to experience this treat is to sit at the counter with Yasuda-san himself and let him organize your meal. His timing in the way he serves up each group of fish is impeccable, as if he’s performing a Mozart concerto. Even his delivery is unique. He will pick up two or three pieces at a time and use an overhand motion that would make Hideki Nomo envious. Make sure you ask him to end your meal with two of my favorite pieces—West Coast Oysters and Santa Barbara Uni, both served on sushi rice, with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a small sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Absolutely delicious. A