I was there twice, Summer of '05 & this April. I love the place. Here's what I wrote about my 2nd visit:
The undisputed culinary highlight of last month was my second visit to Sugiyama, the transcendent Japanese kaiseki restaurant on West 55th Street. The modern kaiseki that chef Nao Sugiyama serves grew out of a Zen Buddhist tea ceremony, where the emphasis is on fresh seasonal ingredients. Visual beauty was always an important component of the kaiseki, and it is an essential part of the Sugiyama experience. The 8-course modern kaiseki (actually nine with dessert) at Sugiyama is probably the most popular dinner choice on the menu. It consists of small, leisurely paced courses of beautifully prepared seasonal delicacies, all of which are explained in detail by the server. The meal unfolds over an approximately two-and-a-half-hour period, and at $68 a head it qualifies as a bargain among splurges. On my two visits, some of the items were identical, but there were variants in most of the courses. The starter was monkfish liver (known as the foie gras of Japan) blended into a custardy fresh tofu. A mixed appetizer course is a veritable sculpture garden, and usually includes Nao's signature Japanese bayberry in a tiny cube of clear wine gelatin along with a baby crab that one eats with the shell on. A sashimi course included a spectacular Japanese oyster and tuna garnished with edible gold foil; the sashimi is served with real wasabi, which is noticably far superior to the mock wasabi made of mustard and horseradish powder that one is usually served at sushi bars in North America. On this evening one of the later courses was oden, several boiled items served in broth, including an absolutely stunning tofu puff stuffed with lobster meat, whitefish and shiitake mushrooms. The only part of the meal the diner chooses is whether to have seafood or beef tenderloin cooked at the table over a hot stone. The dessert, which happily never changes, is an amazingly refreshing grapefruit wine jelly (which encompasses the very essence of grapefruitness), topped with fresh cream.