Sitting with Yasuda
After years of anticipation, I will finally be eating at Sushi Yasuda is early May. I'm going on a Thursday night, and will be eating at the bar, with Yasuda-san, with three friends. Obviously we'll be putting are self in his hands, but I have a few questions:
1.) How much should I expect to spend? Do we set our own price? What's a good amount?
2.) What should I expect to eat? What should I make sure not to miss if they have it?
3.) While I know something about wine and beer, I'm pretty ignorant about sake. It seems to me that sake would be the thing to drink at this meal, so how should I go about choosing?
4.) I'm right to be excited, aren't I?
I went to Yasuda with my dad a few months ago. We drank water, so I can't speak to the sake issue. However, I can definitely affirm that you're right to be excited. On the downside, you may never look at your corner sushi joint the same way again.
We each started with a soup and then dove right in to the tasting. We told Yasuda what our faves were (I said Salmon Roe, and my dad said Toro), and he gave us a few different examples of each to try. After that, we let him suggest a few things and we got more ideas from what the people around us were eating. Although the Toro was great, we were surprised to find that we liked the Scallop sushi best. It was so soft and sweet!
Yasuda suggested two things that we were hesistant to try, but we complied and were happy we did. First, he made us baby scallion sushi. It looked like grass, but it was a really refreshing break between bites of fatty fish. Second, the usually pedestrian Salmon Skin Roll was elevated to new heights. I would compare the skin to wonderfully crispy, smoky bacon. It came in a close second to the scallop.
After eating about 20 pieces of sushi a piece, we decided we were full and Yasuda agreed we had eaten enough, so we ordered fruit and ice cream. The fruit was beautifully presented and perfectly ripe. I really recommend it.
The bill came in at around $130 (including tax but not tip). As I had expected it to be higher, i left feeling like I had gotten a great deal. Enjoy yourself on Thursday! You're in for a treat.
I would expect all nigiri. Typically he'll start you off with maybe 15 or so pieces of nigiri and towards the end of that Chef Yasuda will ask if you are still hungry and want more pieces. Depending on the day, his fish, my hunger, etc I'd had upwards of 25 pieces. If you stick with the initial selection, i'd agree with GG that the nigiri alone will be around $75-100. The eel is always great there and he usually has 3-4 different types as is his selection of fish he flies in from Japan. My only suggestion would be to peruse the list of fish available that day and if you see somethign you are interested in, ask for it.
Its fantastic sushi and Chef Yasuda is a great chef, has great fish and is pretty personable.
You have every reason to be excited--it's quite simply the best sushi in NYC and Yasuda is a master in presentation and in finding the best fish available. I guess I've been lucky--every time I've put myself in Yasuda's hands, I've left stuffed, with a bill no more than $45. Still, the low price might be because I always start with the sushi/sashimi combo (which runs about $22 and is quite ample) supplemented by individual pieces of sushi.
sake has different style, daiginjo is considered 'higher grade' because at least half of the rice kernel gets polished off before brewing. the degree of rice polishing affects the flavor. but a ginjo or junmai type of sake can be as delicious - just different style. junmai will be more robust and rice-y, daiginjo will be drier. sakes can be dry, floral, rich or lean - like wine. most of premium sakes will be served chilled. some of the best producers are Masumi, Kamoizumi, Dewazakura - they produce different styles - from junmai to ginjo to daiginjo. (There is also junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo - it means no alcohol was added when making those - most sake is 15-17% alcohol, just a touch more than wine, which now routinely hits 15%+)
you will tell them how much you want to spend. you can always ask for more. it's worth the splurge. i second the uni rec. Enjoy!
And there's many other factors that influence the flavour and quality of the sake including the rice varietal, the water quality, the yeast strain.
I don't recall being that impressed by the sake list at Yasuda albeit that it's well priced ($10 for a carafe). But then again I don't suppose that much emphasis will have been put on it as sake isn't traditionally drunk with sushi in Japan (although personally I love to pair them).
You're much better off sticking to nigiri + sashimi at Yasuda and then going across the road to Sakagura for a sake primer from the sommelier there. Or else go to Sakagura first for a quick sake aperitif and then bring your new found knowledge with you to Yasuda.
Beer and/or tea would certainly be more popular accompaniments in a sushi-ya. Sake is more traditionally drunk in an izakaya.
Sake consumption is on the decline in Japan as younger generation people prefer to drink beer, spirits and wines and view sake as something of an old man's drink! At the same time sake consumption outside Japan is on the rise and I think that the US comprises 40% of this market and more and more breweries in Japan are looking overseas for business which is good news for sake lovers here and elsewhere as it means greater availability of premium, artisinal sakes etc.
My average spend at Yasuda is $80-100 all in. It's much better value than people realise for the quality on offer.