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Sasabune or Tenzan in the UES

  • m

We live in the UES but usually don't go out for sushi in that area. A couple that we're friends with (from LA I might add) have suggested we go out for sushi, since they just moved to our neighborhood. I think the occasion calls for something a little more exciting then just visiting our local takeout place (Hokkaido, Isohama), but we don't really want to spend like we're at Gari or Seki. Basically we want something special enough for a double date, but not on the price level of "special occasion". I also have a special request for Uni, which would probably make the natural choice Sasabune, but I haven't heard anything recently about this place, almost like it's dropped off the radar or closed. Has anyone been recently? We meant to go when it opened, but with our short restaurant attantion span just never had a good opportunity until now.

And Tenzan is also a contender, mainly from the reviews I've read here. Is it just a good neighborhood takeout place, or does it warrant a visit? I'd really like an affordable omakase, but wouldn't mind ordering a la carte.

It's sad how clueless we are when given the opportunity for a casual sushi night out. We aren't sushi experts by any means but have a hard time finding a happy medium between the top places and weeknight takeout spots. And if anyone has any other recs please let us know.

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  1. I've been to Tenzan (Ichi Ro is our usual cheap sushi place, but I think Tenzan is better - and better than Hokkaido, Isohama). Haven't been to Sasabune. However, last Friday we went to Inase, and thought it was very good. We went early, and it was empty, except for some people getting take out. We ordered some appetizers from the kitchen, and then asked for the $60 omakase, without the appetizer and dessert that came with it - asked them to substitute some more fish instead. It was really very good - I'm afraid that I don't remember the specific fish we had. They brought sashimi first, then nigiri sushi. Also included in the omakase was a custard with uni - my husband said it was interesting, but not something he'd have again. So, sorry for lack of good detail, but I think it is a good option - 1st Avenue, just north of 81st on the east side. Fish definitely much better and more interesting than the aforementioned options, and less pricey than Gari. Also, they gave us a free glass of wine/sake for having made a reservation. Hope you have a wonderful time where ever you go. It's quite pretty inside - simple, but again nicer than the other places.

    Edit - some more details:

    We had "squid guts" as one of the items we started with - delicious. Also, I now remember that the amber jack was amazing. The menu in the restaurant is more interesting than the one shown on menupages.com.

    Phone - 212-628-1238

    5 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      What your husband had is chawanmushi with uni. It's Japanese egg custard and it's usually served with ebi and/or crab rather than uni. Ushi Wakamaru does a really stellar version also with uni. I love the stuff, maybe it's an acquired taste.

      And yes, where worthwhile sushi bars are concerned, any published menu is only ever going to be vaguely indicative of their selections.

      Sasabune is worth a try by the way. There are some flaws (tendency to oversauce, crumbling rice bed) but overall it's more hit than miss.

      1. re: oonth

        Thanks for the information. Inase also had a lot of interesting non-sushi bar specials as well. I was actually surprised that my husband didn't like it b/c he loves uni and custardy things (whereas, much as I've tried, am 0/2 on those items).

        1. re: MMRuth

          Thanks MMRuth! Inase sounds like just the place I'm looking to find. And yes, I debated back and forth about posting my experience about Poke... it just seemed like such a bizarre experience, like the waiter was not only new but had no idea what serving a table actually entailed.

          BTW I've always liked your posts, very clear and concise without the hard and fast opinions you often find on these boards. I believe you've helped us more than once navigate our way around restaurants on the UES.

        2. re: oonth

          I went to Inase yesterday and the egg custard with uni was better than the one I had at Ushi (but if you remember, I'm the one who gave the only non-raving review of Ushi so I might have caught them at an off night). The custard had many more ingredients than the Ushi's version, some of them were really sweet. It was the first time I really enjoyed uni in any form.
          It was my first time at Inase yesterday and it was great. I heard about the place here (from you as well) but it should be mentioned much more often. Excellent quality and affordable prices. The $80 omakase gets you soup, salad, amuse bouche, 3 appetizers (one of which could have served as an entree), a huge sashimi plate (7 different kinds, 2-3 pieces of each), 12 pieces of sushi and a dessert. Everything was top-notch. My only gripe was that the toro wasn't stellar.

          1. re: ow77

            Glad you enjoyed Inase (which apparently is a Japanese word for "dashing" or "gallant" - nice name) and it's definitely one of the best "less heralded sushi bars in Manhattan". Others in this category I would say are Ise on Pine Street and Esashi on Avenue A and perhaps to a lesser extent Shimizu as that does get a fair amount of promotion on these boards.

            If you do go back to Ushi at any stage, make sure to reserve seats in front of Hideo san, the head itamae, buy him a beer or two and enjoy his offerings.

      2. if its the same tenzan in the UWS, it's a decent neighborhood joint, certainly not a special occasion place.

        1 Reply
        1. I went to Sasabune a few months back and it was delicious. It's omakase only, I believe, but you can tell them what you like or don't like and they will tailor it to your preferences. I love uni and asked for it in excess. I wasn't disappointed. It's not the best for atmosphere and it's relatively small, but worth the visit for the food.

          Have you considered Poke on 85th between 1st and 2nd (I think)? I haven't had the omakase there but the new space is very nice and the sushi was great.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Jill

            We have actually been to Poke based off recommendations here and a glowing review from my boss. The sushi was good, we liked the fact it was byob, but the service was actually abysmal, almost like a bad joke. We sat at the sushi bar, which may be different from table service, but the waiter ignored us (and other sushi bar patrons.. even though it was clear we ordered through him), served us the wrong items, didn't ask if we wanted more and presented us with the check, and even walked away from my SO when he was in the middle of ordering (which my SO called him on, his excuse was that another table needed help).

            Others (boss included) still maintain it's a great place, so maybe it was just us, but after that experience there are so many other places to try that we don't want to waste our time there again. People do seem to like the place, so I was hesitant to post anything about it, thinking maybe the waiter was having a very bad night.

            1. re: mikka

              Hey Mikka - don't hesitate to post just because other people like a place and say so on the board and you've had a different experience. I've not tried Poke since they moved, but did before they did and did not like it despite the glowing reviews at the time, and posted on that. Was planning on trying it again - and still may - but being able to read varied reviews of a place is helpful to everyone, IMHO. Your experience, even if it contradicts those of other posters, has just as much value.

              1. re: MMRuth

                I've tried the 2 kinds of omakase at sasabune (one catering to "non japanese" and the other to "japanese"). they were both great, but price-wise, it's on par with a special occasion place. The japanese one was around $85 pre tip, and the non japanese one was around $70 pre tip

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Living about a block from Poke, I have been several times, both before and after the move. The service was better at the old location, but the new place is larger and nicer, but the new servers don't seem very well trained. The BYO factor is a plus. If you like the speciality rolls, then you will like Poke. I think they are excellent there. The sushi is fresh and good, but not spectacular. I usually go elsewhere if I want an omakase or straight sushi/sashimi

                  1. re: kesues

                    i don't think they take credit cards unless they changed-i always like getting milage

            2. Well, despite good intentions of going to Inase, one member of the party had to work late and as Inase was only open til 10 we figured it was probably better to go to Tenzan (which was open til 1130). This ended up working out, as 3 extra friends joined us, one of whom was a bit picky when it came to their fish and generally preferred the rolls to sushi/sashimi. Before I get into the meal let me preface by saying we (the SO and I) had already been drinking for a while waiting to meet up our friends, so while I'll try to describe everything as accurately as possible, please keep in mind that by the time we ate we were a bit tipsy.

              Their sake selection wasn't spectacular, they had 4 bottles, one daiginjo, I believe but it was decent and they served in the glasses a small sliver of cucumber round, which made the sake generally more refreshing, imo.

              We ordered a number of rolls, toro/scallion, spicy scallop, sweet potato, a tuna naruto, and a number of the usual gimicky-named rolls: spicy girl, dallas roll, etc. I thought the spicy girl was the best, but cut in pieces which were way too large... a general problems I noticed with most of the rolls. The spicy scallop was ok.. definitely had better. The uni was decent, not spectacluar, but definitely not bad. The one disaster was the toro/scallion, which we all agreed had too mushy a texture, otherwise everything else was good. Basically the kind of place we were looking for... good sushi, nice atmosphere, and reasonably priced. We were also able to walk in around 930 with a party of 7 and were seated right away.

              We ordered 10-12 rolls (there were 3 guys with pretty healthy appetites), a few pieces of sushi, 2-3 people had salads, 1 bottle of sake and a beer or 2 and the total per person included tip was $40. I think by far, the rolls were better than the sushi. Its the kind of place I'd go to again when looking to have a generally good time for a reasonable amount of money, nothing special but definitly nothing bad.

              Now I can't wait try Inase.

              Also killing some time before our friends could meet us we stopped by Sake Hana, 78th & 2nd. A good sake bar, especially for the UES, which seems generally deprived in that area. Atmosphere was great, comfortable and laid back and the bartender was pleasant. The sake selection was good, and the menu included a description of each sake and a map showing where they all come from, which I thought was nice, considering I'm still learning about various sakes. Are there other sake bars around the UES that I don't know about?