Takesushi, Midtown East
I haven't spent much money on Japanese cuisine recently since I make a lot of washoku at home, but since I've discovered Takesushi (fka On, fka Ichimura), I've enjoyed various aspects of what they have to offer. Although they do suffer from a slight identity crisis, it's forgivable, since they are serving some good food. As the name suggests, it is first of all, a sushi restaurant. The long counter seats about 15 comfortably, and with tables in the front and rear of the dining room for larger parties.
I was first tipped to Takesushi as they started to specialize in kushi-age or kushi-katsu. While I'd probably prefer a blue-collar kushi-katsu specialist like the ones in Osaka, Takesushi does have a cook who's quite the fry-master. The first visit was to sample some of the fried skewers, and some appetizers. We ended up staying for a while, and couldn't resist some sushi, especially the hikari-mono (silvery fish) sushi, like saba or aji that they had from Japan. I remembered liking the hikari-mono I had when the restaurant was Ichimura, and the flavors hadn't changed much. The shime-saba was very lightly vinegared, and had a wondrous texture. The aji was also quite good.
As we were leaving, the owner thanked us for stopping in and handed us a giftbag, with a castella cake from Fukusaya, the famous cake shop in Nagasaki. Hmmm. I've always wanted to try a Fukusaya cake since this is the ground zero of Japan's favorite Castella cake (the shop dates from 1624 when the Portuguese first introduced the cake to Japan). Nice touch.
Fast forward a bit to another visit for their kaiseki course dinner for $70. One of the reasons I wanted to try this menu was first for the bargain price, as well as my impressions from the previous visit after tasting one of their nimono (simmered) appetizers. As I've described in some of my posts on restaurants in Japan, nimono is at the same time one of the simplest, yet very difficult techniques to master in Japanese cooking as it takes quite a bit of restraint or forethought in preparing. Nimono isn't something you can taste while cooking and make adjustments to, since it all begins fairly subtly. One has to anticipate the flavor of the dish as the liquids reduce to almost nothing, so if you start with too much soy sauce, dashi or sake or what have you, it'll result in something too salty or too concentrated. But the nimono at Takesushi had the flavor that I've always wanted to approach when I cook. It's pretty clear that an experienced hand is behind the cooking at Takesushi. And it was true with the kaiseki menu. While the portions were on the small side, each cooked dish provided a nice balance of flavors. The nimono with daikon, kabocha were indicative of this. The chawanmushi with uni was also quite nice. The bamboo shoots came straight from Kyushu and were the sweetest of specimen that I've had. I'm forgetting some of the other courses, but they were all well prepared and executed. However, we still had room for some sushi after the kaiseki courses ended. We were told that they have seki-saba from Kyushu. I was a bit surprised since this isn't something you find easily. Seki-saba is caught in the inland sea between Kyushu and Shikoku, and supply some to Tokyo's Tsukiji market, but doesn't go far beyond that, so this was a treat. Seki-saba is also served raw (without marinating like you would with other kinds of saba). Delicious. I also had to have the shime-saba (the marinated version) again, and that still hit the spot.
My dining companion and I got to know the itamae in our two visits and he revealed to us that they get a lot of their ingredients from a source straight from Kyushu, so they even bypass Tsukiji. That also explains the Fukusaya cake, and the bamboo shoots in the kaiseki course. On this night, we were given another giftbag of Kyushu natto (unfrozen, I want to say "raw" natto, but I don't think that's the right description).
Takesushi is trying to be many things, a kushi-katsu specialist, a sushi bar, a take-out shop for the locals, and since Ichimura left, they've been trying to dismantle the high-end pieces of their menu, but no doubt there's some good cooking going on in there. All the itamae are seasoned veterans, slightly jaded, and expressionless, unless you get to know them a little. I'm happy to have them as an old reliable. This is not a gastronomic temple, or a sushi place to be revered on the levels of Yasuda or Kuruma, but a good mid-level place flying under the radar. On the nights I was there, the expat ratio seemed to be in the 85% range, with plenty of seats still to fill.
I recently had the $35 matsutake kaiseki meal at Takesushi. First off, it's a great bargain. The meal first came with a daily amuse (otoshi). First course is a modest sashimi plate. I enjoyed the tai (snapper). Second course is a matsutake dobinmushi. Third is a matsutake chawanmushi. Fourth course is grilled matsutake. Fifth is a matsutake gohan (steamed seasoned rice with matsutake) served along with a tsukemono (pickle) of daikon seasoned with yuzu, and sixth is a matsutake suimono (clear soup). Final course is a fruit dessert. This was a really enjoyable course, and worth the $35. I added a couple extra pieces of sushi, especially the seki saba from Kyushu.
I'm not sure that this matsutake course dinner is offered to their regular non-Japanese clientele, since the only way I saw it was on an insert in their Japanese menu, so you might have to specifically ask for it. Also, it seems to be offered for a very short period during the matsutake season, so you'll miss it if you don't act soon. I'm certainly glad I got my fill of matsutake before the season ends.
1026 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10022
Ironically, we went to Takesushi tonite, for the first time. We were impressed.
Great sushi, good menu with some different options, experienced sushi chefs and friendly prompt service. The Kushi options were excellent, we had some terrific pork, shrimp and fried veggies. There is a "Kush chef" in the back and he obviously knows what he is doing. The Kushi was all crisp, not oily and very tasty. Similar batter as to that found on good Tonkatsu. Served with two sauces, a tartar type sauce and a darker sauce. We also had an excellent agadashi eggplant. They also have a short "specials" menu, and an Omakase option.
The spot is relatively small, and I was told they are still doing a bigger lunch business, as compared to dinner. Takesushi is a very welcome addition to the area and we will be back.