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May 23, 2009 06:49 PM

Top Sushi Spots vs. Mitsuwa

so, i just polished off $40 worth of sushi i got at Mitsuwa this afternoon. a tray of uni (west coast, not sure where), a nice size block of big-eye toro (probably 5 generous pieces worth), about 10 slices of tako (very tender) and some wild hamachi. i enjoyed it immensely, and frankly, it was a bit gluttonous.

i've been to ushi wakamaru and soto, but not any of the really high-end places. what am i missing? is the quality that much better? more specifically, i assume what the restaurants serve is of higher quality, but is the drop-off so much that an above-average sushi eater can discern the difference?

i know that the ambience and service are worth something, although i don't care much. perhaps more importantly, there's some value to the knife-work, the rice, the sequencing.

please educate me... i can't be the only one who has done the Mitsuwa run and is interested in the value poposition.

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  1. I think the quality of the fish and also rice are better at the nicer sushi restaurants such as Yasuda (I would say the fish has nicer texture and are very soft/buttery and the rice are nice and soft too.) compare with Sushi Buffets or Mitsuwa Market's sushi station. I think a similar food comparison would be steak houses. At finer steak houses, the meat / marbling is better so the steak tastes more tender and flavorful, while at cheaper steak houses, the meat is probably tougher and less flavorful. But after all, a steak is a steak (and a piece of sushi is a piece of sushi), so it's up to the customer to decide what's worth his/her money. I think the same thing applies to Cars and a lot of luxury goods too. The "nicer"/"more expensive/upscale" ones are usually better (or at least offer more options/amenities). At the end of the day, is it better at the "nicer" place(s)? Definitely, but I think different people may have different thoughts about whether it's worth it depending on their budget and spending habit... just my thought.

    1. How does tenzan compare along the spectrum of sushi in nyc? I had it last night as takeout. The fish was good but the rice wasn't and the rolls weren't "rolled" well. I'm new to the city and am still looking for a good place to order in/deliver sushi...

      3 Replies
      1. re: cups123

        i live on the UWS, and personally despise Tenzan... i never understood why it's so popular and mobbed when we walk by. i actually end up getting rolls / sushi from Sushi-go-go most of the time, only because with a 1 year old in tow, it's hard to go anywhere nicer and enjoy a slower meal. it's still mediocre and what finally compelled me to go to Mitsuwa and get my own fish.

        the fish i got from Mitsuwa (both quality and variety) is myriads better than the average neighborhood-type sushi place.

        1. re: FattyDumplin

          Mostly agreed--I'm not sure my feelings rise to the "despise" level, but I recently moved to the UES and ended up at Tenzan b/c of the outdoor tables and because Ichiro (which I had wanted to try) was closed. There was barely any rice sticking to the outside of the inside out rolls, and the rolls were otherwise falling apart when I tried to pick them up.

          1. re: Lucia

            Speaking of Ichi Ro-I stopped going there because they refuse to take down aerosol bathroom spray situated such that it sparys you from behind if you are sitting at sushi bar!! I asked them several times to remove cause its so disgusting to smell the spray of deodorizer while you are dining and they remove it but replace back as soon as I leave. Nonsense!! Enuf of that place.

            1694 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10128

      2. At the top quality sushi restaurants, the fish was not just flown in from Japan, but the chefs have the priviledges to select the best best portion / selections of the fish and seafood. What you have at Mitsuwa or second-tiered restaurants are what these chefs don't bother to select (leftover), which may be fine but definitely not considered the best quality. Also, a lot of the times, fish is cured / marinated before served as sushi, like hirame-kombujime (hirame marinated in kombu). This requires expertise of skilled sushi chef to do it right.

        Sushi isn't just about fish being fresh. I am frustrated sometimes when seeing comments that just judge a sushi restaurant by whether the fish is fresh or not. It's much more than that. It's how you slice the fish (the angle, the thickness, the size, the shape, the processing of say shellfish). There is also the rice (the type, the temperature, the vinegar level, etc), the skills of the chef to make the sushi (which can be another whole topic). Even the soy sauce, the gari, and the wasabi (fresh please) is a whole book of knowledge itself. Unless you have someone who is properly trained to make sushi in a sushi restauarnt, it will be impossible to creating sushi experience similar to what you have in a restaurant.

        By the way, the freshness of Mitsuwa's sashimi may be comparable to a mid-range sushi restauarnt (like the ones opened by non-Japanese chef), and that is given that you actually know how to choose the better quality fish at Mitsuwa. But it is in NO WAY comparable to top-quality sushi restaurants.

        14 Replies
        1. re: kobetobiko

          i was hoping you and some of the veteran sushi eaters on the boards would reply. very helpful response.

          1. re: FattyDumplin

            Hi FD,

            I hope I didn't come across as pretentious or something. But I do truly hope that people will start to appreciate eating sushi as a whole, and not just about fresh fish. Afterall, these skilled sushi chefs were trained 10,20, 30, 40 years (though these days some are just taught for a few months...sigh...), and just being about to provide fresh fish doesn't qualify a place as top sushi spot. Their efforts, preseverance, and respect to the traidtional sushi making art are often under-appreciated.

            Sorry I am talking too much again....

            1. re: kobetobiko

              not at all. I knew i was forgoing some of the key benefits, i.e. knife skills, seasoning, rice-making.

              i was more focused on the the sheer quality of say, the big-eye toro at Mitsuwa versus the top places, and you addressed that for me. i probably can't tell the difference, to be frank, but it's good to know.

              1. re: FattyDumplin

                If you were to taste them side by side you would be able to tell.

                A mediocore chef can ruin even the freshest fish. Skill at marination and preparation make a huge difference. But all things being equal fresher is better.

                I just got back from Tokyo and Fukuoka for the express reason of eating local fish. I went to Tsukiji for the tuna auction and to tour the facility. There are simply so many things that they don't send here or send and believe me the two or three day delay makes a difference- all other things being equal.

                1. re: sushiman

                  Tsukiji market is amazing and huge. Youll see so many grades of uni all from japan. When we eat here they say Santa barbara or Maine or japanese,,but so many grades ,, the lowest usually sent to France for cooking with. In any case, If you noticed the tuna auction you saw many quick frozen tuna put in the coffins,,, the days of shipping time here are unaffected by the time lapse,,, And They pay big bucks for the great giant bluefins,, fresh or frozen and noone can tell the difference in taste. But I do agree on the variety of fish in japan is tremendous and we do not see much of the fish here. Kanoyama has the largest variety here that ive seen of japanese fish,,, Tora Fugu is the fish to try in Japan, youll never get ther really real thing here in US

                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                    I had Fugu while in Hakata. I agree that tuna holds up well to modern freezing, but there are slight differences in texture between fresh and frozen.

                    1. re: sushiman

                      Since the age of fish has been mentioned a few times in this post, I thought it might be useful to mention the purposeful 'aging' of fish. I noticed that many if not all of the fish at Yasuda is more flavorful (ie fishy tasting), but in a very pleasant, delicious way. I have attributed that to proper 'aging' but have not seen or heard much about this since finding out that Yasuda does this on purpose.

                      1. re: dhs

                        Many fish need to be frozen by food safety law, in US. to kill parasites. Although big tuna isnt prone to parasites, I was always told refrigerate it under around 40 degrees for at least a day. Bonito the skin must be seared, another parasite killer. Some say the taste of tuna gets better with age, Ive only been told its for parasite reasons., but all good sushi chefs wait a day or more before serving tuna. Salmon , yellowtail, eel ,, all are pronte to parasites,,,, Only eat sushi from reputable places.

                        1. re: dhs

                          Many fish need to be frozen by food safety law, in US. to kill parasites. Although big tuna isnt prone to parasites, I was always told refrigerate it under around 40 degrees for at least a day. Bonito the skin must be seared, another parasite killer. Some say the taste of tuna gets better with age, Ive only been told its for parasite reasons., but all good sushi chefs wait a day or more before serving tuna. Salmon , small tuna, jackfish , snapper ,, all are prone to parasites,,,, Only eat sushi from reputable places.
                          Also, as Kobetobiko says ,,, sushi isnt just about the fish ,,its about the chef , who in Japan must train for 7 years, learn everything there is to know about fish,, I enjoy watching a good sushi chef at work, almost as much as i like eating the sushi,,, I hate seeing a guy who was the delivery man one week at a local sushi place , becoming the sushi chef the folloiwing week ,,, this actually has occurrred in a local Tribeca sushi place. Sushi preparation is an art, that should be appreciated. This includes the choice of fish, the prep, the slicking , the rice of course, and the way they wrap the fish at closing time. Most sushi restaurants do not have trained chefs.. I know a sushi chef at a famous japanese restuarant who was a hairdresser in japan and learned making sushi here in NY . I do know that the chef at 15 East is a very skilled , trained in japan chef. Someone who is a joy to watch. His master is even more skilled than him , but you have to go to an out of the way area on the outskirts of tokyo to find him

            2. re: kobetobiko

              technically speaking, no such thing as "fresh" In US all fish served raw (like for sushi) has to be previously frozen in order to ensure that all parasites are dead. The only exception is tuna. You can serve raw tuna that wasn't frozen because it's not prone to parasites.

              1. re: Buddha Belly

                I thought this only applied to salmon? And maybe only certain types of salmon?

              2. re: kobetobiko

                Dear Kobetobiko,
                I love your comment!