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Jewel Bako

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Living near the east village, we have been trying different sushi restaurants the last few years. Some were good, some were just OK, some were great and then closed. Recently, we started going to Jewel Bako, and I was blown away. The quality of the fish was fantastic, literally melt in your mouth sashimi. The service was the nicest I've ever experienced - ever. And the place has a lovely vibe.

I didn't post a review right away because sometimes you just luck out. But now, having gone several times the last couple months, they seem to be safely consistent. Tonight was a good example. We showed up pretty late, but they seated us, no problem. I have some food allergies, but they gave me no problem ordering a sushi entree and trading out any of the assorted items I am allergic to. (This has been a major issue with some of the places I've tried. Many won't substitute even for allergies, and if you eat sushi as frequently as we do, ala carte is not a good option from a cost standpoint.) The sushi took a few minutes to come, so in the meanwhile they brought an excellent complimentary appeteizer. And dessert was on the house. With that kind of treatment, I might be OK with sushi that was just very good. But this was EXCELLENT.

I would highly recommend, even if you are hiking from uptown.

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Jewel Bako
239 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Did you only order sashimi or did you have maki and nigiri as well? Friends who have gone in the past have said their rice isn't as good as it should be.

    25 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      We have had maki, as well as the sushi entree which also has rice, I have not noticed any issue with the rice. As InfoMofo mentions, Kanoyama is a similar price point. Besides, for the fact that service and decor are significantly better at JB, I liked the maki there better than at Kanoyama as well.

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      Kanoyama
      175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

      1. re: kathryn

        "Friends who have gone in the past have said their rice isn't as good as it should be "

        A couple of posters responded that they saw "no problems" or "no issues" with the rice. I guess that's one sort of perspective (though one that's completely alien to me): if food isn't over or under cooked, doesn't smell stinky, and doesn't have, like, a bug in it, hey, what's to complain about?

        Your reported observation, that the rice may not be AS GOOD AS IT SHOULD BE more reflects my perspective. I don't get excited when nothing's wrong. I get excited when there's magic; a whole that's vastly more delightful than the sum of its parts, inspiration, a very long walk up the curve of declining results, etc..

        Though this thread is short and unspecific, it perfectly nails this restaurant (where I ate last night for the first time). It was filled with people dining passionlessly yet without any apparent disappointment. Most of the fish (I ordered the big omakase, so I tried just about everything) was flat-tasting, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. Same with the knife work. Same with the rolls. Same with the cooked items. Same with the service. Everything sure looked shiny and nicely composed, though!

        It was all just fine. No "problems". No "Issues". And while there are an awful lot of Manhattanites willing to open their wallets wide for shiny, competent food, I deeply resented paying that tab. For the same price, I could have eaten ten inspiring meals of delicious food that would have elevated my mood and made me feel one with the world. Instead, I threw fistfuls of twenties at "no problems/no issues".

        And, yeah, the rice was totally ordinary.

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        Jewel Bako
        239 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

        1. re: Jim Leff

          Did you eat at the counter or at a table?

          1. re: Ricky

            Why do you ask?

            1. re: Jim Leff

              Usually there is a huge difference in quality between what is served at the tables and what is served at the counter with the head chef. Apprentice chefs usually prepare food for tables, in many instances they use the rice they prepared themselves in a different rice cooker. It is very noticeable at places such as 15 East, Kanoyama, Yasuda, and Kurumazushi.

              1. re: Ricky

                The shelf life of sushi is very short too so eating at the bar helps limit the loss in quality. Otherwise you get cold rice and warm fish.

                Sitting at the counter is always far superior to eating at a table for sushi. it is just not the same.

                1. re: Yaxpac

                  I'd prefer not to identify myself to the restaurant with too many details. But suffice to say, I'm quite sure none of those negatives were factors in my meal.

                  And even if they were, the degree of dullness would still have been wide enough to deem this a venue of shiny competence, pleasurable for those whose idea of a great meal is one presenting no issues and no problems.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    Jewel Bako does not serve, ever, a "great meal" by any standards. Perhaps your expectations were too high. It has not been good for a long time.

                    And I don't think that saying whether or not you were at the bar or a table is an identifying detail.

                    1. re: gutsofsteel

                      ________
                      "Perhaps your expectations were too high"
                      --------------

                      My expectation is ALWAYS for a great meal.

                      ________
                      "It has not been good for a long time"
                      --------------

                      It might have been helpful if you'd expressed this opinion before I spent the $180, rather than after. An ounce of prevention's worth a pound of chiding.

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        I believe this opinion about Jewel Bako has been expressed many times by many people here on CH.

                        I generally try to keep my expectations in line with what I know about a restaurant from those with whom my tastes align.

                        Had you read those opinions I mention about Jewel Bako, you might have lowered your expectations or chosen not to go there. That's what makes CH worth coming to!

                        For example your review above of Jewel Bako will probably make folks NOT expect a great meal - isn't that the point?

                        1. re: gutsofsteel

                          i agree w/ guts. A great many chowhounds, including myself, left Jewel Bako and went with Masato-san to 15 East and posted about it here (and left Jack and Grace to stew in their own pretentious two-block empire, while we ate better food elsewhere)...i find it strange to think anyone would have high expections at JB at this point in time as it hasn't been talked of here as a top sushi place in a very very long time.

                          1. re: Simon

                            Yup. I should have read more widely. C'est la feed....

                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              Jim, have you been to 15 East?...think you would enjoy it a great deal...i recommend seating at the sushi bar only and chatting w/ Masato-san, and asking for an omakase which is sushi-bar only...i think it's a pretty special meal (3 kinds of uni, etc) and the wine-pairings are yummy too (although they can double the price of the meal)...

                              -----
                              15 East
                              15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

                              1. re: Simon

                                Perhaps after I lick my wounds and play a few extra trombone gigs....

          2. re: Jim Leff

            A Japanese expat friend of mine (and a sushi connoisseur who's been to all the top tier places) told me recently that she's been going to Jewel Bako recently for some outstanding sushi. However, she tells me there are some rules to follow, like going on a certain night, when a certain itamae is working. Though we discussed going to Jewel Bako together at some point, I didn't get a chance before leaving NYC, so I don't know any details of those rules.

            1. re: E Eto

              Idunno. The fish (and I had a very wide range) tasted flat. Much of it nearly tasteless. The pieces that provoked a reaction were the inherently stronger-flavored ones. The shrimp was, of course, sweet - but not as beautifully sweet as some shrimp I've recently had in less shiny joints. The uni was Santa Barbara uni, which is just inherently good, and though this wasn't a particularly good example, even mediocre uni is happy-making. They served it in sort of a cocktail in a shot glass with it (along with a tasteless hunk of scallop and, geez, what a nice surprise, more of their so-so sushi rice), and it made a good impression because, well, there was uni in it. But the salmon was typical. It was so dull, yet reasonably fresh-tasting and reasonably well cut. It made no greater impression on me than, like, bar mitzvah sushi.

              So I don't feel like a day or two of freshness here or there with the fish, or a better hand with the knife, would have made such a huge diff, when the sourcing is so consistently mediocre.

              Though, who knows, it could have taken a very recent dive, and been teetering closer to the edge of goodness a few weeks/months ago (so your friend's rules might have tipped it over that edge).

              1. re: Jim Leff

                Would love to hear where you've had beautifully sweet shrimp lately....always interested in that.

                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  Drunkenly persuaded to enter some awful trendy pretentious loud place where I had dire premonitions about the sushi, but the shrimp were brilliantly sweet and fresh, just like in Japan. It was so surprising, and I was so out of it, and so shocked by the price for a few tiny plates, that I didn't take a biz card.

                  I'm pretty sure I won't be able to remember where but if I do, I'll definitely post here.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    You don't think your high opinion of the shrimp might have been exaggerated by being drunk? It's not like our taste buds improve when impaired.

                    You can't even remember the name of the place.

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      "...not as beautifully sweet as some shrimp I've recently had in less shiny joints." You ate beautifully sweet shrimp in more than just this place in which you were so out of it you can't remember the name? Can you remember the name/s of the other joints?

                      1. re: gutsofsteel

                        i'm enjoying this sub-thread...i'm thinking we need a reality show called "Drunk Dining" where crews follow people and film what they consume...

                        i, for one, wish i could somehow go back in time to my 20's and prevent myself eating all the Two Boots slices i consumed after drinking at places like the Mars Bar...

                        1. re: Simon

                          I'm pretty sure I've never had a sober Papaya King dog

                          1. re: Simon

                            I miss Kiev. I also miss being young enough to eat pierogi at 3am.

                            1. re: Simon

                              I'm not a drinker, but something must have possessed me to eat at least weekly at Two Boots, and sometimes daily at Kiev. Perhaps I redeemed myself slightly by also having been a regular at Second Avenue Deli when it was still itself.

                            2. re: gutsofsteel

                              gutsofsteel, I'm more organized in my dining than most people, but, still, I'm not Rain Man, I'm Chowhound. So while there was only one drunken shrimp experience (and, linguafood, I trust my tastebuds even so, though you certainly neednt), but I unfortunately can't immediately cross-reference all such ingestion in the recent past.

                              My point is that the raw shrimp at Jewel Bako were decent, which means they were yummy, since, like uni, even "decent" raw shrimp is delicious. But I've had better at merely regular places. Not suggesting there's some poorly-remembered bastion of fabulous raw shrimp which people need to go out and find.....or that such a venue would be your only chance of exceeding the (decent) shrimp quality at Jewel Bako.

                              Hope that clarifies.

                2. I have had great meals at Jewel Bako, and I haven't found any problems with their rice, as kathryn worried. They do a fairly traditional set with some surprising touches of flair that are really nice.

                  I think the decor and service and the attention to detail is really outstanding for the price point. They don't have the problem of awkward seating, like some of Jack Lamb's other restaurants.

                  It is not top tier- there are better sushi restaurants in the city and you will pay accordingly for the difference. I greatly prefer it to other similarly priced sushi restaurants in the area, like Kanoyama.

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                  Jewel Bako
                  239 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

                  Kanoyama
                  175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                  1. i haven't been there since Masato-san left and went to 15 East years ago...i used to go there for Masato's sushi and for the wine-pairing option that Jack cleverly devised...but i found Grace's rude attitude and the pretention factor too much, so i left w/ the sushi chef...

                    If it's a good place currently i'd consider trying it again, but in the past i've just found it too icky a place when Grace is there...

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                    15 East
                    15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

                    1. I go to Jewel Bako often. I go to Kanoyama often and I go to 15 East often. The OR poster talks about Jewel Bako, so I think I will try to stick to that. The sushi chef, Yoshi, is very good. He was the sushi chef at Makimoto (( now jack's luxury oyster). He is a good guy and makes great anago, which he steams with the torch while the anago is covered with a banana leaf. I usually start with sashimi and move on to sushi. They do a good job. Octopus is better at 15 East. If the chef knows you like something special he will try to accomodate you. The service at Jewel Bako is excellent,even by Japanese standards. The quality of fish at Jewel Bako is very good. Sometimes they have a woman sushi chef , who is also terrific. The prices at Jewel Bako are much more reasonable than 15 East and Kanoyama ( omakase). The atmosphere at Jewel Bako is very good, comparable to 15 East. Kanoyama's atmosphere has improved with the addition of the back room for omikase with Nobu. Jack is always a pleasure to see at Jewel Bako. Grace is up at Harvest Supper in New Canaan, Ct. I like Grace a lot. Sorry Simon had a bad experience with her. Jewel Bako gets my thumbs up.