Killer Omakase at Sushi Yasaka (West 72nd St)
Well, that was weird.
I needed to grab a bite with my friend Barry within walking range of Lincoln Center. Always a tough eating zone. I'd heard Sushi Yasaka (251 W 72nd; http://www.sushiyaska.com ) was pretty good, and suggested it, forgetting that Barry's seriously into sushi (he's been to all the best places in LA and Manhattan, including, recently, Sushi Nakazawa). He suggested we get omakase. I tried to explain that it's not that kind of place, that it's a good-for-the-nabe, good-value-for-the-money place to order rolls off a menu, not a serious bastion of formal sushi scholarship. But he insisted.
So we headed into this very Upper West Side-ish space, and back to the sushi bar where everything looked fine but pedestrian, and ordered the $45/person 12 piece omakase. And damned if it wasn't excellent.
No exotica at all, it's a pretty conservative line-up, though there's some interesting sourcing, e.g. cho toro from the Mediterranean. The latter was among the best I've ever had. Rather than fatty/unctuous, it could best be described as unfurling into viscous luxury. The uni was cloud-like and pure, though California-sourced so not as rich-flavored as I'm used to. He sauced it, which isn't something I've seen with uni before, but it worked. And salmon, which normally bores me, here was insanely light and tender - so much so that I at first suspected it was decaying before I noticed the flavor was immaculately fresh. I'm way too jaded to perk up at salmon, but I'm wondering where the hell they got that stuff from. I've never had salmon of that consistency before.
Rice is eyebrow-raisingly good (warm and low vinegar).
While the average was excellent, and the above-mentioned items really wailed, not everything was terrific. The shrimp were just ok (compared - quite unfairly, I know - to ones I've had in Japan), and the chef clobbered all their flavor with over-saucing, a problem which cropped up a couple of other times. His saucing, when it works, works like heaven. Citrusy notes, jalapeño notes, subtle application of course salt more often than not resulted in well-staged fireworks, but sometimes clobbered delicate fish. On the other hand, there are four chefs, and all seem to turn out radically different stuff. So your mileage may vary.
I can't say it was a night of sushi I'll never forget, but for $45, Jesus Christ, I don't know why we're not all living here. Barry enjoyed it better than Sushi Nakazawa at 3x the price.
They seem to take their tempura (including pumpkin!) seriously, and it looked good on plates going by. They offer a tempura "omakase" with a selection of tempura vegetables.
I go there quite often, and it's certainly very good for the neighborhood, but that' s not saying a lot. Gari, which is nearby, remains much better, albeit far more expensive. And with all due respect, having had Yasaka's omakase multiple times, I don't think it comes close to 15E, Yasuda, Azabu, or even Dojo or Ushiwakamaru. The quality of the fish is simply not in the same league, and the saucing is overdone, and repetitive, with little change from visit to visit.
Perfectly fine to have a difference of opinion (though some of your critique echoes mine while you appear to contradict).
But I'd never expect variation of omakase here. From the moment you walk in, it's clear this is not one of those places. If that factor disappointed you, that means you approached this place with the exact opposite mind frame we did, which explains your disappointment (as well as our delight!)
Omakase at the bar is the way to go, but you were fortunate if you were able to walk in and get seats at the bar. The place can be crowded and noisy, and the quality of the service and the food declines when it is.
Still, I live 2 blocks away... it has the price and convenience of a "in the nabe" place... and fish a few leagues up.... If I compare to 15 East it is a few down... I walk in myself sometimes and am quite pleased, I would not "drop into" the top places to eat alone...
Glad you enjoyed. I live above Yasaka and consider myself blessed. Wife and I spent $55 for takeout last night and had a small feast of deliciousness. Easily the best sushi I've had at such a moderate price point.
As a side note, even the $4 garden salad is amazing - huge portion of exotic farmers' market greens with vibrant veggies and a distinctive yuzu dressing.
The great thing has been seeing it become popular - we moved in right when it opened about two years ago, and the staff was basically despondent the first few months because of the slow business, and now, you're lucky if you can get a table without waiting on a Tuesday night.