I am back home now after my trip to New York. Work demands, the quite unbearable heat (I am just very wimpy when it comes to hot, steamy summer weather) and an air-conditioning induced summer cold that hit on Saturday afternoon and is still with me, prevented me from ticking off all of the food-related agenda items I had. I did get to do quite a few things though, and I'll be writing them up here in the next few days.
I think that I may have found my new NYC sushi home though - something that's been high on my New York-Food Priority List for some time. I say "may have" since I did not get to try all of the places on my list of new-to-me sushi restaurants to try. Still, I liked this place well enough to go back twice in a week, and would go back again next time I'm in New York for sure.
And so, the Just Hungry 2006 favorite sushi restaurant in NYC is... (drumroll)...Sushi Seki.
It's ironic that Sushi Seki would be my pick, because I really liked the previous sushi restaurant that occupied the premises too, Sushi Hatsu. Sushi Hatsu closed about 5 years ago, when the owners retired. As far as I know, Sushi Seki is in no way related to Sushi Hatsu, although they are also open until 3 AM. The minimalist interior is almost unchanged except for a brown-beige paint job. This is not a place to go and ooh and aah at the decor, though it's all impeccably clean and tasteful and all that. What more do you want from a sushi place? To my way of thinking, going for great sushi is sort of like going for a great steak; the raw ingredients are pricey enough, so you don't want to be paying extra for stuff like fancy decor. Therefore, Sushi Seki works as well for me as Peter Luger does for steak. (However, the Sushi Seki waitpersons are cute, young and smile a lot.)
Sushi Hatsu was a really traditional, old-school edo-mae (Tokyo-style) sushi place. Sushi Seki on the other hand is not totally traditional.
If can see enough of the photo of their Sushi Special For Two, taken in very dimly lit conditions, you will things like tomato sushi and grilled egglant sushi. The maguro has (gasp!) mayo on it! As a matter of fact, most of the sushi in the Special were already flavored in some way so that no dip in soy sauce is needed. The non-traditional sushi was done very well though, acceptable even for a traditionalist like me - though, your really die-hard traditionalist Japanese relatives may object. The shari (sushi rice) is flavored just right for me, unlike the rather salty shari of Sushi Yasuda. The size of each sushi piece is just right too; not tiny like Sushi Yasuda, and not oversized and unwieldly like Tomoe Sushi.
The price - well, it's not cheap, but really good sushi is never cheap simply because good raw fish is expensive. You can of course save money by not eating at the counter, and not ordering omakase (chef's choice), but as any sushi afficionado know, omakase is the best way to go. Dinner for two at a table, ording the Special plus a couple of a la carte items was about $130 including drinks, tax and tip; omakase at the counter was about $220. Service here is super-efficient so you can even eat here when you are in a hurry to get somewhere else. It's certainly not the best sushi I've ever had but it's really very nice.
So there you have it. If you simply must stay downtown, Tomoe Sushi is fine (though the decor is still dingy and scruffy.) But if you can make it to the East 60s and you love sushi, Sushi Seki is really worth a try.
Sushi Seki, 1143 First Avenue, between 62nd and 63rd Streets. Tel 212-371-0238. Open for dinner only, 5:30pm to 3am. They do have a web site but it's a horrendous, useless Flash jobbie, so check out the menupages.com  page instead.