October 28, 2014
If you have ever spent time looking for the right sushi restaurant that you can call your home, Kura just may fit that bill. What separates a good sushi experience from a great one can be measured by a few factors. A neighborhood joint is ideal. The service should be friendly and not intrusive. The sushi has to be pristine. And oh yeah, there is the personality of the chef to consider.
Norihiro Ishizuka works his magic behind the sushi counter in his monk’s work robe, affable, surveying his hungry patrons, and delivering his brand of sushi with an inner smile of an enlightened chef. So happy am I to be in his presence, I almost forget that the sushi is the star, and certainly reason enough make Kura my goto place for omakase. Despite his small stature belies a grandiose personality, an admirable gut and popeye forearms, a man after my own heart that I can trust.
Kura is plain enough, wedged in on a busy St. Mark’s street where people are huddling in a phone booth for PDT, or just getting their drink on at Bua or St. Dymphna’s. Past the curtains is a wooden counter, a table in the corner and a long wall. It is minimalist without trying so hard, serious but playful, a workplace that suits Mr. Ishizuka well.
The fish is laid out in baskets in front of you free to ogle and anticipate. The rhythms of service match the soft jazz lofting throughout the room. Once you choose your omakase option $65, 85 or 110, the journey begins. Start with a sake or beer and sit back. The fish is a coming and you will pay attention to every sensation.
Mr. Ishizuka’s style reminds me of a fisherman who works Tsukiji market in Tokyo, a day laborer who has honed his craft, but still rough around the edges, a man who has found his métier and is at peace with the world.
The sushi starts subtly and then tidal waves. Chef may start with chu toro, salmon, and aji, then a stuffed squid intermezzo with rice, before unleashing orange, geoduck and surf clams, and then blowtorching saba and anago, transitioning to ikura and Santa Baraba uni. Many of the nigiri is sliced and then brushed with special sauce. The quality of the rice is quite good. Each bite brings joy, each direction enticing.
Lots of joking and small talk is exchanged over a short but good sake list, then aka dashi and a chu toro hand roll is served like a present, and one does indeed feel special.
If you are a lady it is as if you are receiving a bouquet of flowers in every piece. One night there were eleven men at the counter and I asked him if he liked it without the ladies. “No good,” he grimaced, letting his guard down for a half second, before going back to the business at hand.
Before I leave I usually shout, “Umai,” like a sumo wrestler. Chef Ishizuka points to my belly and rubs his own, proud that he has fed me well. I leave Kura not only well fed and deeply satisfied, but secure that I have found my NY sushi home.
PPP (Price per Person): $$$$