Category Archives: Contemporary Fusion

Sushi Samba

I ate at Sushi Samba for the first time 15 years ago when I first visited NYC as a student. I believe it was located more Uptown then, and it happened to be my first exposure to Japanese-fusion food outside of Japan. I was introduced to this restaurant through one of my father’s friends who was a Japanese businessman working in Manhattan at the time. I was amazed at the creativity and different ingredients that were being used for sushi. Things like beef tataki, avocado, quinoa, jalapeno and cilantro were all new to me as an ingredient of sushi. In fact, my father’s friend said “this is not a sushi restaurant, and I don’t think it will survive”. Because it was so different to what I was familiar with in Japan, I found it difficult to really consider it sushi, but I really enjoyed the food and uniqueness of it.

Fast forward to recently when I came across Sushi Samba in the West Village. I had a flashback to my grad school days and remembered how my dad’s friend predicted this fusion-style sushi (and this particular restaurant) would not last. And clearly he was wrong. I’m sure it has survived because it offers an interesting and unique selection of sushi, has Japanese-style quality, and seems to always offer something new and exciting. I have since introduced Sushi Samba to Japanese friends new to NYC and it is fun to see that they have the same reaction that I did nearly 20 years ago!

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In fact, in one summer weekend, I took my friends from Japan to Sushi Samba. We ordered a mix of lots of plates to share at our friendly server recommendation and were thrilled with what we tried. Particularly we enjoyed 4 rolls from Samba Rolls choice – Samba 7 (lobster with lemongrass, tuna, cucumber, creamy sesame, aji panca), Neo Tokyo (bigeye tuna, tempura flake, aji panca), Umami (American wagyu beef, shrimp tempura, avocado, truffle oil) and KARI KARI (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp, eel, crab meat, crispy fried rice, kabayaki sauce, wasabi aioli). All my friends were amazed by the fun spin on Japanese cuisine by mixing it with Peruvian and Brazilian flavor.

http://sushisamba.com

Price: $10+ for a roll set

Neighborhood: West Village

Dress code: High-end Casual

Takeout: yes

 

Aya

Aya is a tapas restaurant/shochu bar located on a busy corner in Midtown East. Set in a small, cozy space, I would say this is a great hideaway tucked in the city. Originally I was invited to Aya by a Japanese organization in NYC, and I found that the menu was creative and very similar to Italian-Japanese fusion restaurants I used to enjoy in Tokyo.

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Luckily enough, I have an Italian-American friend who works a block away from the restaurant and I asked her to join me. She was not even aware that this was a location that served nice tapas. We started with Petit Caprese (Small Mozzarella Balls, Cherry Tomatoes, and Basil), shochu mussels (steamed mussels with “Kawabe” rice shochu), Russian potato salad, and one of their best sellers: tori karaage, or Japanese style fried chicken. The bar offers a variety of sake and shochu that compliment these tasty and unique tapas. We ordered Kurokirishima, which was a great pairing to all of the appetizers. We followed with main entrees of steak on garlic rice and spaghetti alla carbonara. The steak was a hanger steak over pan-fried garlic buttered rice – tender, flavorful, and pre-sliced for easy consumption. The meat had a slightly crispy (almost charred) outside and a perfectly medium-cooked center. Oishii and highly recommended! The carbonara was equally delicious. We wanted to order other entrees but were too stuffed to even contemplate reading the dessert menu. We both agreed to plan for a return visit in order to try other things.

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Two weeks after this dinner I was fortunate enough to visit for lunch. Several colleagues were looking for a nice, quiet place to have a reasonably priced lunch and I immediately thought of Aya. And even though the restaurant does not have a huge space, there are three sections that can accommodate small groups: the entrance area which almost feels like a small outdoor patio with a single table, the bar/lounge area (the “lounge” area is a cozy space with a low table and ottoman-like chairs), and a main dining area in the back.

The lunch menu was more Japanese than the Japanese-Italian one I had previously for dinner. The choices were categorized by meat, fish, or noodles – details and prices are here, and it was challenging to decide which one to order as all sounded delicious. Most of the entrees also include a small salad and miso soup. I ordered the Wafu Hamburg, which a Japanese style hamburger steak topped with grated daikon (radish) and ponzu sauce. The meat was tender and easily “slicked” with chopsticks, and it appeared to be seared enough to keep the natural juices and flavor inside.

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The quality of the dishes at Aya are unparalleled in my opinion. Both lunch and dinner offer amazing menus, and one can expect to walk away very satisfied and wanting to return. This is one of my favorite restaurants in NYC!

http://www.aya-nyc.com

Price: $15-20 for lunch, and tapas start at $6 dinner

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Casual

Takeout: yes

BarMasa

Having a friend in Manhattan on a chilly Friday evening, I wanted to have a warm and cozy place to catch up. We ended up at Columbus Circle and found several nice restaurants in Time Warner Center complex. We opted for BarMasa where there was immediate seating (8:30 on a Friday night!) and were escorted to a small row of tables located behind translucent fabric draping. The simple, elegant atmosphere was very similar to that found throughout Japan.

The menu contained a number of appetizer and entrée options without being overly extensive (although somewhat geared to those who like seafood). We started with steamed chicken dumplings (gyoza) that were perfectly prepared followed by average, somewhat expensive sushi and rolls. Nabeyaki udon with shrimp tempura and fried garlic-beef rice were the main courses. The fried rice contained a reasonable portion of tender beef and fresh vegetables, and the noodles served in a traditional pot were perfect for a rainy evening. The portion size was perfect in that we both felt satisfied without being overly full. We did, however, opt out of dessert and settled for less expensive Brooklyn-baked options from the downstairs Whole Foods.

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Overall BarMasa is a great place for a quiet, comfortable atmosphere where one can catch up with friends or experience a first date. The interior mall location provides protection from the elements as well as an opportunity to window shop or stroll after eating a nice meal. This setting is appealing in NY’s typical cold and windy winter weather.

http://www.barmasanyc.com

Price: $300 for our selection (two adults)

Dinning alone: Slightly uncomfortable, but counter is available

Dress code: High-end casual

Neighborhood: Columbus Circle

 

Kobeyaki

I wanted to have Ramen so I stopped by Naruto at 3rd Avenue. It was super crowded with people even waiting outside on the street. My stomach was not in the mood to wait, so I gave up and explored other options (although I will be returning Naruto in the very near future). Just after crossing the corner of 86th and 3rd, I found Kobeyaki, a newly opened restaurant in the Upper East Side after Midtown and Chelsea. Their mission is to provide Japanese food in a causal setting, and I have often thought that NYC could offer something like that with a Tokyo feel. I was right.

While I was expecting a variation of a typical Japanese restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised when I found a hamburger selection on the menu. And while the kobe beef burger nearly tempted my taste buds, I eventually picked the teriyaki grilled beef bowl with vegetables instead. The beef, according to Kobeyaki’s website, is naturally raised without any growth hormones or antibiotics. It was juicy and tender and melted in my mouth. Definitely a delicious alternative to my original quest for Ramen.

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I also must admit that at first I thought the restaurant appeared to pre-make food like a number of other fast-casual dining chains, like Chipotle. Not the case. I noticed that each selection was made to order in the small kitchen – just like in Tokyo. Kobeyaki exceeded my expectations in its quality, price, and menu. I will definitely return and am already reconsidering that kobe beef burger with French fries. And for those who love Japanese beer, be sure to order a 60oz pitcher of cold Asahi to appease your thirst.

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http://kobeyaki.com

Price range: $8-$20

Dress code: Very casual

Dining alone: Very comfortable

Take out: Yes