I was looking for Japanese restaurants other than Sakagura and Soba Totto in Midtown for a new lunch option as every time I go these midtown Japanese restaurants, I usually see either colleagues or someone I know from the expatriate Japanese community. Also given that Sakagura and Soba Totto are widely recognized among midtown lunch seekers (and generally crowded), I wanted to find a hidden place with more of a quiet environment. Azusa was just that ― a hidden gem that perfectly fits my need ― and is located just two blocks from Grand Central Terminal.
The entrance and the bar area remind me of a Japanese ryotei in downtown in Tokyo. A ryotei is a type of luxurious traditional Japanese restaurant, and they are typically a place where high-level business or political meetings may occur discreetly. In fact, Azusa is the perfect example of a ryotei; it is not too large in size compared to other Japanese restaurants in the area ― which is perfect for a quiet setting ― and there is even a tatami room in the back where you can enjoy a completely private setting if needed.
Azusa has an amazing selection of seasonal sushi and offers a ’specials’ menu all of the time. I visited during the noon rush hour and had the daily special: bento box with rolls, salmon teriyaki, tori karaage (fried chicken), green salad, miso soup, pickles, and a small fruit cup for $17. Very reasonable price considering the both the quality and quantity of food I received. The meal arrived very quickly and the service was equally impressive. The friendly server continually refilled my hot green tea and water unprompted. Definitely a place I will visit again for lunch and perhaps dinner next time.
Price: $14-17 for lunch special
Dress code: Smart casual
Noise level: Quiet
Dining alone: Yes, a nice bar/counter is available
As I mentioned in my previous entry, here in NYC there has been a huge argument over a new NYC regulation that risks ruining a treasured culinary heritage of sushi. A potentially new requirement to wear gloves — “Food shall be prepared and served without bare hand contact unless the food will be heated to a minimum temperature”, says the code. In fact, the Health Department recently shut down a famous sushi restaurant partly because of violations of this provision. As a Japanese sushi lover who grew up on sushi prepared by the naked hand, I have to say that sushi chefs use their hands to make sure the sushi is fresh — with gloves they simply can not feel the texture or best part of the fish needed for the preparation.
2016 will be the year to fight this potential requirement. According to the Daily News article, the NYC Health Department has demonstrated reasonable flexibility on similar/related issues like this in the past, and I hope they will demonstrate good judgment with this issue as well. As a Japanese who has eaten sushi nearly all of my life, I can attest that nearly all Japanese people would be dead by now if the concerns of the NYC Heath Department were true. Fingers crossed that sushi chefs in NYC will prevail.
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! – Happy New Year 2016! I am eager to see what the Japanese food scene will look like in the new year and what new discoveries await! To start I would like to inform you of major news from Tokyo as well as a potential change for sushi masters in NYC. I will use my first blog entry of 2016 to talk about the Tsukiji Fish Market relocation later this year.
With the relocation, you most likely will not hear the name “Tsukiji” any more. The Tsukiji Fish Market opened in 1935 and has become one of Tokyo’s most popular spots for tourists to observe tuna auctions early each morning. In all, about ¥1.8 billion (or approximately $15.4 million) worth of fish, seafood and vegetables change hands each day at the market.
The Market has outgrown its current location and vast improvements to modernize the site would have been extremely costly while still having the limits of a relatively small location. From a tourist perspective, Toyosu is across the Sumida River in a location that is not walkable from Ginza, and hence much less accessible. But relocating the market to a modern facility will provide an approximate 40% larger space with state-of-the-art refrigeration. This is a huge benefit as it will allow the Tsukiji quality to remain as it is today while taking advantage of the latest technology — so we all can eat the freshest seafood! And the workers will be able to remain focused on dealing with the fish rather than dodging curious camera-wielding tourists looking for the perfect photo opportunity. While the current location simply could not sustain the demand as popularity has grown over the years, it has an old-time atmosphere that I hope will not be forgotten as the new Toyosu location creates its own history.