Enter through the discreet entrance so prized by great Japanese restaurants into the shabby, miniscule lobby of an office building and take the rickety elevator to the 2nd floor, and you will discover Manhattan's finest traditional sushi restaurant. (Although we rank Masa higher, it dabbles in unconventional combinations and ingredients and is not properly characterized as traditional). Fittingly, it is the most expensive sushi restaurant in NYC apart from Masa. Toshihiro Uezu opened it in 1977, long before sushi became the broadly-accepted phenomenon it is today and continues on in his unobtrusive way to serve the second best sushi in town largely unbeknownst to the masses of Manhattan sushi connoisseurs.
The simple but sophisticated interior is also highly traditional, with a red and black lacquered sushi bar, a separate dining area with only four tables, wood accents and hanging flowers, and a private tatami room. The refreshingly basic menu offers only a few prix fixe choices (when we first called to make a reservation, Mr. Uezu, sounding skeptical, intoned "you know we just serve sushi and sashimi, right?"), all of which are effectively the same just with different proportions of sashimi versus sushi and different fish offered, though you can also order a la carte. The ideal way to experience Kurumazushi is of course the Omakase, however the Kurumazushi Dinner will suffice as a more cost-conscious substitute.
The meal begins with a distinguished bowl of miso soup, then an appetizer, such as fatty tuna tartare with scallions. You will then be served a selection of sashimi, then a selection of sushi, then one of the finest green tea ice creams available anywhere. Mr. Uezu's rice is expertly prepared, noticeably better than at a number of other first-rate sushi restaurants in the city, and he grates arrestingly subtle fresh wasabi as an accompaniment. The standouts are beautiful pink rectangles of very fatty tuna and a devastatingly good smoked salmon, a fish that is rarely ordered and rarely rises to these heights. Also very fine are the sea scallop, kampachi, fluke, freshwater eel, sea urchin, yellowtail, Japanese red snapper and shima aji. Salmon roe is an acquired taste, but if you care for it, it is very, very good here.
Frankly, the service could use an upgrade for a restaurant at this price point, but it is perhaps part and parcel with the casual, low-key atmosphere (TV news on, chef literally shouting arigato at departing diners, etc.) It is in direct contrast to the polished scene that is Sushi Yasuda (not to mention ultra-chic restaurants like BondSt and Koi), but there is a place for both types in NYC. And it also lends authenticity - Kurumazushi isn't trying to be anything other than what it is, a highly traditional Japanese restaurant reminiscent of something you might find in Tokyo that serves the finest, freshest sushi available. Indeed, it takes its name from the restaurant in the Shinbashi district not far from the Tsukiji Fish Market that first taught Toshihiro Uezu his trade.
7 E. 47th St.
New York (nr. Fifth Ave.)
212-317-2802 Mon-Sun, 11:30am-2:00pm, 5:30pm-10:00pm
- Mr. Uezu, Chef