Sugiyama is one of the original great Kaiseki restaurants in NYC, a list that now includes Brushstroke, Kyo Ya, Rosanjin and Nadaman Hakubai. The authentic (and quite underrated) restaurant is characterized by subtlety and purity of flavor, beautiful presentations and an elegant yet informal atmosphere. It is also run by some of the most genuinely warm and nice people in the business, and their bonhomie is infectious. The simple interior is composed of modern lines, a sushi counter that faces an open kitchen and, most arrestingly, an almost sculpturesque apparatus of twisting, spiraling branches on which hang tiny wooden lanterns that stretches up to and then along the ceiling. The atmosphere is serene, with wooden dividers between some tables enhancing the sense of privacy and, somewhat surprisingly, light jazz playing in the background.
The core of Kaiseki, an ancient art form that is the Japanese counterpart to Western haute cuisine, is balance – of flavors, textures, colors, aromas, temperatures. It originated in the Zen monasteries of ancient Kyoto, evolved to an accompaniment to the Japanese tea ceremonies served at ryokan and eventually to the elaborately choreographed multicourse tasting menus that were served to Kyoto’s emperors. Kaiseki meals typically involve 7-9 seasonal courses and follow a highly ritualized progression involving an appetizer, a lidded dish (typically, a clear soup), sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course. They are always served on elaborate, beautiful servingware meant to complement the visual beauty of the intricately composed dishes. There are a number of tasting menu options at Sugiyama, the best of which are the 8-course Modern Kaiseki Dinner and the and the 6-Course Kaiseki, but the core dishes don’t change especially often and there is some overlap among the tasting menus.
A meal typically begins with homemade tofu and ankimo (monkfish liver), which is topped with chives, shaved radish, a tiny lemon wedge and served in a tart ponzu sauce with a wooden spoon. It is soft, creamy, rich and decadent. Although Sugiyama’s sashimi and sushi is not on par with the finest sushi restaurants in NYC, it is fresh and the quality of the uni and toro is particularly noteworthy. Most progressions follow with the option of seafood or tenderloin cooked over a hot stone that is brought to your table. The final savory course is always a trio of miso soup, Japanese pickles and grilled fish and sticky rice inside a Hobak leaf. The meal concludes with a refreshing grapefruit wine jelly draped in cream whose richness beautifully offsets the acidity. The flavors at Sugiyama are always clean and simple, particularly in items such as the oshitashi or the clear soup with fishball. But as at Nadaman Hakubai and other authentic Kaiseki restaurants in NYC, there will be some concepts foreign to the American palette, to which Mr. Sugiyama makes very few concessions. However, in return you are granted the rare opportunity to experience in unalloyed form the unique artistry of the Kaiseki tradition at the most affordable prices in the city.
251 W. 55th St.
New York (nr. Broadway)
(212) 956-0670 Tue-Sat, 5:30pm-11:45pm;
- Nao Sugiyama, Chef
- Best Value
- BYOB Corkage: $15
- Tasting Menu 5 Course Dinner: $58 Authentic Course Dinner: $65 8 Course Modern Kaiseki Dinner: $79 6 Course Kaiseki: $98 6 Course Kaiseki with Wagyu: $165 8 Course Modern Kaiseki: $136 8 Course Modern Kaiseki with Wagyu: $198 Omakase Kaiseki: MP Vegetarian Kaiseki: $58