You won’t find any California rolls at Sasabune. The only menu at Kenji Takahashi’s tiny Upper East Side sushi spot is a sign that says “Trust Me.” CHOW.com contributing editor Pervaiz Shallwani filed the following report.
Sushi Sasabune looks like any neighborhood Japanese restaurant. Don’t be fooled. You’ll find no California rolls at this tiny Upper East Side sushi spot. The menu’s just a sign beyond the front door that says “Trust me.”
Here, chef Kenji Takahashi decides what you eat. It’s an omakase, or tasting menu of fresh seafood, the way Kenji wants you to eat it, with homemade sauces like ponzu and instructions on how to best enjoy each piece.
Kenji’s choices rarely miss, making this one of the best pure sushi experiences I have had in the city, and one that’s developed a cult following over the years.
Kenji trained at the famed Sushi Sasabune in Los Angeles for four years, before being allowed to use the name to open his own branch, under one condition: he must follow his mentor's teachings. This includes personally selecting almost every piece of fish he will serve.
Kenji starts before dawn with a trip to the Hunts Point Fish Market in the Bronx, beating the morning rush hour. At the market, he inspects each fish personally for freshness.
If it’s open, I prefer a seat at the counter, where each course is served directly by the chefs. Watch the theatrics with a carafe of the Daiginjo Fukukomachi sake.
The meal starts with a few appetizers, and then about 15 pieces of sushi. The selection can vary: tuna from Spain, red snapper from New Zealand and Spanish mackerel from Long Island. Each glistening sliver comes on a tiny mound of fresh, warm rice that is loosely packed and personally inspected by Kenji.
As the chef gets to know you, he’ll craft a selection he thinks you’ll like. It you say you’ll eat anything, you’ll be rewarded with personal favorites like buttery monkfish liver, sweet sea urchin and rich salmon roe.
At some point, they’ll ask if you’re still hungry. Say yes, and out comes more fish, which can quickly add up. For a top-notch sushi experience, the occasional splurge is worth it.
Sushi Sasabune is located at 401 East 73rd St., near First Avenue. For more dining recommendations, visit CHOW.com. Follow Pervaiz Shallwani on Twitter at @Pervaizistan.