Friday, November 30, 2012

Two Sides to Sushi of Gari's Omakase

Ok, so in short, I don't know what's up with Sushi of Gari. When four of us went for my birthday six months ago and ordered omakase, it was mind-blowing. When four of us went for omakase this past weekend, the only part that was memorable was the check. I can't figure out if it's a seasonal thing, or an off-night thing, or problem with my own too-high expectations. But the more I think about it, the more it really puzzles me.

Sushi of Gari is known for their innovative, decidedly anti-purist approach to sushi. Some signature combinations include common fish with nontraditional toppings, like tuna with a creamy tofu sauce (one of my favorites), red snapper with greens, pine nuts and lotus root (a perfectly respectable sushi blend), and salmon with tomato (not a fan of this one either time I went -- the tomato was too overpowering).  

On my first visit to Sushi of Gari, I didn't bring my camera. I just wanted to experience and enjoy. A wonderful parade of different types of raw fish arrived three at a time until we could stomach no more and had to say please, stop! We had the standard tuna and salmon, but there was also toro, and uni, and foie gras with daikon and balsamic. It was all so rich and decadent and heavenly. The rice was perfect, the fish was flawless, the freshness sang through. The service was wonderful. And it was Saturday night (though I admit, a little early on a Saturday night).

Fast forward to this past Sunday night. We arrive for our reservation on time but our table isn't ready yet. The hostess tells us we'll have to wait. Wait where? She gestures outside. Granted they have one of those winter areas around the door but still! This is a Michelin star rated restaurant, and we're cold and hungry and looking through the glass salivating at everyone's food like hungry orphanage children.

So we finally sit and -- of course -- order omakase for the table. Now when I order omakase and promise we all have no restrictions whatsoever, I expect to see a little bit of flair. A bit of imagination or adventurous sushi. Especially when the waitress asks, are you really okay with everything? Foie gras is okay? Yes, especially foie gras! Okay, and uni? Yes, we LOVE uni! And lobster and eel? Yes, bring all of it!

Friends, we didn't get to see any of these things. No foie, no uni, no lobster, no eel. Now I'd only be kinda peeved about this if she hadn't just spelled out all the things that they offer. But come on!

So not only are we getting a bunch of salmons and tunas and ho hum sushis, but in many cases the pieces we received were seared or cooked in some way. I want sushi, and I want it raw!

For the omakase this go-around we opted for a first course of sashimi. This included seared salmon, yellowtail with minced jalapeno, toro with daikon and ponzu, and an oyster. They were fine, but nothing really mind blowing. I liked the yellowtail best, and had to scrape half the ponzu sauce off the toro so it didn't overpower it too much. I'm not devout sushi purist, but I do need some balance.

Then the sushi. The first course was the aforementioned red snapper with taro, tuna with tofu, seared mackerel with mushrooms and something I don't remember with a plain glaze. Okay, game on. Time to get this omakase going.

Then a seared halibut with a quail egg. Again with the seared fish, but I'm not going to complain too much about this one because I actually really liked it.

Then the final course -- a seared toro, the salmon with tomato, and one or two others. 

The end.

I ordered a final round of uni for us all because I felt like I was still hungry and felt like we were just getting started. I had to twist some arms for the uni because everyone was generally unimpressed and ready to be done. We'd spent enough as it was.

The uni add-on arrives and it was okay, but it wasn't the sushi I was expecting, it was a roll. The jarring taste of hard seaweed doesn't set well with the wet, whisperlike uni. We were done.

The check knocked me back pretty hard, and we hadn't even ordered wine, because the list was not only terrible but incredibly overpriced.

I don't know what happened. Everyone says this is the best sushi in the city. Am I just a snob? Was my first experience just a dream? Am I being too hard on them? I don't know. But I do know that I'd head back to Sushi Azabu, Jewel Bako or Kanoyama before I come back to Sushi of Gari. It hurts me to say that, but there's too much out there. 

Maybe Karumazushi next year?

Sushi of Gari

402 E. 78th St


Julia Travis said...

I hate when stuff like that happens. How is Azabu? Have you every been to Yasuda?

It's time for us to get a meal!

Lauren said...

Azabu is one of my favorites. Still haven't been to Yasuda. Let's go for lunch?

Anonymous said...

I just came back from GARI - and I too got the "do you eat foie gras, do you eat uni..." speech --and then was not given uni and foie gras. That said, it was mainly delicious -- but truly picky sushi connoisseurs never really took to Gari and snubbed it in favor of Kuruma Zushi and Yasuda. Yasuda is in the same $$ ballpark but Yasuda himself bailed a couple of years ago and the quality of hte fish supposedly has declined or is at best variable, and Kuruma is $$$$$.