One of the most spectacular dinners I had in New York in May, was at New York Sushi Ko in Lower East Side. I wanted to invite Tina from Hungry Bird Eats and her husband for dinner in return for letting me crash at their place. Tina told me, she had heard a lot of great things about Sushi Ko, so we called to make a table reservation the same evening.
There are only 11 seats at Sushi Ko, and they were all fully booked, but they told us that if 21:30 wasn’t too late, they could squeeze us in for a late dinner. No problem, as we then had an excuse for dropping by for a pre-dinner cocktail at The Back Room, which was only a short walk away.
We might have been slightly tipsy upon arrival, but that was nothing compared to the group of diners who were just about to finish their sushi menu. My god, they were wasted! They were singing and cheering while attempting to give high five and knuckles to the chef, John Daley, who looked like he was struggling to hide his disapproval.
Speaking about the chef, he was a far cry from what you’d expect to find behind an upscale sushi counter. First of all he is American and almost twice as tall as most of his Japanese counterparts. He also has A LOT of tattoos, and on his knuckles the words “Fish” and “Rice” are printed in ink. Combined with his white shirt and his skinny black tie, his appearance was somewhere between scary and comical. Though, the way he handled the rice, the fish and the blowtorch (which he used for almost all the dishes) soon revealed that this guy knew what he was doing.
Another guy in a suit greeted us and showed us our seats at the counter. He asked where we’ve heard about the restaurant and Tina said that her boss had recommended her to check out the place a couple of years ago. “That’s funny” the guy said “we’ve only been in business for a year…” It got a bit awkward, so we ordered a bottle of sake and started wondering what other Sushi Ko restaurant Tina’s former boss might have been thinking about…
We ordered the omakase menu, which is a kind of chef’s choice menu usually available in upscale sushi restaurants and watched as John Daley started preparing the fish. The loud group left after a short while, and we were the only guests in the restaurant, so we asked him if it was ok to take some pictures and he nodded. Tough, as we pulled out the iPhones he looked a bit annoyed anyway, so we only snapped a few shots.
I’ve had uni (sea urchin roe) in Tokyo several times, but it had never really managed to rock my boat. I was therefore not overly pleased as John Daley started lining up one uni dish after another, but it turned out that this wasn’t any kind of uni. This was some of the finest uni from the Northern part of Japan (and later on we even had high grade uni from the US) and it was so fresh and delicious, I just couldn’t stop slurping away. For those of you, who’ve never had uni, imagine a really fresh, really tender oyster without the slightest hint of fishiness, and you pretty much got it.
In addition to all the different variations of uni (I think we had 7 different kinds, no kidding) we also had a beautiful tray of sashimi, a delicate miso soup and a large selection of perfect sushi. The highlight of the evening was when John Daley melted a piece of fatty tuna and let the fat drip down on the dish he prepared. Beautiful, innovative and extremely tasty!
John Daley politely told us the facts about the food, but otherwise, he didn’t seem too interested in engaging in any kind of conversation, and I guess the loud group of diners before us had sucked out most of his mojo for the night, which would have been understandable. Instead, the guy in the suit, which I mentioned earlier, made sure to keep the small talk going and did his best to create a nice atmosphere. Around halfway through the meal he brought out a bottle of Time Machine 1712 sake and offered us a complimentary glass. Don’t let the strange name fool you; this is really good stuff.
The dinner went on until after midnight and I don’t recall how many dishes we had, but each and every one of them was exquisite, like little pieces of edible art. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a sushi chef by his unconventional appearance and his “fish”/”rice” tattoos, but I must admit that I had expected to see more dramatic and untraditional creations. On the other hand, too much fusion and experimenting around would probably have shifted the attention away from the outstanding quality of fish, which would have been a shame.
The total bill for 3 omakase menus and drinks plus tips was almost 700USD, so I’ll probably never be a regular at New York Sushi Ko unless I win the lottery, but sitting at the counter, watching the chef in action was a great way to dine, and the sushi is among the best I’ve ever had outside Japan. If you’re in New York City and want to splurge on a truly unique dining experience, I can therefore only recommend that you book a table at New York Sushi Ko.