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Early Responders Weigh In on Japanese Newcomer Niko

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Last week saw the opening of Niko, a Japanese restaurant in the former Honmura An space in Soho. Some heavies are involved here, from Cobi Levy at the front of the house, to chefs James London and Marina Schulze's kitchen offerings, to finally, and perhaps most importantly, Yasuda alum Hiro Sawatari manning the sushi bar. While Hiro-san brings with him the fine experience of working with Chef Yasuda, Levy has the more recent experience of the Charles in his rearview mirror. So what do diners think? To the early word:

The Mostly Good News: Eat Big Apple had a great meal but there were some problems to be found - the wait staff and their working relationship with chef Hiro being one. "From the way Hiro-san works the knife, to the slick motions of grabbing the rice, dabbing the wasabi, and forming the nigiri sushi, this was food art in action. All the fluid motion of knife, fish and rice was however too often interrupted by his pen. After plating the sushi, he has to write down the types of each fish for the wait staff. If this was making me cringe, I can only imagine the frustration it brings a chef." It gets better once the food starts coming out.

"While I came primarily for sushi, the miso-cured salmon with sesame sauce was a revelation...We started with the more traditional varieties, including many Yasuda classics, such as the scallop with lemon zest and a dab of sea salt. The quality of the fish is top notch, his cuts are very precise and slightly larger than that of his former mentor. My only complaint for the first part of the sushi was the rice... the rice felt too moist and each grain was not as distinct in texture. Luckily as the meal went on, the rice dried out slightly, and the texture felt a lot more refined." [Eat Big Apple]

The "No Frills" News: From the tipline comes this less than enthusiastic appraisal. "Me and two other guests were at Niko on its grand opening night to the public, and I must say I wasn't impressed. First off, the place didn't even have a banner outside it's place to let people in the right way; I ended up going into a gym. The hostess was kind and honest, but Coby Levy was so uptight the way I didn't expect him to be. The service, food, was good but it was just the front of the house management that just gave the place a "creepy" feel to it. The food was good. No frills here. We ordered the beef tartare with quail eggs infused, and it was tasty, especially place upon the rice crackers they served it with. Sushi chef Hiro made us a sampling of his best concoction of seafood which included all of his freshest salmon, chu-toro, tuna, and white fish available; all of which was delicious. The Tokyo fried chicken was great, but just felt short of a "frill" we were looking for; it seemed that it was just dipped in a seasoned corn starch then fried." [ENY Tipline]

The "Great Food, Terrible Service" News: Kenji Alt of Serious Eats goes on night two and has some beefs: "I didn't go into Niko knowing who Cobi Levy was, and by the end of the meal, I was certain that he didn't know who I was. How? Because while certain guests were fawned on and chatted up, others, like myself, were made to feel like the riff-raff we are. There was no questioning who the friends of the house were and who were the confused souls who'd naïvely come in thinking they were good enough." But like others before have mentioned, it's the food that shines here. "Three types of yellowtail (Hamachi, horse mackerel, and Hawaiian Kanpachi) are all glisteningly fresh, displaying subtle variations in flavor and fat content. The best bite on the plate is the squid, which Sawatari tenderizes by scoring it into a microscopic cross hatch before briefly marinating in a sweet soy glaze and torching until it curls up like the crest of a wave. Crispy Maine Sweet Shrimp ($12) are deep fried in their tender, crackly shell and served with a pinch of sriracha-scented salt and lemon." [SENY]

The "Very Good" News: LauHound offers up something new in their review - no complaints about the service. "I read on yelp about service problems, but our service was pretty good. Our waiters did seem a little over stretched, but that’s likely growing pains from just opening. Cobi came by and talked to us for a while and he was a nice guy. Tokyo Fried Chicken: This was just chicken karaage. However, I thought this was quite good...Kanpachi (Yellowtail): This was from Japan. This was a good clean tasting piece of yellowtail, I liked it. Japanese Mackerel: This was from Japan. This was excellent, it had the nice oily-ness that good mackerel has, wasn’t overly fishy and had great flavor, one of my favorite pieces of the night...Overall, I thought the food was very good. Hopefully, they can fix some of the service problems that I read about on yelp..." [LauHound]

The "Depleted Inventory" News: Yelper Eddie H. and his five friends spent nearly two hours here and didn't get to order anything to eat. "Definitely off to a bad start at Niko. We had reservations at 10:15pm, went to the bar and waited in a very crowded room where every waiter/waitress in the place bumped into us on the way to the kitchen. Finally found a spot in the corner to get me and my five friends out of the way. The Maitre d' was very nice and accommodating, and gave us three plates of free apps (chicken, mushrooms, and peppers) while we were waiting for our table. They tasted decent. We were finally seated at 11:45pm (1 hour 30 minute wait is pretty bad, but not too unexpected for a new sushi restaurant in the village). When we sat down, the waitress said they were out of all sushi rolls, nigiri, and basically anything that needed rice. Yes, the sushi restaurant ran out of rice on a Saturday night. We were really bummed but decided to order some handmade tofu, some sake, and a few pieces of sashimi. Guess what? They were out of tofu and sake. We decided to leave without eating, and the waitress got us free tequila shots before going. Nice touch, but way too late. Hopefully they'll work some things out in the next few weeks. Everyone we talked to was nice, so maybe that'll help." [Yelp]

The Great News: Chowhound member foodwhisperer heaps some praise on the place. "I enjoyed the sushi at Niko tonite. Nice room, it's in the old Hanamura An which I loved. The fish was very fresh and well prepared. They have excellent kitchen dishes as well. From the kitchen the octopus is great. The crispy whole shrimp was terrific, and the fresh made cold tofu is also very good. The staff is very friendly. The fish selection will increase in the weeks to come. They just opened and there are kinks to get out. That is always the case. I will not be too critical here, and I will definitely return. Hiro-san and Nobu-san are excellent and skilled sushi chefs....I like the place, the people, and the food. I will return in a few weeks." [CH]

The Twitterific News: @WilliamTigertt tweets, "Beautiful service, but oddly geometric Niko. Like the Sushi, but feel like I'm in a Nadel painting." @mattdshane tweets, "mind blown by the food at niko tonight." @ArmaniExchange does their best to tweet the word out. "If you LOVE sushi as much as I do everyone should check out #Cobilevy new Sushi hot spot NIKO in SoHo, It is AMAZING!" [Twitter]

Niko

170 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012 Visit Website

Niko

170 Mercer St., New York, NY 10012

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