New York is a better city for sushi that it was a decade ago. This is indisputable. Omakase spots, where nigiri is served correctly, one piece at a time, have gone from the exception to the norm. But a spate of breathtakingly expensive openings (and price hikes) also drive home a more unfortunate reality: This vaunted style of Japanese gastronomy is becoming more inaccessible to the novice gourmand.
The latest example is Eiji Ichimura, who ran one of the city’s best raw fish counters at Brushstroke in Tribeca — famous for stacking two or even three slices of fatty tuna atop a single mound of rice — will charge $300 per person when he opens his own space, just a few blocks away, this evening at 69 Leonard St. Service is included.
Ichimura, as of last month, charged $195, or $234 after tip. Under new pricing with gratuities no longer accepted, a couple will spend over $132 more than they would have a month ago.
Why did the re-launched, two Michelin-starred Ichimura raise its price? “This will be a more fully realized vision of what Chef Ichimura has always wanted to do if he had his own sushi bar,” Jay Strell, spokesperson for the restaurant, told Eater. He added that the omakase will take longer than it did previously, and that the menu will highlight Ichimura’s “exploration of fish aging,” more deeply.
As the case was at the original location, Ichimura serves every diner himself. “I liken it to going to Broadway and sitting in front of Stephen Sondheim and watching him create his art,” Strell said. At other ambitious sushi spots, including the three Michelin-starred Masa, it’s not uncommon for diners to be seated in front of an understudy chef until they become regulars.
The restaurant will have ten seats, compared with Brushstroke’s twelve, all of which are located at a brown quartz bar. Ichimura and his business partner, Idan Elkon, want the restaurant to feel “reminiscent of the type of small sushi bars you would find in Tokyo post-World War II ,but with some modern touches.”
Dinner will involve zensai (a starter course), soup, sashimi, approximately 16 pieces of sushi, dessert. “A high-end tea supplement” will debut soon, though traditional tea will be included in the meal.
One can’t necessarily criticize one of New York’s most heralded practitioners of Japanese cuisine for raising his prices in exchange for a better experience, as it’s billed. But it’s hard not to mourn the following reality: Affordable omakase spots haven’t opened at the breakneck pace as those that cater to the wealthiest gastronomes.
Over the past two years, five New York sushi restaurants have opened where dinner for two can easily exceed $600: Ginza Onodera, Akashi, Zo, O Ya (which offers a la carte sushi as well), and the new Ichimura. And last spring, Masa raised it prices so high dinner for two now costs $1,200 before sake.
If the latest crop of high-end sushi temples intends to stick around for the long haul – you can reserve a seat at most of the aforementioned venues with a few day’s notice or less – that crew might want to take a hard look at the two hour waits at Sugarfish, which espouses a more affordable approach to the omakase experience. When the next recession hits, how many New Yorkers will be ready to spend nearly $1,000 on sushi?