Now open in Murray Hill is Wokuni, a fish-focused restaurant straight from Japan. It’s the first U.S. restaurant from Tokyo Ichiban Foods, a Japanese restaurant group, food distributor, and aquafarm company, which means much of the fish is straight from a fish farm in Hirado City, Nagasaki.
At Tokyo Ichiban’s aquafarm, bluefin tuna and king yellowtail are raised in a gulf surrounded by mountains in conjunction with experts at aquafarm institutes in Japan who select their feed. Chef Kuniaki Yoshizawa says that being positioned there allows for minerals from the mountain to flow into the sea for the fish to swim.
Since the company raises the fish itself, it’s a more affordable product, resulting in platters with five pieces of sushi and 2 types of sashimi for an unusually low $25. Yoshizawa — whose nickname “Kuni” is inspiration for the restaurant’s name, along with “wo,” the Japanese word for fish — has created a menu that runs the gamut of Japanese food, from said sushi and sashimi to yakitori and tempura. The full menu is below.
“Our goal is to make fish and seafood a lot more accessible so people will want to come everyday,” Yoshizawa tells Eater through a translator. “We don’t want a Japanese seafood to be special-occasion or once-in-a lifetime restaurants.”
Wokuni is Tokyo Ichiban’s first attempt to break into the U.S. market — though the restaurant opened first, the ultimate goal is to export more of its farmed fish to the United States. By giving people the change to try the product here, the company hopes to grow its fish exports.
“We try to lower the price as much as possible so people will come more often and can try all types of fish and feel more familiar with the fish,” Yoshizawa says.
To get the true taste of the tuna and yellowtail, which Yoshizawa says has enough fat without being greasy or oily, he recommends trying them in sashimi form without any soy sauce or salt. Beyond the farmed fish, other types will be sourced locally and from Japan.
The dark, large restaurant also has a fish retail counter up front for people to make their own food at home on Japanese tableware also sold alongside. Wokuni is now open daily from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.