Longtime New Yorkers know the importance of the 30-year old Sushi Zen — the pioneer in serving raw fish that closed last year. Owner Toshio Suzuki is a New York sushi legend, having trained acclaimed chefs like Masaharu Morimoto and one of the few people in New York to offer fugu, the deadly pufferfish. Now he’s back, with his son Yuta, opening Suzuki at 114 West 47th Street in Midtown by mid-March.
The new Suzuki encompasses three separate dining venues plus a private dining room, all linked by a maze of hallways in what had been an office space. There’s Satsuki, a 10-seat omakase sushi bar; Three Pillars, a cocktail, wine, and sake bar flanked by low-slung tables where customers can also order snacky izakaya-style bites to balance the booze; and finally Suzuki, the namesake, a 66-seat (56 in the dining area and a ten-seat private room) set-menu kaiseki restaurant led by executive chef Takashi Yamamoto which aims to offer a traditional taste of Japanese haute cuisine. Once a chef for Consulate General of Japan in New York, Yamamoto was the executive kitchen chef (not the sushi chef) at Sushi Zen. Before he moved to the U.S., he worked at Kurumaya in Tokyo.
How did Suzuki come to be? When Sushi Zen's lease matured last year, owner Toshio decided he was tired of running operations, but told his son Yuta, "Look, I don't want to run the business, if you're going to run the business, you're going to have to make your own. And if you make your own, I'll be your sushi chef!" Embracing the challenge, Yuta found a space and built a sushi bar fit to his father's ideals: a 10-seater presided over by two chefs, where only the best cuts of each fish, 30 percent at most, end up as nigiri.
The remaining 70 percent of fish is passed over to Suzuki the restaurant, where Yamamoto will incorporate the excess proteins into cooked kaiseki dishes. "For Yamamoto it's a plus because he gets to use sushi-grade fish and I don't have to worry about waste," says Yuta.
Both Satsuki and Three Pillars are on track to debut on March 15, pending any last minute delays, with Suzuki to open about a month later.
Aiming to offer a more high-end, quality-minded omakase than Zen, Satsuki's opening omakase will be priced at $250. As promised, master Suzuki will head up the bar, with seven year Zen vet Kentaro Sawada beside him. There, they'll slice seasonal fish shipped from Tsukiji: expect 12 piece of nigiri, one hand roll, cherry stone clam soup, plus tea and dessert. While that's the initial plan, they'll eventually roll out a lower-priced early theatre omakase designed for those with time constraints, plus another longer option geared to diners looking for an extended, perhaps more uni-rich adventure.
Some might wonder how dining at Satsuki will vary from the old Zen, a once stalwart in the New York sushi game and a pioneer in introducing the city to sushi bar dining. In the past, "... the chefs needed to focus on the [table] diners' orders, as well as the guests in front of them, so imagine the chefs multi-tasking," says Yuta. "Now it's a 10-top, where we can really focus on quality, saturate on quality, actually." That plus higher-quality fish from Tsukiji, a revamped rice seasoning recipe (the secret is a blend of vinegars, one of which is umeboshi, or pickled plum), and even higher-grade nori.
German-born Alex Ott is the bar honcho at Three Pillars, and has a resume that includes head bartender at Sushi Samba, as well as serving as brand ambassador. For the bar, he has devised a bevy of beverages using Japanese ingredients that come with intent beyond intoxicant. Per Ott:
Each elixir is designed for individual moods and perfected with organic ingredients and their phytonutrients not only to stimulate your feelings, improve cognitive function, evoke childhood memories, or relieve anxiety, but also to emphasize on retro olfactory stimulation. Besides flavor/scent, functionality, and mood, the last and most important point lies in hangover prevention by using nature to boost glutathione levels to get acetaldehyde out of your system and therefore enables you to have a great day after independent from how many spirits you mix.
The main dining room, Suzuki, though modern, is set to serve kaiseki cuisine, Japan's most intricate and elaborate style of multi-course dining. Yamamoto will execute several kaiseki menus based on balance and harmony of seasonal and local ingredients, as is the basis of all kaiseki cuisine. While prices for each menu are yet to be set, the vegetarian shojin meal will cost around $70, with four other menus slated to run around $75, $110, $150, and the highest at market price.
Will there again be fugu? Perhaps.