A Japanese company that made its name with upscale blowfish omakases will be entering the U.S. with a more casual, affordable sushi restaurant in Murray Hill.
Tokyo Ichiban Foods — a group with 50 restaurants in Japan — is opening a version of its casual restaurant Wokuni at 325 Lexington Avenue, near 39th Street, next month. It will serve a fish in a variety of ways, including as sashimi, tempura, and grilled.
The company is best known for dozens of locations of Torafugu-tei, a restaurant that serves tiger blowfish, the fish with a highly poisonous liver that requires skill to master as a chef. But Wokuni will be far more casual than Torafugu-tei and will not be serving blowfish, at least for now.
It will, however, be serving fish raised in the same farm as Torafugu-tei’s blowfish. Ichiban Foods owns its own fish farm that raises only blowfish, bluefin tuna, and yellowtail. It’s a move intended to streamline quality and to keep prices low, according to the company. The U.S. location will also sell the fish directly, meaning a retail portion in the restaurant where people can buy fish to bring home to cook.
For now, sushi will will cost $17 for eight pieces, and sashimi is on track to run between $20 and $35. Sashimi bowls will be offered at lunch, and appetizers will be around $7. Gunkanmaki, or rolls with nori wrapped around rice and ingredients on top, will cost $10 for three.
It sounds like a model not too far off from LA-based sushi powerhouse chain Sugarfish, which has been perpetually busy since it opened New York for its comparatively affordable omakase. That chain, too, was started by people with upscale backgrounds.
Wokuni is just one of many restaurants coming to the U.S. from Japanese chains recently. In the last year, at least seven other companies have made New York debuts, including Ichiran, Ikinari, TsuruTonTan, and Zauo, a restaurant opening in December where people can literally fish for their dinner. Though many of them have ambitiously set out to open tons of locations, Ichiban Foods has not yet expressed desire to plop affordable seafood restaurants all over New York.