Tribeca’s sushi and kaiseki restaurant Shoji at 69 Leonard Street receives a whopping three stars from the Times’ Pete Wells this week. According to the critic, there’s no reason the 12-seat restaurant should be experiencing a bit of a summer slump. “There should be no empty seats, no matter how many New Yorkers are off lolling at the beach,” he writes.
Derek Wilcox runs the kitchen, previously cooking at a kaiseki in Kyoto called Kikunoi for seven years before then working in a sushi parlor in the Ginza district of Tokyo. He started at Shoji as a pop-up presence, but owner Idan Elkon kept him on permanently as of June. Now, Wells asserts, Wilcox has put the restaurant “in the top tier of the city’s Japanese restaurants.” As for the kaiseki format, Wells writes:
Mr. Wilcox’s opening move was a squiggle of what looked like short, thick noodles and turned out to be lengths of chilled eggplant; Mr. Wilcox had given them a cool bath in the light sauce in which icy coils of somen noodles are dipped in summer. Laid over the top were two tongues of bafun sea urchin, a species with the color of a nearly ripe persimmon. With one dish, he had shooed away the heat outside, shown off the uncanny harmony of urchin and eggplant, and introduced a minor theme of the night, the summer urchin harvest in Japan.
The opening act was followed by eel, “scorched on one side and served with a lick of wasabi and puréed salt-cured plums thinned with dashi.” Sashimi came next and then takiawase, a kaiseki tradition in the form of a plate of simmered vegetables. Shoji’s also comes with seafood and includes what Wells claims is “the most flavorful piece of octopus” he has ever put in his mouth. The tasting menu, Wells writes, follows a kaiseki’s rhythm of courses and also its tradition of seasonality.
But in addition to kaiseki, there’s also a significant sushi menu at Shoji, and Wells commends that, too. “I’m not sure any competitor outflanks Shoji on the quality of the seafood it does serve, or in the timeliness with which it serves up exactly the specimens most worth tracking down at any given moment,” he writes.
The tasting menus range from $190 to $295, with service included. There’s also a list of beers, wines, sakes, shochus and Haitian rums. Three stars.