The former chef and partner of popular Astoria sushi bar Gaijin will soon resurface behind the counter of a new Lower East Side omakase restaurant. Chef Mark Garcia is bringing his personable, nontraditional approach to Kissaki, opening at 319 Bowery, between First and Second Streets, in January.
At the new restaurant, located inside the former Amato Opera building, Garcia will preside over an elegant, 26-seat sushi bar, with 15 seats reserved for his chef’s choice menu and 11 for a la carte ordering.
The omakase menu will cost $160 for 12 pieces of nigiri and four kaiseki-style prepared plates from co-executive chef Evan Zagha (Brushstroke). Zagha will focus on local, seasonal vegetables cooked according to Japanese techniques: In January, think fried, soy-cured eggplant, and squash soup using everything in the gourd from seed to skin.
Chef Garcia amicably departed Gaijin four months ago — since then, the Queens restaurant has revamped with a new chef as the more upscale Kōyō. Gaijin means outsider, and that’s how Garcia sees himself as a sushi chef. A native Chicagoan, he worked under chef Kaze Chan (Sushi-San) at Sushi Kaze and Momotaro where he helped develop innovative nigiri, like one creation with lean tuna, butter-roasted shiitake, and a toasted almond tucked inside the rice.
That dish, a staple of Gaijin, will be on the Kissaki menu too. It’s a particular a favorite of Kissaki partner Garry Kanfer, a first-time restaurant owner and self-proclaimed “sushi addict.” The nigiri doesn’t have a proper name, but Kanfer calls it the “almond joy.”
When Kanfer first dined at the bar at Gaijin, he was blown away by Garcia — and not just by his food. “Mark, is different,” Kanfer says. “It’s not just his fish, it’s his personality. [You] see how people just fly towards him... and that’s the best for a one-on-one omakase.”
It’s a conscious choice on the chef’s part. “Going to an omakase can be intimidating,” Garcia says. “It breaks the ice to introduce myself. [And] I want to engage with you because that keeps it fresh and new for me.”
Kanfer imagines Kissaki as the first in a possible group of sushi restaurants: Stay tuned for more as it opens in the new year.