Chelsea kaiseki restaurant Naoki has swapped to be a more casual spot called Sushinao — serving a lower-priced, multi-course sushi meals focused on sauce pairings, with sets starting at $24.
Chef and owner Naoki Takahashi says he’s now focusing on a specific style of sushi in which each fish is paired with a distinct sauce meant to enhance the flavor for the restaurant at 311 West 17th St., near Eighth Avenue.
He’s also making the new iteration more approachable in price. The restaurant has four set menus at varying price points, from $24 for edamame, carpaccio, four pieces, and a hand roll to $54 for about 12 pieces plus two hand rolls. And some a la carte options are also be available.
All multi-course meals include nigiri sushi, hand rolls, edamame, and carpaccio. Unlike traditional sushi meals where each fish is paired with soy sauce, here the sauces will vary: The sea bream is brushed with a sauce of white ponzu and shiso, scallops are seasoned with onion-ginger, and the fluke with Yuzu lemon and cilantro. The hand rolls will come filled with spicy scallop, crab, or black cod, and mochi ice cream is on tap for dessert.
Flights of sake, as well as sake by the bottle and Japanese beer is on the drink menu.
Naoki has been around since 2017, when it along with several other Japanese chains made their way to New York City. The restaurant is owned by Create Restaurants Holdings, which operates over 800 in Japan and around Asia.
Takahashi says he’s moving away from the previous kaiseki menu — which included multiple courses of sushi, sashimi, a meat or fish main dish, and risotto, among other things for $80 — because he had a hard time finding the proper ingredients, such as vegetables needed for the traditional Japanese meal. “It feels like I am lying to the customer,” he says of serving certain dishes without the traditional ingredients used in Japan.
The chef, who has been with the company for over 10 years, received a favorable nod from Eater critic Robert Sietsema shortly after opening; he specifically liked the sushi, saying it was the best course. “With pieces blessedly modest in size, this nigiri sushi included medium-fatty bluefin, freshwater eel, and seared beef. No soy sauce was provided because each piece was already perfectly seasoned,” Sietsema wrote. The chef will focus on just that now, with hopes of showing New Yorkers how sushi can be paired with more than just soy sauce.
Sushinao is open from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on week days, and open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.