Sugarfish, the beloved Los Angeles omakase sushi import that touched down in New York back in 2016, opened its fourth Manhattan location on August 4 at 152 East 53rd Street in Midtown East. Spanning about 1,500-square-feet, with 40 seats divided between the dining room and high-top bar, founder and Los Angeles sushi icon Kazunori Nozawa’s affordably-priced set menus — which already command lengthy waits in Flatiron, Soho and Midtown West — debut in a part of town full of top tier Japanese restaurants
It’s no secret that New York has an appetite for sushi. Right now the city has reached its peak with regard to the number of high-end omakase options. And Sugarfish slides into that chef’s-choice circle, but instead of menus that cost $150 and up as is the case for the top fine dining sushi establishments, Sugarfish prices its four New York dinner set meals from $29 for the seven-course “Trust Me Lite” to $65 for the newest addition, the 10-course “Don’t Think. Just Eat.Trust Me” menu, which pays tribute to Nozawa’s original restaurant Sushi Nozawa and is built of dishes he used to serve there — think nigiri bites like sea bream with shiso, and salmon with kombu. Lunch menus run a few dollars less than dinner and there are options to add extras like California uni and Hokkaido scallop nigiri.
Despite some uneven reviews early on, Sugarfish has been extremely well-received here in New York, just as it was back in 2008 when the first Los Angeles location debuted. The brand still maintains its clean, minimalist aesthetic design by its longtime architecture firm Marmol Radziner. Unlike other NYC locations, the Midtown East outlet offers a spacious outdoor waiting area, and while the restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, guests can join a waitlist.
The Sugarfish story begins in a Studio City strip mall 34 years ago when Nozawa opened his sliver of a Ventura Boulevard sushi joint, Sushi Nozawa, where customers seated at a short counter only had an option of a seasonal chef’s choice menu. Nozawa was one of the first, if not the first, chef in Los Angeles to serve an often-changing, menu-less meal that he determined, and over the years he became known for his fanatical approach to sourcing pristine ingredients (at a time when many deemed a California roll to be sushi), along with offering then-uncommon dishes like aniko (monkfish liver). He insisted that diners trust him via an Edomae-rooted omakase menu, so much so that Nozawa plastered posters behind his counter that read “Trust Me.” This idea continues at Sugarfish, and its chef’s choice set menus.
In 2008, Nozawa, along with longtime friend Jerry Greenberg and a number of other partners, including Nozawa’s son Tom, launched their first Sugarfish location in Marina del Rey. It was a more casual, lower-priced extension of Sushi Nozawa (which cost around $100 per person) serving the same top-quality fish via set omakase menus that ranged in price from around $19 to just under $40. One main difference here was that patrons all sat at tables or a bar and all the sushi comes from a kitchen and there is no chef behind a counter, which is the case at all Sugarfish locations.
Sugarfish was an instant hit in Los Angeles and the team set out to expand.
After commanding one of Los Angeles’ most respected sushi counters for decades, and earning street cred as the city’s godfather of traditional omakase sushi, Nozawa decided to focus his efforts on Sugarfish, and he flipped his legendary Studio City restaurant into another location. Today, the brand claims 15 eateries between Los Angeles and New York, and also counts a sister concept, KazuNori, which is dedicated to handrolls at six outlets, including one in New York.
Despite the brand’s popularity and perpetual waits at all locations, Sugarfish has refrained from opening larger restaurants and instead is focused on keeping its dining rooms intimate. Says Nozawa’s son, Tom Nozawa, “We like to keep our restaurants small so we can control the quality of the food, which is our central focus.”
Sugarfish’s hours of operation will run Monday to Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight; and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.