If Tokyo conjures images of hyper-colored, maximalist Hello Kitty and pastel neon cafes, there’s artist Sebastian Masuda to thank. Masuda is behind Kawaii Monster Cafe, a Tokyo tourist destination that closed during COVID. Now, in New York, he’s attempting to resuscitate its spirit with a conveyor-belt sushi spot called Sushidelic. The restaurant opens in Soho on June 28, at 177 Lafayette Street, near Broome Street.
Sushidelic serves an $85, six-course omakase (vegetarian and roll options are available as well) with items like seafood “parfaits” and sushi shaped like macarons, with courses delivered by servers dressed in kawaii-inspired outfits. There are 16 seats at a bar and 18 at tables.
“Kawaii is much more than a visual style,” Masuda says. “It is a way of belonging and of seeing possibility.” Citing the New York drag scene as a kindred spirit, Masuda sees kawaii as a culture of community and inclusivity, providing a home and form of expression for those charting their own path.
The kawaii “cute” aesthetic has a long history in Japan but it gained momentum in the 1980s, with Masuda’s brand 6%DOKIDOKI helping to fuel the consumer element of the kawaii explosion. Through collaborations with Hello Kitty and Pac-Man, Masuda has exported the subculture beyond Japan, from Millie Bobby Brown and Jennie of Blackpink to a befuddled-but-game Conan O’Brien.
Sushidelic is a change of pace from the city’s formal, set-menu omakase counters that have become ubiquitous throughout the city. On the first visit, diners may notice the giant Cheshire-like cat sculptures revolving above the bartender. Beneath them, running the length of the restaurant is a custom conveyor belt that circulates around the bar and back through the kitchen, evoking Japan’s conveyor-belt sushi restaurants. It carries Masuda’s art pieces: a neon teddy bear, bejeweled high heels, cloth maki rolls embellished with plastic sea anemone, all plated on EP records — rather than the typical fast sushi fare. (The staff notes that most of the sushi courses will be brought to the customers by hand.)
As befitting a tasting menu designed by the man who once created a nine-foot-tall Hello Kitty-shaped time capsule, the omakase blends Masuda’s trademark playfulness with Japanese intention. The challenge, as noted by Masuda’s culinary collaborator, Hiroki Abe — formerly of EN Japanese Brasserie in the West Village — has been in realizing Masuda’s vision of pairing Japanese cuisine and Western techniques.
Masuda and Abe cite the macaron sushi appetizer course as an example of this philosophy. Taking a classic French macaron recipe, complete with almond flour shells and delicate crowns, the kitchen swaps traditional fillings for a tuna and dashi mixture. The resulting pastel confection, adorned with gold leaf, is startling at first bite: sweet, savory, and unexpected. Another item is called “ape-maki,” made by a robot sushi-maker (Taka Tanaka, behind sushi robot company Autec is a partner) and features soy paper skins in bright colors.
One of Masuda’s favorites is a sextet of dipping sauces, meant to pair with any of the omakase courses. These run from the familiar, wasabi or yuzu, to the inner-child-appealing blueberry.
Masuda and team hinted at a few surprises after opening day, a few of which are featured in the restaurant’s press photos, including one item with googly eyes.
Sushidelic is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.