Jewel Bako

It is a small wonder that NYC contains a restaurant like Jewel Bako. In this age of outsize, sometimes cavernous, Asian restaurants (Ono, Megu, Tao, Matsuri, Nobu, Buddakan), Jewel Bako is refreshingly and arrestingly diminutive. Stepping through the nondescript solid black door into the glittering barrel-vaulted interior is like entering into another world. It as if two tiny tunnels were bored underground and bespeckled with jewels (Jewel Bako means “jewel box”). The two seating areas have bamboo slats that fan upwards toward the ceiling, creating a cozy cylindrical room. What an interesting, and gutsy, design choice to take what was already a tiny, borderline claustrophobic space and enclose it even more with an arched canopy of wood. The opening at the end of the room frames Yoshi Kousaka, a veteran sushi chef, hard at work at the sushi bar behind a backsplash of green marble.

Jewel Bako serves a relatively traditional Edomae-style sushi menu with some modern touches. The excellent selection is invariably fresh and flown in daily from Japan. Real wasabi is prepared with a sharkskin grater. There are a number of other interesting dishes: a king salmon braised with three types of miso, hoba leaf and shiitake mushrooms and exotic Japanese mushrooms “en papillote”, steamed in sake and yuzu, and with smoked sea salt and wasabi oil, and a trio of tartares (blue fin tuna, salmon and yellowtail), served with addictive sweet potato chips. Everyone finishes their meal with a wonderful green tea ice cream.

At our first meal at Jewel Bako, an obese foreign couple next to us proceeded to order practically half the dishes on the menu, one after the other. We're not sure what it says about us, but as we saw each of their dishes delivered, we would then proceed to order, and eat, the same dish as well. Jewel Bako can have that effect on you.


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East Village
239 E. 5th St.
New York (nr. Third Ave.)
    Yoshihiko Kousaka, Chef