We are normally wary of any restaurant that would emblazon a corny slogan onto its door. So it was with some trepidation that we first passed through the entryway of Sasabune, prominently affixed on both sides with the proclamation "No Spicy Tuna. No California Roll. Trust Me." into the diminutive, entirely unadorned white-walled dining room, largely consumed by the bamboo sushi bar.
Sasabune is one of only three restaurants, along with Per Se and Le Bernardin, to receive a food rating of 29 from Zagat in its 2013 guide (Masa, poor laggard, only received a 27). This implies that, in terms of quality of food, it is NYC's best sushi restaurant and one of the top three restaurants overall in the city. That is wrong, but its stratospheric rating is still revealing. The food at Sasabune is sublime, of a quality almost incomprehensibly high given its price point.
Chef Kenji Takahashi, who trained at the popular Los Angeles branch of Sasabune for four years before opening the NYC branch, personally selects almost every piece of fish from the Hunts Point fish market in the Bronx. He cuts each piece of fish himself. And he selects each item you will eat; there are no menus at Sasabune and the omakase is the only option.
New Yorkers are incredibly lucky to have Sasabune, both because it is so much more affordable than Masa and Kurumazushi, its only true peers in terms of quality, but also because it is so different than those restaurants. Although Mr. Takahashi is a purist ("No California Roll"), his sushi does have a distinctive style: fresh, warm, loosely packed rice; citrusy and tart grace notes; and textures so buttery that the fish is dissoluble on your tongue. This last point bears emphasis: We have never had Spanish mackerel or butterfish that was so silky soft, and it was a revelatory experience. Though the menu changes daily, the sequence always seems to begin with albacore sashimi in a tart ponzu sauce and end with a deeply satisfying blue crab roll.
Lately, I have given a great deal of thought to the heights that Mr. Takahashi could scale if given a proper setting (e.g., an interior design on the scale of Masa) and the flexibility that would come with a higher price point. Perhaps he is satisfied where he is, but I hope he will get the opportunity, as he is one of the most talented sushi chefs in the country.
401 East 73rd Street
212-249-8583 Mon-Fri, noon-2:00pm, 5:30-10:30pm; Sat, 5:30-10:30pm
- Kenji Takahashi, Chef