Very much drawn to the artistic and culinary world of sushi, Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio has been working as a sushi chef in Tokyo since he was 19. He first came to the United Sates to help a friend with the opening of a new Japanese restaurant in New York City (NYC). Subsequently, he worked as a sushi chef in several restaurants in NYC.
During this period of time, Gari observed many customers eating sushi in an extremely undesirable manner – drowning whole pieces of sushi in soy sauce, and thus causing the fresh succulent flavors of the fish and the delicate sushi rice to be destroyed by the overpowering salty soy sauce. So he tried explaining to his customers the better way of eating sushi, but in vain.
Subsequently, he decided to create his own brand of sauce to be put directly on the sushi during the preparation stage. In this noble attempt of withholding soy sauce and wasabi, diners are prevented from drowning the fresh flavors in a sea of soy sauce and thereby experiencing the true taste of sushi. Consequently, having tasted the different flavors of the world, Gari then created a variety of signature sauces and toppings that would accompany and complement the sushi in a similar patter to the world’s other cuisines such as French and Italian.
Finally in January 1997, Gari opened his own restaurant Sushi of Gari on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan, where he continued to focus on serving sushi with the original sauces and toppings he had created in order to enhance the sensitive taste and flavor of every morsel of the fish.
As a result, Sushi of Gari has become a small unique Japanese establishment where the regular sushi experience is elevated into something so much more. However, ask any Japanese food critic and they will condemn (or maybe not to that extent) Gari’s own label of sushi with the various sauces and toppings. The purpose of sushi is to enjoy the delicate sushi rice and appreciate the pure taste, and freshness of the fish. Hence, in the art of sushi making, adding extra ingredients, sauces, or other flavors that might ‘distort’ the immaculate nature of the sushi is strictly prohibited. But, as a sushi-obsess, I personally cannot speak so negatively of Sushi of Gari despite the fact that they have tainted the art of sushi, simply because they do it so well. The various sauces and toppings accompanying the sushi allow you to experience a taste so unique and exclusive that you would not normally find.
Sushi of Gari opened in Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan in 2001. Gari opened on the Upper Westside of Manhattan in January 2005; and Sushi of Gari 46 opened in the Theatre District of Manhattan a year later.
For about 4 years, during our visit to New York during Thanksgiving, we have never failed to turn up at this restaurant with high hopes and expectations; and they have never failed to surprise us with their omakase (literal translation: trust) either. You could though, just order off the menu, but it’ll be such a waste! Because if you want to be amazed with the most inventive pieces of sushi (you could also have sashimi instead!) you’ve never seen before, omakase is the way to go. Keep in mind though, that as far as the place looks like a traditional Japanese restaurant with wooden tables and Noren curtains, their sushi is nothing traditional and are served with avant garde notes. Nevertheless, I personally felt that I was in sushi heaven.
Fish Cake with Ponzu Sauce
To whip your taste buds, Fish Cake with Ponzu Sauce. I felt that this was not anything special, although the ponzu sauce was exceptionally flavourful – sweet and salty. It was a nice contrast to the savoury fish cake.
And then the real deals start coming …
From right to left:
Marinated Black Cod was buttery and smooth; it melts in your mouth!
Red Snapper with Deep Fried Lotus Root, Watercress and Onions was a burst of flavors, as well as textures. The crispy lotus root was able to accentuate the delicate texture of the red snapper. This was one of my favorites.
Bluefin Tuna with Tofu Crème was definitely very interesting. The soft, creamy, and slightly sweet tofu paired with the silky and mellow tuna provided a refreshing flavor.
Lightly Seared Salmon with Dashi Soy Sauce. There was just the right amount of saltiness, and the salmon was seared to perfection – a little bite, yet still smooth.
From right to left:
Fluke with Truffle Oil, Onion Sauce and Poached Quail Egg was by far my favorite. Put the entire piece in your mouth, close your eyes and savor each and every flavor. You already know what to expect from a poached egg – runny yolks. But it’s much more of a surprise when the entire thing just bursts in your mouth and you get that creamy yolk coating your entire mouth. Then you get the sweetness from the onion, and then the slight hint of truffle oil. All these toppings no doubt added an entirely whole new dimension both texture and flavor wise, and brought out the freshness and sweetness of the fluke. So perfect.
Poached Lobster with ponzu lime sauce. The lobster was cooked perfectly, it was delicate and the citrus definitely added a nice touch, elevating the both the freshness and sweetness of the lobster.
Chutoro with Lime Soy Radish. The chutoro was exceptionally fresh and sweet and although it isn’t as fatty as its counterpart otoro, it was nevertheless tender and melts in your mouth! However, I felt that the lime soy radish did not impress as much as the other toppings.
Ebi (bottom)/Shima Aji (top 2) with ceviche, bell peppers and wasabi. Ceviche on fish? It may sound weird, but it was definitely creative and tasted as great! Everything was so sweet, and a touch of wasabi was perfect to act as a contrast.
Anticlockwise, from bottom right:
Salmon Sashimi and Tomato Confit with Onion Sauce. This was supposed to be their “most popular” item but I didn’t like this at all. I felt that the warm tomato confit slightly cooked the salmon and making it lose its fresh taste. The tomato was slightly too dominant here and it was not in harmony with the rest of the ingredients. There was no hint of sweetness from the Onion sauce too.
Maguro with Sesame Sauce was well… forgettable.
Otoro with Sesame Ginger Sauce. The fattiness of the tuna is to die for because it makes the fish that much more flavorful, and that much more tender that it just melts in your mouth. The sauce provided the necessary tartness to cut all that rich flavor.
Kinki with Mushrooms. The Kinki was seared slightly, but I felt that it was a tad bit overcooked. The mushrooms were, well… ok.
And then it was enough for me.
This was a $93 omakase, and yes its expensive (we were slightly disappointed that we didn’t get the Foei Gras and Uni though). But even though there were a few slightly disastrous ones here and there, it was truly truly great. So I personally felt that $93 was a fair price for the pleasure delivered (food is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me anyway :p). There is no fixed price for omakase. The Chef just feeds you continuously with luscious pieces of sushi until you tell them it’s enough. So if you’re truly looking for upscale sushi, creative, adventurous, and have little-to-no price sensitivity, by all means go for it all the way. Yet on the other hand, you could still tell your waitress your budget and they’ll whip up a no-less divine meal that is kept well within your means. Reasonable eh? Trust me, for those flawless pieces of sushi, you’ll be more than willing to shell out hundreds.
And for some À la carte items:
Negimaki ($12): Scallion rolled by Thin/Sliced Prime Rib Eye Steak with Crushed Chilli Pepper and with Teriyaki Sauced. We order this dish every time we come here. It’s simply a unique take on sushi – no rice, no seaweed, no fish, but simply crunchy fresh scallions wrapped in tender juicy beef like a sushi. It was delicious.
Tofu Salad ($7.50): Tofu, Fresh Organic Vegetables, Seaweed, Avocado and Tomato with Homemade “Daikon” Radish Dressing. This was just a simple salad, nothing to rave about. The dressing was slightly to tart and thick for my liking, and the tofu, yet light and silky, was bland and tasteless.
So just go for the Omakase – a signature of Sushi of Gari, offering the originally created seasonal items of the day.
Definitely 5 stars for the great service – friendly and unobtrusive, yet knowledgeable with every single item (all servers were Japanese!) – and the exceptional innovation which although may be common these days, are rarely equaled. Reservations are definitely required because everyone from around the globe – Asian or Western – adores this gem. It is no surprise to see steady crowds packed in this heavenly sushi spot. But do try to request for seats at the counter as you should be mesmerized even at the preparation stage of the sushi. Us? We were fascinated by what they toss… Corners of the prettiest toro we’ve seen were thrown aside as the chefs create uniform slices of fish. We were seriously tempted to just eat it immediately. But there’s no need: With discards that gorgeous, just imagine what’s coming onto your plate …
However, Sushi of Gari may not be the place for everyone. Firstly, if you’re weird about personal space, steer clear because strangers might well be dining a few meters away from you. And if you want intimacy, you’re out of luck; it’s bright and gets so loud that it’s often impossible to tune out neighboring conversation. Secondly, Sushi of Gari is a fushion sushi restaurant. It is in no way traditional and some might just like their fish plain and simple with no embellishments. But after all, taste is subjective and at Sushi of Gari, the customer’s sushi-eating etiquette is not always right. After all, Chef Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio, who enjoys a bit of cult following his contributions to the avant-grade sushi movement, has been preparing sushi since the young age of 19. So why not trust this man with his unique ambitious creations? Sushi of Gari makes you see sushi in a whole new different light. It shows you how simple fish can go so well with so many different ingredients which elevate the tastes to a more exciting level without interrupting the pristine nature of the fish. There is just so much thought put into one unique piece of sushi. It is, in my opinion, no doubt a nice curveball for all sushi lovers.
Sushi of Gari
402 East 78th Street (Between 1st & York)
New York, NY 10075
Tel: 212 517 5340