Sushi of Gari 46

Omakase is the trust fall of dining. Not only are you taking whatever the chef dishes out, at traditional sushi restaurants, you're taking it raw. Usually this should not be attempted on Restaurant Row in the theater district, where you'll find shrimp scampi as half-baked as the latest 80's-pop-culture musical adaptation. But the best thing in previews right now is a traveling show: Sushi of Gari 46.

If you haven't been to Gari on either the Upper West Side or Upper East Side, it's the kind of place where the chefs wince if you order a Coke or dunk the rice side of your sushi in a brimming dish of soy sauce. But so much artistry goes into the creation of Gari's omakase that it's no wonder they're irked by neophytes.

The spirit of experimentation at Sushi of Gari 46 is evident by the first course. Black bean paste came in a chewy square, left, and yellowtail was ground up, seasoned with something even fishier, and fried into a fish ball. The staff is friendly, but it's definitely English-as-a-second-language here, so it took a while to understand what exactly is the pleasantly chewy ingredient in the peanut noodle dish: burdock root, which was quite tasty.

The liquid-smoke flavor I noticed at Katsuya in L.A. reappeared here in the seared baby yellowtail, far left. It was barely cooked, but it was deliciously redolent with char. Continuing from left to right, next came salmon tonnato, red snapper decked with an Italian combo of spicy lettuce and pinenuts. (Do we need an Italian-Japanese place like Natsumi, or do we just need more creative sushi chefs like Masatoshi Gari Sugio?)

Sushi of Gari is known more for the things Sugio can do with sushi than the quality of fish he procures, and this held true for this newest branch of Gari too. Some of the plainer preparations, like the bluefin tuna with a tofu schmear, far right, were boring when not jazzed up by very flavorful extra ingredients or sauces. But these could be subtle, too, like the raw lobster, second from left, which tasted as if it had been infused with herbs backstage, though it arrived at the table unadorned.

One of the best things we sampled was the fatty tuna glazed in the chef's oyster soy sauce, far right. This was a very high quality, melt-in-your-mouth piece of fish. Gari's oyster sauce, like Momofuku's hoisin sauce, is so
much more delectable because it's made in-house.

Some of Gari's creations pushed the envelope a little too far, like the Spanish mackerel decked with shiitakes, second from left above. The two flavors might have been excellent on their own, but the smoky taste of the mushrooms clashed with the mackerel's fishy taste.

Then came the worst thing of all: Nothing! That was the last course, our waiter informed us when he came to clear our plates.

"You should have warned us!" my friend cried, only half kidding. The four course omakase had set us back $75 each, but it was filling.

The show at Sushi of Gari 46 was over. Onto the next: Love Musik, a great musical still in previews, starring Michael Cerveris and the brilliant Donna Murphy. Just when I was beginning to think the phrases "Restaurant Row" and "big-budget musical" might be synonymous with "mediocrity," along came true creativity and intellectual stimulation in the unlikeliest of places.

Sushi of Gari 46
347 West 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues


Brooklyn Enthusiast said...

Gari East is my favorite restaurant. I am trying the 46th street venue tonight and your post has given me hope that it's on par with my previous experiences.