Casebrief on Gari Uptown
by AX (Guest Blogger).
When the urge comes to us to consume large quantities of raw fish, we usually hit up our neighbourhood fave 15 East, where our heroic Masato-sensei practices the decidedly New York art of the multi-benjamin omakase at his gleaming modern sushibar. But sometimes even some of the best Oh-Toro this side of Tsukiji (築地市場) can get slightly... well, boring. Sometimes, nothing less New York than Gari will do. While Nobu Matsuhisa took cooked Japanese food and mated it with South American influences, Gari took the art of nigiri and dragged it kicking and screaming into his twisted version of the 21st century. Masato is the yagyu, Gari is the two handed fiend mushashi...
Stepping into the headquarters of Gari's three restaus kingdom is decidedly underwhelming. It's housed in deep yorkville, deep in Madoff Tribeland (we're talking serious upper east side vibes, xoxo gossip girl et al), on a tired looking street which has definitely seen better days. As usual, we initially were the only non-caucasian clients when we got seated - do not be alarmed, this is not unusual for his uptown enclave. We got seated at the tiny sushi bar, which seats 10, max. The rest of the restaus barely manages another 30 seats.
We settled at the bar, ordered hot sake. For you sake afficionados out there, this is not one of those cheap Sake joints, the hot sake on offer was Hakkaisan (a decent junmai) - I'm sure they only use Ozeki to sterilize cooking utensils in this place... A Dassai 50 (720ml only!) will you set you back a pretty penny. The nice (older) couple next to us was drinking the house sake in copious quantities - at $25 a glass, I do hope they didn't invest in Fairfield Sentry...
So on to the food... We ordered our usual omakase, and pregamed with a delectable tuna tartare (korean style)-plus-nori tempura... (see pic). They take perfectly fresh Maguro, and mixed it with hijiki and a light sweet vinegarette sauce. The nori was flash fried tempura style after only being battered on one side... Pan to an image of a frustrated tempura chef being forced to batter these tiny sheaves of nori (a square inch in size) and then use tiny tweezers to flash fry said nori.
A wooden sushi block was placed in front of each of us, and the show began.
First up, (baby) red snapper with deep fried lotus root, pinenuts, and a single piece of lightly dressed red lettuce. "Baby" red snapper confuses me ethically for about 3 seconds before said sushi is in back of throat. Snapper is typically clean tasting, with firm and moist (not oily) texture. The lotus root was crunchy, the pine nut a little lost, the lettuce a forgotten cameo in a really good act 1...
Round II. Before my brain could fully register the aftertaste of BRS sushi (see above), a second piece was placed with a flourish on our blocks. Glistening on the shiny pine was a morsel that showed much promise. Toro with Daikon... Ms. NFT went "whoo hoo!", I simply reached for the gari to clear palate for round II. Now, this was clearly chu-toro, not its fattier cousin oh. Lightly glazed with some kikkoman product... drool started to pool on my lap as NFT snapped away with her Rebel. Finally, I inhaled it... Daikon hits the roof of your mouth, with tart sweetness, through the lightly vinegared starch of the rice, the rich, buttery chutoro reaches your tongue... for a moment there, I just stopped breathing.
Round Tres. Next up, came the seared Japanese yellow tail. Chef Tomi-sensei (no relation to the great Tomi-san) delivered it with a clucking noise. Eh? Japanese yellowtail? Putting aside issues of nationalization of fish assets for the time being, I assaulted the piece with gusto. It was warm - note, the butane work is all done behind a curtain - the texture firmer as a result, the simulated wok-hei was key - my confused mouth was very very blur... The searing seemed to amplify the savory flavor, without the nastiness that sometimes accompanies smoking of the fish...(you can get jelak with one piece of smoked salmon, you could eat this seared stuff till kingdom come).
Round iv, snapper with jalepeno. Also very super. Jalepeno was a little bit overdone on mine.
Round 5 - This one was a signature Gari creation. Maguro with creamy tofu sauce. The maguro was superlative, the tofu sauce was pretty insane. Note on the texture of the tofu sauce - its creamy without any cream per se - images of some poor illegal was in the back stirring a pot of tofu with insane effort, to whip up the cream.
Round 6 - Torched Uni usually makes me mad - the idea of burning something that god gave you perfectly ready to eat makes me angry. When this came around, I couldn't resist glaring at Tomi-sensei with one eye. He smirked, maybe he's had his reaction from a sushi-slut like me before... One bite reminded me why he gets paid and I have to pay - warm on the outside, cold on the inside, crispy initially, creamy after, some of the smoothest creamiest Uni you've ever tasted. Not the California uni, or the cheap carribean kind, this was classic Japanese uni, the color of mustard, with an insanely smooth texture.
Seven - Now, I'm no fan of silver fish - mackerel for me should be fried in chillisauce with sambal and then tinned and eaten when in the middle of the jungle when you're starving - stirred in with maggi me, and washed down with a army-issue Guinness (warm of course). Gargle after. But this, this I could eat raw. So fresh I have a fear it was caught in the Rockaways, with a delicate red blob of hot sauce and a tiny sliver of spring onions. I swear he used a tweezer to place said piece... Texture typical of raw mackerel, flavor savory and briny, but no where did you taste the longkang... whoo hoo!
Lucky 8 - Heh. This one is just insane. Salmon topped with seared tomato. They take a fatty piece of salmon. They make a perfectly good shake nigiri. They then take a really juicy tomato sliced up, and sear it for maybe 60 seconds, to reduce it to warm, gooey mulch. They remove all skin and seeds, leaving the rump flesh of the tomato. They then deposit it, steaming, on the nigiri, and immediately deliver to your eating station. To-die-for. Warning - this stuff is hot! If you're sensible, wait 60 seconds. if you have a rubber mouth, do it - its awesome!
Engine Engine Numba 9 - Eh, this one was them trying too hard. Golden eye snapper with toasted tea leaves. Texture was too hard.
Number 10 Downing St. - Okay - so we were slowing down, and the seared salmon was rather uninspiring. Texture, excellent. Plus points for the fatiness. After the excursions of the earlier rounds, this was slightly pedestrian.
Winning 11 - As if sensing I was disappointed with #10, they called up Konami and pulled out a winning-est #11. They picked a piece of toro which was mid way between Chu and Oh. Sliced it, then torched it Nicholas Choo Style. (I swear he copied our Boston guru). No need for yuzu or any sauce.
(Savory) Desert Round. I was still gunning for fried ice cream, but NFT was tired and feeling the need for protein, so we went for a second round of toro-daikon... Whoo hooo! They brought out the special piece of tuna they must use for especially pesky clients, found the fattiest part of the toro, and their sharpest knife. As they cut the meat, you could see the rippling of the meet where the bands of fat were.... a small dollop of daikon, and no glazing for what was simply the best.
Gossip Guy xoxo Factor - While we were there, in walks a young Asian couple. I don't even notice her, but NFT spots the Hermes Birkin before I can even have a peek. As an indicia of the clientelle, her emerald cut engagement ring was at least the size of my pinkie nail... Expect to overhear conversations about whose fund got liquidated ("ING....blah blah blah...Solokow....blah blah blah... sell vermont...yada yada yad... poconos yadayadayad...") and who has to sell their Long Island estate because of Bernie.
To be taken in small doses, once a quarter.
Takes Cash, Visa, Amex, and in some cases, washing services (bring your own rubber gloves). They do takeout. I hear Bernie orders every night.
Location: Sushi of Gari78th and 1st (402 E78).
Damage: In the benjamins (stress on plural) range.
10 months ago