The Unexpected Good Meal
Discovering omakase magic on a cold winter day.
It was Valentine’s Day 2016 in New York City — 7 degrees outside with snow flying in furious flurries. My boyfriend had told me that the date would be a surprise, and I, being an under 30s, slightly narcissistic girl had decided to wear a flimsy white dress and 4 inch heels in an attempt to keep with the Vday fashion canon. I regretted it the moment we stepped out into the negative Celsius weather — the snow falling so hard and our breaths coming in and out like mini icicle hailstorms. Not the greatest, most romantic way to start the evening. As we teeter tottered on Tribeca’s cobble stone steps through the freezing weather, and my hangriness starting to take a toll, we neared our date spot.
Sushi on a Cold Night?
The surprise turned out to be sushi. And every fiber of my being did not want cold fish on a platter after surviving a snow storm. I tried to put on a smile despite it, but I knew there was no way this date could be worth it. Sushi Azabu was no love at first site. It’s exterior was a black wooden door with no readable signs or signs of life. When we finally got into the awning that offered a semblance of shelter, we opened the door that led into a darkened staircase towards the small basement of a restaurant.
Because so many more pragmatic New York couples had canceled that night, we got a prime spot at the sushi bar and ordered the Omakase menu. We were still shivering when the complimentary rose arrived — delicious and buoyant, but even good wine would not be able to redeem the night, or so I thought. I took a break to the bathroom to find heated toilet seats! When I got back to the table, our meal began — miso soup — the hot and savory broth was a nice enticement. Then the plate of sliced sashimi — yellowtail, amberjack, salmon, lined in a neat rainbow row.
But it was the snow crab — two perfectly tender snow crab legs on a bed of salt snow, topped with some sort of homemade…mayonnaise or wicked egg-white concoction then blow torched until it simmered with little bubbles — was what may have turned the date around. It was the perfect savory morsel.
Witnessing Omakase Magic
We watched our sushi chef whip up Omakase magic — oysters lying in a citrus vinegar, topped with a tiny dash of scallion, looked like a bright yellow opals inside their shells. We slurped up every bit and craved for more. Then came tiny purple squids with a bright pop of mustard sauce. The conversation drifted to our day, to the good and the bad, just as the chef brought us two types of Uni laying on a bed of tiny kelp — both imported from Japan but from different coasts. The subtle difference was there — one sweeter, another richer underneath the initial brine — distinct sides of the same coin.
A good meal brings people together, was a quote from a favorite childhood book of his, and the tuna courses definitely did that. We bonded over the way we stuffed the fatty tuna (chutoro) in our mouths — and it was impossible not to moan in pleasure as it literally melted in our mouths — each bite more satisfying than the next. Another tuna course that had the lightest blowtorch sear — awakened more flavor and softened the texture. Then the unagi — eel — brushed lightly with soy sauce had the texture of mousse and satisfied the stomach as well as the soul. No mortal man could resist the seduction that was this meal, and we surrendered all our pains and worries for at least that moment.
They escorted us back into the cold but not without our talismans: sips of hot tea and gift bags of red bean and green tea mochi. For all the flaws and harshness that New York can be, you can at least find a good meal at Sushi Azabu.
Sushi Azabu $$$
428 Greenwich St
b/t Vestry St & Laight St
Photo Credits: Sushi Azabu Facebook
Anne Jiao doesn’t always do fancy. She likes joints like this, too.