Monday, November 15, 2010


It would seem unbelievable, to most, that I, devotee to all things culinary, had never before sat down to an omakase sushi dinner. Well, for one, omakase can be insanely expensive and not everyone is comfortable with the wide open unknowingness that comes with sitting down for a multi-course raw fish meal. T. and I were planning to go well before now, but she suffered an allergic reaction to fish over the summer and was told by the doctor to wait it out. And so it was not until cool November that we made it our mission to eat through an omakase menu at 1 or 8, a stylish-but-homey (surprising, since the restaurant is all white) sushi joint in Williamsburg that has gotten anemic press since it opened last year.

First of all, the Sushi Sekis and Sushi Yasudas of the world will happily charge you $200-$300 for an omakase tasting, but at 1 or 8 you can sit at the bar and do the flight for $50, $70, or $90. We chose the middle route, sushi rather than sashimi, though I would have been happier with either. I've decided to list what we ate below, since it was mostly an undulating flow of raw fish affixed to rice with a dollop of wasabi and a faint glisten of soy sauce.

Blood red raw tuna
King salmon
Red snapper
Raw squid with uni
Chopped mackerel with scallions and yuzu
Poached eel
Sea scallop
Fluke with monkfish liver
Big-eye tuna
Mackerel, unchopped

Finally, the piece d' resistance: a thick, toro-like slice of tuna, seared on each side and dusted with salt, pepper, and lemon. It tasted like steak and that heartiness was not lost on us.

I could have lived without the sardines, which were almost unbearably fishy. Eel isn't really my cup of tea, either, but the large mouthful was cut by the sticky rice. I was glad, on both courses, that we had opted for sushi and not sashimi. I missed ama ebi; T. had informed out sushi chef that she had a shellfish allergy, but despite my enthusiastic endorsement, the chef kicked me out of the shellfish dealings, too. T. offered to buy me a hand roll, but I declined. It seemed rude, after all.

I was surprised by the mildness of the raw squid. Squid isn't my favorite fish and I tend to avoid it in restaurants, but this version was chewy and complimented by the soft, briny sea urchin. The yellowtail, or hamachi, was one of the cleanest fish I have ever eaten. 1 or 8 turned out consistently fresh and clean product. At meal's end, they offered us steaming bowls of miso soup where, at bowl's bottom, we found a surprise lurking: house-made soft tofu.

Modern eaters, in the face of heritage pork or American wagyu beef, eat far too little good fish. Forget about the tuna or the swordfish or the prawns; we have forsaken fine raw fish in favor of a little more meat in our diets. I realize that it requires skill and attention and good fishing to produce such a noteworthy meal, but it's worth recognizing that the beauty of fish can sometimes surpass even the fine marble of an aged rib-eye.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Oh, dear blog, fear not; I have not forsaken you. I just got really busy and spent most of my time cooking vegetarian meals for one, topics not worthy of you. I can't promise full redemption--New York is expensive, and my budget is nonexistent--but I will try to do better.

Anyway, what better night to dive back into the New York scene than Halloween? And of all the neighborhoods to choose from, why not torture ourselves with the West Village, home to New York City's most decorated (and possibly most obnoxious) seasonal parade. I don't go to Times Square on New Year's Eve and I sure as hell don't stand on Fifth Avenue on Thanksgiving morning, so my lack of cohesive thought when T. and H. and I decided on a trip to Takashi (Hudson and Barrow) was out-of-character and very non-New Yorker of me. Also, between the three of us, we had over thirty years of New York living, and we still needed a iphone map to figure out the geography of the West Village.

I won't get into the crowds, the costumes, or the overburdened subway that stopped so frequently that we were forced to take a cab home from the 20s. I will get into Takashi, the Japanese steak joint I have been meaning to eat at since June or July. Normally, this small restaurant requires great patience. They are always full and the wait usually exceeds an hour. There was our one gleaming prize in all of this Hallow's Eve madness: No one had gone out to eat. And so we were seated instantly, at a wooden table designed for four and outfitted with a grill top for our own personal use. First came the candy-sweet plum wine (on ice), which the generous waitress decorated with a whole cured green plum. Next, a series of delicate wonders. Here, a scallion salad demonstrating admirable knife skills and a confident condiment hand in the application of sesame oil and soy sauce. There, thick swaths of cucumber bathed in something that rose to a warm spiciness on the back palate. Finally, the appetizer piece d' resistance: four squares of raw and marbled meat, topped with shiso leaves and a spoonful of uni. We were instructed to top the uni with wasabi and roll everything on the underlying nori sheet, dip in soy sauce, put in mouth. The meat was a faint note, earthy and creamy, almost overpowered by the herbal shiso, the briny uni. Almost.

Next came a crispy achilles tendon salad, served cold. Tendon takes some getting used to, but this was one of its finest hours, cut into pieces small enough to render it chewy but not inedible. And then the meats began. We started with a tongue tasting, three different sections of cow tongue, each adorned with a simple seasoning. We were told by our waitress about cooking times (certain parts of the tongue needed as much as one minute per side) and began our grilling session. The tongue was not tough, but supple, meaty, filled with the flavor of beef that beef itself so rarely provides. The short rib did not disappoint, either. It was more like eating a piece of grilled butter. Sweetbreads required the most patience, four minutes per side, but we were rewarded with generous, clean, and silky thymus glands with a well-earned grill crust. Beef cheeks were not the version we were accustomed to seeing in a fine restaurant, stewed to oblivion and dark in pallor. No, these beef cheeks were red and white and thin and we kissed them to the grill, flipped, and ate. They, like the short ribs, came in the house marinade with a side dipping sauce that was just light and fragrant enough to stand up to the meat without subverting its subtlety.

Takashi serves any part of the cow you can think of, and that includes such delicacies as first stomach, second stomach, liver, and heart. We didn't venture too far into the weird, but then again, we've eaten a lot of this stuff before. Instead, we stuck to our favorites--fatty, marbled cuts of meat that could stand up to a hot grill. But if I make it back, braving the West Village and all its insanity, I may opt for a little beef liver and skirt steak, just to make things interesting.

465 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014