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.

No comments: