The small off-beat restaurants that line St. Marks Place and the surrounding neighborhood are an eclectic mix of all things ethnic and fusion. Imported chains like Japadog take the extraordinarily American hotdog and smother it with toppings ranging from salty seaweed, delectable Kewpie mayo and spicy kimchi.
While these kinds of fun flavors are a tasty way to sample a quirky part of Japanese culture, sometimes I crave something simpler – a meal that brings me back to the quiet streets of old world Japan. Tucked in basements next to eateries like Japadog, you’ll discover a number of neighborhood restaurants that are the real deal.
When I’m in the mood for straight up sushi – not Americanized California, Boston and Alaska rolls – I head straight to Hasaki, an unassuming space that serves up clean plates of meticulously prepared fish. There, you’ll find Japanese couples, students and businessmen filling most of the tables, so you know it has to be authentic. On a recent trip, my friends and I were one of two groups that were not Japanese and lucky enough to snag a table.
The food, like the décor, is simple and clean. The age tofu is not fried beyond recognition like most of the city’s mainstream sushi spots, but rather perfectly crispy and incredibly fluffy.
At Hasaki, you can be sure the shumai didn’t come from the freezer. These toothsomely succulent balls of goodness actually have visible pieces of shrimp.
And the soy dashi broth cod… oh my God!…it’s out of this world – buttery and divine. I could eat this dish every night of the week, no kidding.
If you like to substitute brown rice for white, or add cream cheese, avocado, banana or some other inauthentic item to your sushi, Hasaki is probably not for you. Sushi rice is given the attention it deserves and the flavors of the freshly sourced fish are allowed to shine. After one trip to Hasaki, you’ll quickly understand the difference between authentic sushi and what you’ve been eating elsewhere. Tuna tastes like actual fish and not a piece of bland protein. And the octopus on your plate is an integral part of the standard meal…because it is in Japan.
Perhaps the best thing about Hasaki is that the authentic flavor of Japan isn’t only in the food. Ever heard of the wacky toilets the country is famous for? You can check them out at Hasaki without ever leaving the USA.
Featured image courtesy of New York Natives, Photographer: Sarita Dan