Shopping Around vs. Getting to Know a Chef

A sushi lover in New York just asked me: “What do you think of Yama on Irving place? My roommates are addicted, and I think it’s good, but just wondering the thoughts of a real critic! :)”

Here’s the thing—I never recommend sushi restaurants. And here’s why:

imageI sometimes make references to specific sushi restaurants, but having spent a lot of time hanging around with people in the sushi industry, often seeing things that average customers don’t, it’s become clear to me that when it comes to getting an authentic sushi experience, what matters much more than going to the “right” restaurant is cultivating a relationship with a sushi chef over time. As you get to know the chef, and keep visiting him (or her) again and again, you can convince that chef to start opening up his full repertoire of traditional skills and ingredients to you. After a while you’ll never look at the menu and you’ll be eating like a Japanese person.

And the Americans sitting next to you at the sushi bar will be like, “Hey, that’s not on the menu—how did you get that?”

So instead of recommending specific restaurants, I recommend that you shop around, always sitting at the sushi bar, until you find a chef who likes to chat and is open to educating you. Then keep going back.

That said, there’s certainly a case to be made for avoiding certain sushi restaurants. Like maybe the one pictured above?