Shuko, NYC

April 7, 2015

Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau met as chefs at Masa, the ridiculously expensive NY sushi restaurant. In 2012 they left to run Neta. (To see my blogpost on my meal at Neta click here.) They left Neta in 2013 and opened Shuko in November, 2014. Linda and I went there for dinner on March 5, 2015.

There is no sign on the plain front door, just the number on 12th Street and a spray of dried flowers.
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I took this photo as we left. The lit opening in the back is to the kitchen, where the non-sushi dishes are prepared. We could see the flickering fire of the grill through the opening. The tall man is Shuko‘s General Manager, Jerrard Ruiz. You can see three sushi chefs, each taking care of his sector of the long wooden counter. Our chef was the one on the far right. The closest chef, in the blue headband, is Jimmy Lau, one of the two owners. In my meal at Neta I sat right in front of him; he prepared my sushi and we conversed.
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There are only two menu choices: Sushi Tasting at $135 and Sushi Kaiseki at $175. We chose the latter, which offers a range of composed dishes before the sushi. The format is vaguely traditional kaiseki, with a dashi broth and sushi replacing the traditional rice and miso soup ending.

We ordered a bottle of Kokuryu “Black Dragon” (Fukui) Junmai Ginjo from the interesting, and reasonably priced, sake list. Eventually we ordered a bottle of Tedorigawa Yamahai Junmai (Ishikawa) “Silver Mountain.” This might seem like a lot of sake, but the meal had 25 courses and went on for three hours so it was not too much. This type of cuisine and good sake really complement each other. The first sake was very good with distinct flavors. However, we preferred the second one, which is less highly rated, for its complex elegance. We were surprised that the sake glasses were so large; that is not traditional and makes it harder to retain the cool temperature we like. We asked for more traditional cups for the second sake. There was always someone ready to pour for us. In the bottom photo, you can see the ice bucket on the serving shelf where our bottle was kept.

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The first course was
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I think that savory mochi, or rice cakes, are much less common than its use for desserts. These were delicious, with a dominant pistachio flavor. 

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The natural sweetness of Dungeness crab is balanced with cucumber, chrysanthemum petals, Japanese ginger and some bonito-infused soy vinegar.

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Tuna tartare topped with caviar is a spread for the soft, fresh, house-made “milk bread.”  Luxurious.

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This was a luscious follow-up to the previous dish. Japanese mountain yam is grated on top. There was plenty of the trout roe and one needed the spoon to scoop it up from the ponzu sauce after it had fallen off the trout. 

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The lobster chunks continued the luxury ingredient theme, but they were a bit submerged in the other ingredients, all good and appropriate. 

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This deep-fried mix of slices of scallop fringe and various vegetables was hot, crisp, fresh and good. Alongside was a traditional tempura dipping sauce.

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The grilled young pigeon had been coated with a glaze from a reduction of a stock of its own bones. It was quite luscious; its gamey richness was complemented by the wintery braised sunchokes.

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This prepared us for the sushi. 

Now it was the turn of the sushi sous-chef directly in front of us to work with us. He had been with the team at Neta, but not Masa. Surprisingly, he was Chinese. We had brief conversations with him after he announced our sushi pieces. We were given a bowl of quite vinegary gari, or pickled ginger, and a folded napkin contraption for our fingers. The rice at Shuko is quite delicate and all the sushi is eaten directly with the fingers. We were not given any soy sauce or wasabi, which the chef added, as he saw fit, while he created each sushi piece.
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This was some of the preparation scene in front of us.
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The first piece was excellent, tender fatty tuna belly: toro.
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One of the two fish below is Hirame, or fluke, but I don’t know which one, or what the other fish is. The first is topped with grated lemon peel and the second with a wash of soy sauce.
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Sarawa (Spanish Mackerel) with myoga (Japanese ginger.)
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Tai (sea bream) with ume (Japanese plum) and shisho
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The chef placed our sushi, one by one, on rustic pottery slabs in front of us. Linda’s was more decorative than mine. This photo, and the next are on her slab.

I don’t know what the fish was, but the shards were aromatic black truffle.
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Akami (lean blue fin tuna.)  Interesting, but not as great as the toro.
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The needlefish had quite a lot of wasabi between it and the rice. We discussed this with the chef, who reduced the wasabi after that.
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Kampachi (baby yellowtail) with spicy potato.
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This was colorful, but I do not remember what it was.
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The chef placed this nori hammock directly into our hands for eating, Linda first, so I could take a photo. It was grilled tuna membrane, quite interesting, luscious and good.
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An oyster with ponzu sauce.
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Shirako, cod milt, is marinated in sake and white miso, then fried in a light tempura batter. The truffle shards are a good touch with the very mild, milky taste and delicate crunch.
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Shrimp cut in half lengthwise.
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We had been discussing uni (Sea Urchin) with our sushi chef. He said that he normally uses Santa Barbara uni, but that with the stormy California weather he was using Maine uni. In the conversation we said that we thought that Hokkaido uni was much the best so he took out a box of it and used a generous portion for our sushi. Great.
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Maïtake mushrooms with sansho peppercorns over crispy rice.
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He prepared a tuna roll with chopped scallions for us. Alongside was a house-made pickle, (as if this were the end of a kaiseki menu.)
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The final piece before dessert was pickled lotus root wrapped around shiso with a dash of umeboshi.
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The citrus granité was served with a cup of green tea with roasted brown rice.  

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In an interview Nick Kim said:

…Naturally, a lot of people — even my chefs — were skeptical. It was hard for people I’ve worked with for many years to understand how we were going to end the night with pie. But as soon as people ate it, they understood why it made sense. It brings warmness to the meal. And so far — knock on wood — people aren’t like, “What the hell?” Yes, sometimes a customer will want a piece of fruit, or something very Japanese, and they get a little grumpy. But I’ll hear that customer talking about how angry he or she is that there’s pie, and then, the next minute, the pie is finished

Our recipe is pretty simple. First and foremost, it’s about apples: We get upstate local apples at the Greenmarket from Migliorelli Farm. We make a classic French pie dough with layers — a cross between a puff pastry and a pate brisee. There’s a miso that’s added to the dough to help with the umami: The miso acts as a weird binding agent as well, and also a sweetener. We roasted the apples whole so that they’re hard but tender, and then we slice them and sauté them. We bake the pie and let it sit on the counter — like how a diner displays the pie. Finally, we garnish it with burnt-bay-leaf ice cream, using Indian bay leaf, Moroccan bay leaf, and Irish bay leaf.

We enjoyed the pie; happily it was not too sweet. And so that ended the meal. We enjoyed a very good evening with excellent ingredients, beautifully prepared.

It was evident that we were not in Japan. There was the ethnic mix in the staff and the clientèle. There was twangy  and rap music. Both the composed and the sushi dishes were more complex than they would have been in Japan. There were American touches such as parsley and hot sauce.  The apple pie. We did not like the large sake glasses. But most of that was fine. We were there to see what the chefs had created. The service was excellent. There is more than ample trained, friendly staff. The pace moved right along, as it had to.

Bravo Jimmy and Nick.


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