Sushi of Gari‘s new Tribeca location has opened in the building where Upstairs at Bouley was. It’s the chain’s fifth outpost, after ones on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Midtown West, and in the Plaza Hotel. It’s not on OpenTable (yet?), so I called for a reservation. My conversation with the reservationist straddled the line between awkward and charming. She asked if I wanted to sit at a table or the sushi bar, so I asked whether the menu was the same either way—and I learned that upstairs is omakase only. She asked for my phone number, and then said the manager would be calling to confirm, and would that be OK? I said of course, and when no one called, I wondered whether our reservation would exist. It did—a half hour earlier than I had made it for. (I know the mistake wasn’t mine, because as much as I like to eat early, I can’t ever get Adam to dine at 7 p.m.) The restaurant called at 7:15 to find out if we’d be coming.
That’s the kind of thing that happens in the first week of a restaurant’s opening, as is the smell of paint that pervaded the downstairs dining room. But other issues may not be fixable, or even considered problems. The restaurant was painfully bright, far brighter than the photo at right appears; no one looks good in that kind of fluorescent light. While the downstairs has a pretty bamboo checkerboard motif on the rear wall, the carpet is Marriottesque and the paint job is noticeably sloppy (the bright light didn’t help). The room is tiny (26 seats), but our table was good in that we had no adjacent neighbors. It was bad, however, in that it sat next to a service monitor, so I kept seeing waiters looming behind Adam, and we had to inch our table slightly away so he wouldn’t get repeatedly bumped. We probably would have left without eating if I hadn’t needed to write about the experience.
The menu is limited: three soups and three salads, ten appetizers, and sushi and sashimi. Omakase, we were told, costs around $90 for sushi or $120 if you get sashimi, too. If you order omakase, you will definitely get some of Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio’s signature creative sushi (usually involving sauces or marinades). “Regular” and “Deluxe” sushi don’t include the signature pieces, but “Special” does. Adam decided he wanted to order à la carte, which our server said was possible, and when he asked how he’d know what was available, he was handed a laminated yellow sheet listing various options. Then he said what he liked, and sometimes the waiter suggested signature pieces instead. Or that’s what I think happened.
We split the hijiki salad (not bad, except for the tomatoes, which were embarrassingly unripe), the kabocha tempura (among the worst tempura I’ve ever had), and I had the Sushi Deluxe. The fish was fresh, and I enjoyed the sushi, but—and perhaps this is just me—adding dabs of sauces kind of goes against the purity of sushi, doesn’t it? Some of the sauces were delicious, others unremarkable, but I kept thinking that if you want creative takes on fish, both raw and cooked, you’d be far happier up at Soto, probably the best restaurant below 14th Street that you’ve never heard of. Its kinks pale in comparison.
Maybe we went to Sushi of Gari Tribeca on an off night. Maybe this is good enough for uptown or the pre-theater crowd (is the “We do NOT offer ‘all-you-can-eat’ sushi” warning on the menu really necessary?). Maybe other people won’t mind paying $150 (before tip) for such a meal.
As we left, I ran upstairs to check out the 11-seat sushi bar. It was much more civilized—no visor required—but I can’t say whether it would be worth twice what we paid. If anyone out there gives it a go, I’d love to know what you thought.
Sushi of Gari is at 130 W. Broadway (at Duane), 212-285-0130; sushiofgari.com.
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