A sizable string of omakases have opened in the past year, with a commonality you can rely on; that pretty expensive. Which is how, in a particular business that’s defined by impeccable fish and the impeachable technique of a series of presiding masters, Sushi Ishikawa has set itself apart; bringing an affordable — yet no less ceremonial — sushi experience to the Upper East Side.
Opened by former O Ya executive chef, Don Pham (also a vet of Geisha and Morimoto), the space is a tiny jewel box, seating 23 people — a coveted 11 of them at the long ash counter — in 500-square foot digs, outfitted with traditional Japanese hand-dyed fabric dividers, custom-milled tabletops and cabinetry, and sturdy oak wood chairs.
A duo of menus top out at $125 — a not unreasonable exchange for 15 meticulously crafted courses — although diners can elect to go for 12, at an unheard of (in current omakase circles at least) $85. But lest you suspect that the approachable prices come at the expense of top-grade fish, know that Pham is scrupulously sourcing from both Japan (Shiro Ebi — i.e., baby white shrimp — as well as the blue fin tuna known as Maguro), and the East Coast (Cape Cod Scallops, topped with curls of Kyushu uni and distilled uni jus).
As the latter option suggests, he also frequently goes beyond bare-bones nigiri by adding a touch of whimsy to his cooked and raw dishes. Look for Nama Tako (live octopus) scattered with green tea salt, Isaki (Japanese grunt) finished with smoked salt and bonito flakes, and Kengani (hairy crab) over pen shell scallop, as well as teapot-poured bowls of Kuro Awabi; black abalone and mushroom soup.
Sushi Ishikawa may lack the elite, deep-pocket mystique of newcomers like Suzuki and Ichimura, but you can’t put a price tag on an omakase spot that actually doubles as a (semi) regular neighborhood joint.
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