Restaurant review

Saito follows the famous downtown Sushi Nakazawa

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Daisuke Nakazawa was already known to many since his appearance in the film Jiro dreams of sushi when the restaurant bearing his name opened in the West Village in 2013. It was nigh impossible to get in at first, and after, and it looked like it might as well have cost a million dollars back then. (The 20-course omakase currently costs $150 per person in the dining room and $180 at the counter, which today is hundreds less than most of its peers’ prices.) When I finally could visiting was like a temporary entry into a parallel universe where Spanish mackerel, fatty tuna and eel have reached nature’s ideal form; unlike anything available in the real world. It was disarming and still ranks among the dining experiences I’ve had before or since.

Nakazawa opened Saito with his partner Hitoshi “Jin” Fujita (Sushiden, Sushi Nakazawa) and the chef Daniel Tun Win (Inakaya, Prime Grill) this past May. The tidy space seats six at tables near the entrance, with room for a few more at the open counter facing the kitchen a little further back. A separate, narrow, brick-lined dining room to the left seats about 18 people. Both areas are lean and clean in warm white and gray tones. It is an extremely hospitable operation executed in a way that appears to be effortless and could be studied as an industrial model. It’s also oddly easy to book right now, though the less impressive deals are packed. So do this.

Half a dozen clear and cold sake varieties are available by the glass ($16 to $21), and each choice is satisfying enough to start at the top of the list and sip your way down. There you will reach an unfiltered variety ($16) and a lychee infusion ($15). A few small bottles start at $37 and larger ones go up from $80 to ambitious territory.

The menu is easy to configure into snacks, main app/size, or DIY tasting. The sculptural toro tartare with caviar is so beautiful to look at that it invites you to hesitate at the first bite; the knowledge that once the enjoyment of the thing passes from one sense to another, from sight to touch and taste, all is over.

Try skipping the existential break and enjoy your $35 worth. Look: you have two halves of an elegantly pressed mochi rice cracker about the size of the inside of a handshake. Its base is pressed around the edges with silky bluefin tuna. The generous pearly fish roe dome in the center is adorned with a shimmering splash of gold. It seems like a sin to smother everything with the floral-printed top half of the shell, but the hollow sides come together to wonderfully envelop the smooth layer of fish and vibrant caviar and, of course, you wouldn’t “know” that the shimmering glow was in there too, but you to know the shimmering glow is there too. Yeah, that’s a heck of a lot of money to pay for a few bites. It’s also a bit of luxury for a lot less than those triple-digit menus elsewhere; a culinary equivalent of lipstick effect.

Crispy rice is also a pleasure. The pressed fried sushi rice is topped with spicy tuna ($20), salmon ($20), ikura ($25), or uni ($32). The latter perfectly marries the crispy, slightly chewy base with plump chunks of full-bodied sea urchin that could, to be fair, elevate almost anything.

Bowls are less convenient to share. It can be nice, and they’re nice, if not some of Saito’s most notable options. The mini chirashi ($20) is a nice mix of sliced ​​raw fish like salmon and tuna and exuberant ikura over rice. Even with the fun, popping red eggs, its smaller-than-standard surface area minimizes what’s usually a kaleidoscopic effect and makes it look a little too much like an office lunch to go (still better than normal). The same-category Wagyu don ($28) lets Wagyu do what Wagyu wants: pack a more inimitable, abundantly buttery flavor and texture into a few slices than many other cuts can do at five times the size. Expensive. It doesn’t shake any idea of ​​spendthrift beef, but it will please your Wagyu enthusiast. The juicy, lightly coated karaage in the fried section ($16) is back to convenient sharing and approaching essential dish status.

Saito’s sashimi for two ($40) is a knockout. Selections will vary and items like bluefin tuna, king salmon, sea bream and amberjack are, as expected, expertly sourced and unquestionably high quality. Three slices of each are served with wonderfully fragrant, wonderfully grainy wasabi. Its coherence is a giant, telling little detail that emphasizes the essence and apparent intentions of the whole place, all within the space of a thimble; another glimpse of the triumphs Nakazawa and his teams are bringing to New York.

Vitals

The atmosphere: Extremely inviting in a small but cozy space.

The food: Excellent sashimi, excellent crispy uni rice, a good karaage and a sensational toro tartare with caviar as a splurge.

The drinks: Excellent sake by the glass and small or large bottle, plus beer and wine.

Timing Tip: It’s rare for a highly recommended restaurant like this to have reservations available, so take advantage of it quickly.

Saito is located at 72 Kenmare Street. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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