Last we saw Daisuke Nakazawa, he was toiling over egg custard as the modest apprentice in the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, humbled by the rigors of an 11-year stint under the world’s most distinguished sushi chef, Jiro Ono. Now, the pupil has emerged as the teacher at this sleek West Village sushi bar. It looks like something out of a luxury car commercial, with black leather swivel chairs, sake sommeliers in tailored dark suits and a soundtrack of classical strings.
Whereas his master was stoic, Nakazawa is a jokester who places a live squirming shrimp on your plate just for a laugh. But his pranks don’t undercut the seriousness of his nigiri.
Nakazawa swiftly sets each of the 20 or so pieces on your plate in succession, drifting back to his post like Kobe Bryant swishing a fadeaway. The fewer the embellishments, the better, as with pike mackerel, featuring a gentle brininess that gives way to unctuous maritime fat as you chew, and wild yellowtail from Hokkaido, with fatty tails that tantalizingly overhang rice so tenderly packed, it would fall to pieces if you looked at it funny. At times, delicately flavored creatures like scallops or fluke are outstripped by pungent wasabi or yuzu. But the meal is like a wave, its gentle lulls rendering the crests all the more thrilling. One peak was a strip of hay-smoked skipjack, licked by the salty sea and haunted with smoke redolent of the finest ham.
Ask Nakazawa where he smokes that fish and he’ll motion upward toward the roof with a guilty smile, as giddy as a teenager left home alone for the weekend. He laughs as he returns to studiously slicing his fish, and it’s easy to see that this is what he’s dreamed about all along.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Meal highlights: The omakase changes daily, but recent favorites included geoduck, triggerfish with liver and daikon, pike mackerel, blue shrimp, yellowtail, hay-smoked skipjack and lean bluefin tuna.
Behind the bar: The $40 sake pairing is curated by Italian-wine-expert-turned-sake-buff Maurizio de Rosa. His six-glass flight starts with higher-quality polished sakes, and proceeds to “lesser,” cloudier styles that bolster the sweet flavors of uni, tuna and egg custard at the end of the omakase.
Vibe: The glossy spot could double as the world’s swankiest airport lounge.
Cocktail chatter: A late-night viewing of Jiro Dreams of Sushi prompted co-owner Alessandro Borgognone to search for Nakazawa, whom he found working in Seattle for another Jiro alum from the ’60s.
Soundcheck: A gentle clamor is mostly enough to drown out—thankfully—the stuffy classical music. (Who enjoys eating to “Simple Gifts,” anyway?)