Known to many as the most diverse neighborhood in New York City, Astoria is home to plenty top notch restaurants. Hidden between two unassuming buildings, Gaijin sits comfortably as if without any competition within a five-mile radius. Gaijin, meaning “outside person” in Japanese, is run by a friendly staff with the main directive in giving their diners an experience rather than settling like other restaurants who often become underwhelming stop-and-go sushi spots. The name Gaijin symbolizes Chef Mark Garcia’s modern take on traditional Japanese dishes. Chef Mark has worked on creating a diverse and innovative menu that can appeal to both pescetarianism and veganism. Menu aside, Gaijin offers a retro-modern Japanese locale that takes you to neo-Tokyo and beyond. White walls are adorned with soft lights while small square tables offer first-date intimacy. The main focal point is the sushi bar that sits right at the entrance. Eight stools adorn a glass wall with a marble table that separates the sushi chef and yourself. Across the wall, wooden boxes hold colorful indistinguishable sushi. Each sushi chef wears typical white aprons and holds an attentive stare.
Let’s get to the sushi part because we know this what you came here for. What sets Gaijin apart is its omakase. Known to many as a revolving door of what the current chef has on hand, omakase means “I’ll leave it up to you”. The chef has total control of your flavor experience for the night. Gaijin has three omakase options: starter ($100) which entails nine pieces, full ($130) which contains 12 pieces and premier ($160) which carries 15 pieces. All omakase are served with a soup, appetizer, hand roll and dessert. If you’re in the mood for unagi, tuna or uni you need to check this out. Before you start munching down on raw fish, a waiter prepares soup while recanting the history of omakase and makes recommendations on sake. Each soup is prepared in small cantors containing potatoes and other delicious ingredients.
Omakase is traditionally paired with a supplement in the form of sake. Gaijin offers a sake ($50) and a wine pairing ($50). The sake pairing comes with junmai, gingo, daiginjo and umeshu. Each sake is meant to be drunk while on the omakase voyage. The wine options come with seasonal selections of white and red. Each omakase dish brings a new flavor, fish and experience. You’ll try sea urchin, firefish and other delectable dishes you never thought would be consumable. At the end of your omakase voyage, you’ll be treated with black sesame ice cream. Rolled into traditional balls, this ice cream soothes your aching full belly. What Chef Mark and Gaijin offer is an unforgettable experience in a city that is often embittered with consumable overexposure.
BY TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER: EMY RODRIGUEZ
His artistic eye and creative skills are influenced by his training under Chef Kaze, a veteran Chicago sushi chef with a 30-year history of opening innovative and wildly successful sushi restaurants (Heat, Mirai Sushi, Macku Sushi). Chef Mark served as sushi chef at Kaze Sushi, the namesake establishment founded by Chef Kaze and rated one of the top ten sushi spots in the nation by Bon Appetit. He was Executive Sushi Chef at several prominent Chicago Japanese restaurants. Most recently, he collaborated with both Chef Kaze and Michelin-starred chef Jeff Ramsey, renowned culinary engineer of BABE, to develop the menu and design the sushi bar for the opening of Momotaro, a multi-dimensional sushi spot, izakaya and bar that quickly became one of the hottest new restaurants in the area. Following his success in Chicago, Chef Garcia felt it was time to bring his culinary inspiration to New York.
Mark’s love of Japanese cuisine, influenced by his “outsider” perspective, are what led him to open Gaijin. Gaijin is his take on modern Japanese. We hope you enjoy his inspiration.
37-12 31st Ave
|Cross street:||between 37th and 38th Sts|
|Opening hours:||Mon–Thurs 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm; Sun closed|
|Transport:||E, M, R to Steinway St or N, W to Broadway|
|Price:||Average: $60 per person|
|Do you own this business?|
Average User Rating
5 / 5
- 5 star:2
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We had the omikaze meal, prix fixe and served at the counter. Each piece
of sushi was layered above and below with flavors such as truffle,
almond, peppers, radish, ponzu, uni, sesame or caviar. The sushi chef
instructed us to bite through the layers all at once. The effect was
that each piece was like an entire complex meal. Quite extraordinary!
The place was extremely friendly, and the meal was beautifully served. If you know nothing about sushi, this is a great start, because everything was clearly explained--what it is, how to eat it, etc. No sushi snobs working here!
If you know everything about sushi, you will likely be surprised by the variety of nontraditional garnishes and presentations--although, as I've mentioned, this is part of what makes the meal so extraordinary. Chef Mark Garcia calls his cuisine "Japanese inspired" for a reason. I would say keep an open mind. Your palate will be delighted by the newness, freshness, unusualness. This is a meal you cannot get anywhere else.
I've lived in Japan twice. This is some of the most inspired, delicious and inventive Japanese cuisine I have ever tasted. This is not predictable Japanese food it tantalises and moves beyond what you might expect. Mark is a remarkable chef and I think he is destined for greatness.