Insider Experience Through A Gaijin’s Perspective In New York
Gaijin, a Japanese word that is composed of the two characters: gai (outside) and jin (people), translates to outsider.
Gaijin, a Japanese-inspired restaurant located in an upcoming and vibrant neighborhood of Astoria in Queens, could be considered a “gaijin” in terms of its location with the rest of the other sushi/omakase restaurants, most of which are located in Manhattan. As if that wasn’t enough to set itself apart from the rest, the restaurant’s Executive Chef Mark, is an outsider himself. As a sushi chef from Chicago, he is determined to bring his own perspective and take on modern Japanese cuisine in New York, starting with Queens. Chef Mark, proudly embraces this distinction, invites his diners and omakase lovers to join him on his culinary journey, and promises to present a traditional, yet original and unique “gaijin” experience.
The gaijin experience is accompanied by their impeccable service, from their select team of Chicago talent, thus making this an experience of an insider, no matter where you come from for their sushi. At Gaijin, there is a choice of seating: at the sushi bar, at a table or out in the garden. To truly and fully immerse yourself in this omakase odyssey, a seat at the elegant white marble chef’s counter is strongly suggested. The intimacy between the sushi chef and diner can further enhance the dining experience and the diner’s understanding of what’s being served and how it is prepared. A seat at the sushi bar can guarantee for a visual satisfaction and a detailed explanation by the chef.
After the offering of a warm oshibori (towel) to the diners to clean their hands before eating, the full omakase journey begins. First served with their soup course, Dobin Mushi; a comforting broth with shiitake mushrooms, chicken and radish in a small dobin (teapot), it definitely warms and readies your stomach for what’s to come next. The instructions and etiquette of self serving and drinking the broth is truly a meticulous process, one of which makes you feel like you are truly submerged in the culture yet also feels like you are enjoying tea at home. From the addition of lime juice, self-squeezed as per your own personal preference, to the number of seconds you should wait until you serve the broth into the tiny teacup, all total to the amazing burst of flavors across your palate. But it doesn’t stop here; the sweetness and freshness of their oysters topped with ponzu and chives will completely take over every taste bud and claim every space in your mouth.
The nigiri sushi pieces are all like art, each one carefully handcrafted and aesthetically presented by Chef Mark, each vastly different than the next, from presentation to taste. Each piece demonstrates the perfect balance between fish and rice, topped with special combinations of toppings to complement the distinct flavors and textures of each kind of fish. Despite the immense differences between each, some do stand out more. From the moment you taste it to minutes after you swallowed it, the feeling is almost unexplainable, and it leaves you wanting more and more. The Goldeneye Red Snapper, lightly seared and topped with sweet, crisp grated fuji apple, sea salt and yuzu, Bluefin Tuna garnished with shitake mushroom, butter and roasted almonds, and the Shimaaji belly side brushed with banana peppers and soy did just that. The shitake mushroom and the roasted almonds went extremely well with the Bluefin Tuna; the combination of all their own distinct flavors spread out across your palate and up and through your nose. After you make the tuna and crunches disappear, what’s left is the lingering taste of the almonds and mushrooms.
Gaijin also serves Madai, King Salmon, Striped Jack Shimaaji, Skipjack Tuna, Chutoro, Otoro, Uni, Japanese squid, and many more. The sushi part of the omakase finished perfectly with an Otoro (fatty tuna) handroll. Do take note that the omakase changes seasonally and based on the chef’s choice; therefore the menu of nigiri sushi served can be slightly different one day from another. However, what doesn’t change is the amount of skill, heart and inspiration Chef Mark puts into each piece. With his impressive background, Chef Mark is confident yet humble at the same time. Chef Mark is recognized for his ability and skill, despite not being Japanese, like most sushi chefs. From the careful crafting through the perspective of a gaijin, Executive Chef/Partner Mark and Owner Jay Zheng both aim to create the extraordinary dining experience rooted in tradition, yet truly original, for everyone. For a one of a kind insider experience, Gaijin is the spot and it is absolutely worth a visit to Astoria.