Shuko New York | The Beauty of Zen

On 12th Street between University Place and Broadway, Shuko situates itself on the block with a minimalistic yet Zen-like exterior, leaving customers to potentially overlook and walk pass the restaurant. It could take a bit of time before you find the entrance and walk through to what seems like the entering of a private event.

Sashimi course: Hiramasa with Daikon shiso and bonito sauce

It won’t be long until the trendy music hits and pulls you in, more closely enwrapping you into the vibe of the restaurant. The wait staff leads you to one of the 20 seats at the sushi counter, forged from unfinished tamo, a type of Japanese ash. There are also seats at tables towards the front of the restaurant.

The Chefs Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim want their guests to feel like as if Shuko is your living room, and that you’re enjoying your dinner with nice service and in an enjoyable Zen-like atmosphere. What better way to embrace that than with music, different from the traditional Japanese restaurant, playing slightly louder over dialogues between guests, to mimic the liveliness and ambiance of a family living room. The music is not too loud that it will shadow conversations between guests though.

Bread course: Toro and Caviar with housemade Japanese milk toast

The personnel at Shuko demonstrated professional service, were well mannered and closely attentive, and detailed enough with serving the food and drinks, but not to the point that it intrudes the connections between the Chef and the guests.  The Shuko team worked together seamlessly to craft the most pleasurable fine dining experience.

At Shuko, there is only one choice to make – deciding between the sushi omakase or the kaiseki omakase menu. Both omakase menus include is 18 pieces of sushi, however the kaiseki omakase menu includes the addition of five composed dishes, most of which are hot. Sushi Chefs Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim both have a common vision, one that turns away from the norm of high-end sushi establishments. They also play with the traditional understanding and boundaries of what makes up Japanese dining, but at the same time balancing their traditional training and their diverse backgrounds. It is very evident that they achieve successfully this with both of the Chefs’ innovative use of ingredients.

Suimono course: Dashi with Hon Shimeji

To start off our kaiseki omakase (the menu changes often), there were two appetizers. The first is a house-made mochi with shiso and pumpkin squash purée, topped with pumpkin seeds. The purée blended really well with the mochi, while the pumpkin squash would wrap the mochi after every bite. The second appetizer was yellowtail with daikon, shiso, tempura flakes and bonito soy sauce. The fish was so fresh, and the fresh sweet taste of the yellowtail really shined through.

The sushi course begins with a piece of chu toro sushi, which was so fatty that the oil of that piece spills over every surface of your palate. The shima aji had an amazing firm texture and its natural sweetness stood out. The dorade, as Chef Jimmy said, is considered the bacon of the veal in a fish. That basically explains how the fattiness of this fish can cover your palate with a lasting taste and can remind you of otoro. The Sawara (Spanish mackerel) topped with myoga stood out for its texture, resembling the texture of a scallop. The list continues and goes from golden eye snapper to Hirame (fluke) to ocean trout to amber jack to uni, and many more. Chef Jimmy served both Maine and Hokkaido uni. The Maine uni was sweeter and more straightforward with it natural sweetness, whereas the Hokkaido one was a bit more rich and creamy but it took some time to get to its sweet taste, which was not as apparent. The shiitake mushroom tempura topped with shaved truffles was one of the memorable pieces. The warm crunchy exterior gave it an extra layer or flavor, along with the rich and empowering flavor and aroma of the shaved truffles.

Sunomono course: Dungeness Crab with Kiku (Chrysanthemum), and Tosazu (a bonito-flavored rice vinegar dressing)

What also was different at Shuko was that the chefs would toast the nori (seaweed) right in front of you before they use it to serve the hand roll. They have a little charcoal fire to prepare the nori to-order, making sure that each handroll is served with a crunch and that the seaweed creates a slight toasted aroma and adding another flavor to the handroll.

After the sushi course but right before the dessert, the chef serves shiso wrapped with a pickled lotus root, a taste cleanser to awaken your taste buds for dessert. The dessert was The Granite, a Concord grape sorbet with slight hints of lime. Another dessert is what people might see or think of as a boring American dessert, but it was not at all boring. It was a slice of apple pie with burnt bay leaf sided with a scoop of soba ice cream. The top layer of the apple pie was crunchy, something you would expect from the crust. The soba ice cream was extremely creamy and it balanced out really well with the pie.

A cup of genmaicha tea was served, and was so potent in its rich rice flavor. This calls for the perfect ending of a sushi dinner as the aromas of the tea runs through your nose with each sip of the tea.

Shuko and its simple and Zen exterior is never to be overlooked. Getting past its minimal façade is when you will find the true beauty of it Zen-like dining experience and environment accompanied with perfectly crafted dishes and sushi.
Photography Courtesy Shuko New York