After visiting Atomix at the end of last year, I made a new resolution for 2019 that I will choose a few restaurants that I will visit with my wife Jun at least once every season. Part of the motivation behind it was to move away from the pattern of our culinary journey where we constantly check out new restaurants (which we will still do to certain extent) and find a few places where we can become regulars and get to know the chefs on a personal level. When I tried to search for some potential candidates, one place that I couldn’t stop thinking about was Mayanoki, which provided a truly unique experience with a tall male Caucasian chef (Jeff Miller) at the counter serving locally sourced fish (nothing from Japan) to provide a sustainable sushi omakase experience (see my review on the prior visit here https://kenscale.com/2017/12/19/mayanoki/). On a recent Sunday evening, I decided to come for a second visit with Jun (we haven’t visited the restaurant since our first visit at the end of 2017). On our trip in 2017, the weather was horrible and a bunch of diners ended up canceling their reservations so we were the only ones sitting at the counter. When Jun mentioned that to chef Miller, he remembered that night with a chuckle. Well, by the looks of the counter on our second visit, I could tell that Mayanoki is doing well, with a full table and at least a couple of diners who seem to be regulars at the establishment. Furthermore, it was evident that the chef has opened things up a lot since our last visit, which was focused more on nigiri pieces. There were some truly remarkable non-nigiri dishes that we were able to sample on our revisit.
One thing that stands about Mayanoki, aside from the fact that almost all of the ingredients are sourced from the U.S. (no single fish we had on our night came from Japan), is that chef Miller is not afraid to use ingredients that you don’t often see at a sushi bar. A Massachusetts oyster shot with caracara orange and coriander blossom to kick off the meal? Check. Sake steamed mussels (from Prince Edward Island) in a maki? Check. I was in love with this delicious piece, although Jun seemed to have caught a little piece of particle that turned her off. Until our night, we had never heard of a fish called blue runner. This fish from Florida, according to the chef, is not highly regarded and used primarily for fish baits. After eating the nigiri, I just couldn’t understand why the fish is relegated to that status; it was quite a remarkable piece, comparable to a very nice shima aji (striped jack).
Among the other nigiri pieces, there were winners such as black sea bass from Montauk and steelhead trout from Hudson Valley, although the Atlantic mackerel from Massachusetts didn’t feel too fresh in flavor. At times, chef Miller uses blow torch to great effect, such as the shrimp locally farmed in New York (it was astounding to see the raw shrimp curl into a ball shape with the fire) and the steelhead trout belly. The surprise from the counter, however, came from non-nigiri dishes. The chef explained how on our last visit, he just arrived in New York so he didn’t have access to all the ingredients he wanted so his play was on a more conservative side, focusing on nigiri pieces. This time, he presented several non-nigiri dishes that showed a lot of ingenuity and thoughtfulness. A dish of Massachusetts scallop with fennel and dashi puree was a case in point, enhanced by the refreshing bits of apples.
Our consensus favorite dish of the night was the Iceland arctic char sashimi with persimmon and smoked trout roe. Growing up in Korea, permission wasn’t one of my favorite fruits. I certainly wouldn’t have eaten it with sashimi together so it was a shock to me when the arctic char worked together perfectly with the fruit for a stunning texture. Another winner was the Spanish mackerel from North Carolina that was served in a Malaysian laksa-style broth made with the same fish’s parts. The fish was not only more or less perfectly grilled right in front of the diners, but the exotic flavor of the broth added another dimension to the fish that was quite pleasant. I don’t know where chef Miller learns to use these different inspirations and ingredient combinations to come up with these dishes, but it certainly made me eager for more on our future visits.
Mayanoki only has a single counter and as noted above, it was fully booked for our 6:30 p.m. slot. If you want to secure a reservation, probably best to plan in advance. The restaurant still serves wines mostly from New York State and sakes from different parts of Japan; I was hoping that at least the wine selection expands a little bit more to other parts of the world. Chef Miller, just like last time, was very friendly and we shared stories about his recent dining experiences (he was happy to share his impressions with other high-end sushi places that opened up in the city recently) and inspirations behind his craft. Mayanoki is truly a trailblazer in New York City’s sushi scene, and I’m happy to see that it has become not just a sushi restaurant but really more of a well-rounded sustainable seafood place where you get to encounter a lot of interesting species from all across the U.S. I have decided to designate my KenScale All-Star tag (which will go to all restaurants that I resolved to visit more frequently going forward in 2019) to Mayanoki.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 620 East 6th Street, New York, NY 10009