New York City has recently seen a ton of super-expensive sushi restaurants. I don’t know if that is necessarily the good thing, but I will probably start making the rounds this year with my wife Jun to each one of them simply because Jun and I are always eager to check out new spots, although we will also try to look for places that we can become regulars, such as Mayanoki (see my previous review here https://kenscale.com/2019/01/26/mayanoki-revisit-kenscale-all-star/). The first stop of our pricey journey this year is Shoji located on a quiet TriBeCa street. What particularly stands out about this place is the presence of a Caucasian chef, Derek Wilcox, who trained in Japan for a long time before coming to NYC to make his name. Shoji has received a three-star accolade from New York Times’ Pete Wells, and while I think Mr. Wells’ evaluation of Asian restaurants is not always on the spot, I was also curious what chef Derek has up his sleeves that his Japanese counterparts might not have. I think Jun’s reaction when I told her after the dinner that it cost over $200 per person (it was $252 per person) sums up our experience. She was flabbergasted that a restaurant that was solid but not great charges that much.
The full kaiseki menu that Jun and I sat down at the counter for consists of several seafood-based appetizers, followed by a series of nigiri sushi and then the desserts. Some appetizer dishes were great, such as the red sea bream (called “tai” in Japanese according to chef Derek) accompanied by watercress that was quite a delicacy with its smooth texture, or the blue fin tuna with Japanese mustard that you can dip on egg yolk sauce for a wonderful effect on the flavor combination between the fish and the egg yolk. Jun grew up in Korea loving belt fish, and the one served at Shoji, marinated in soy and citrus for two hours and accompanied by orange, was easily her favorite dish of the night.
On the other hand, there were some misses such as poached bay scallops where miso and crumbled walnut quickly overwhelmed the texture of the scallops, or the fire fly squid with pea shoots that could have been more robust in texture. The chawanmushi served with black truffle (served, to our great surprise, by Oona Tempest who we last saw at Sushi by Bae (see my previous review here https://kenscale.com/2018/05/28/sushi-by-bae/) was also weak because of the way clam dashi made the broth too fishy. The succession of nigiri pieces that followed was also a mix of hits and misses. I loved pieces such as golden eye snapper, kohada (called “gizzard shad” in English according to chef Derek who said he is also fluent in Japanese) and o toro (fatty tuna) for how fresh they are with excellent texture.
Jun, who is always sensitive to the freshness of sea urchin, approved the uni that came from Maine, and we both loved the extra level of crunchiness that the kuruma ebi (prawn) provided, as well as the generous portion of the sea eel. However, it was difficult to pinpoint one or two truly outstanding pieces that Jun and I would end up choosing at other sushi restaurants we had been to, and other pieces such as needlefish, nodogoro (alternatively called akamutsu to translate roughly to “rosy seabass” in English) and akami (“lean tuna”) were all in the OK territory. Following a serviceable maki hand roll with blue fin tuna, we got two dessert dishes, one with refreshing yuzu and ginger granita and the other with strawberry and mochi that you can dip on addictively delicious dark and white chocolate ganache.
Getting a reservation at Shoji requires a booking online and there is a single counter with 10 people for two seating times (one around 6 p.m. and the other around 9 p.m.). There are some high-end sake and wine selections, and the sake bottle we ordered on our server’s recommendation was quite nice. Given the intimate setting of a single counter, if you are looking to impress your date and do not have budget constraints, Shoji could be a good spot to accomplish your mission. Chef Derek was usually not the one to initiate conversation with diners, but he was willing to answer anyone’s question on the source of fish and it was evident that he does have profound knowledge of the fish he is bringing to the table. Having been to a number of great sushi restaurants in the city (and more to come in our future culinary journey), it was difficult for Jun and I to call Shoji one of the very best. We both liked the dishes well enough, but as I’m writing this review about a week after our dinner, I couldn’t quite remember one or two dish that I would consider for the Best Dishes of the Year category when I write my year-end reviews later this year.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 7.0/10
Address: 69 Leonard Street, New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (212) 404-4600