1/25/2013 10:14:00 AM

Why Tanoshi May Be NYC's Next Culinary Hot Spot

Last week, the NY Times published a short, glowing review of a relatively new Japanese spot on the UES. This alone is not news; the paper publishes restaurant reviews weekly, and this particular one wasn't even written by main dining critic Pete Wells. But aside from all the accolades, it seemed to hit every mark for the exact kind of place that'll draw New Yorkers of all ages who'll eagerly endure hour-long waits (see Mission Chinese, Parm): 1) it's tiny, which makes it instantly exclusive; 2) its chef has real-deal credentials, which gives it heft and authenticity; 3) it's affordable, which makes it accessible; and 4th), since it snuck into the city with nary a whisper – no press release, no blog posts – it had the bonus of seeming undiscovered, which the aforementioned article will surely change, of course. The place is called, Tanoshi Sushi Sake Bar, and on a frigid New York night we set out to discover whether it really did have all the makings to become the next big NYC thing. Our conclusion: absolutely. Read on to find out why.

Location: Tanoshi is located on York Ave. between 73rd and 72nd. This micro-neighborhood feels barren, personality-less and as nowheresville as you can get while still in Manhattan. In other words, it's the perfect area to give Tanoshi even more cred, since walking on these nothing blocks only adds to the feeling that you're discovering something that's still sort of a secret, which is a rare, elusive achievement in this city. In fact, we'd say uncovering one is an NYC point of pride.

Setting: The room is tiny and dingy, with 10 stools along an L-shaped sushi bar. The brick walls are unvarnished, the wood slabs on the bar still display bar-code stickers from the hardware store where they were probably purchased and I've seen nicer toilets at a construction site. But sitting there so close the highly skilled chefs as they operate two toaster ovens, a large rice cooker and blow torch feels intimate, like you are a lucky guest in their home. Sure, the stools can get a bit uncomfortable and there's no room to stretch out, but if the place were larger with actual tables, you would lose the exclusivity of it all, as well as the closeness you feel while watching the three chefs prepare every bite of your meal. And besides, the lack of decor reinforces that you're there for the food, which alone makes it a destination, because FOODIES.

The Food: There's no menu, and it's omakase only, though you can also add on any of six a la carte appetizers, or a la carte sushi, the choices of which are written on color-coded cards (pink = red meat fish; orange= shellfish; yellow = white meat fish; purple = silver fish) displayed on clothespins dangling on the wall. We started with the mixed sashimi appetizer for $15, and though it was everything fantastic sashimi should be (fresh, clean, flavorful), it wasn't until the sushi started coming that we found ourselves swooning. We got 10 pieces in all*, all simply prepared, and often brushed with housemade nikiri, sprinkled with a variety of spices and joined to the rice with a subtle dusting of wasabi. Getting each new piece was exciting, like opening a tiny little surprise gift. Our favorites included tuna sprinkled with lip-tingling yuzu peppper, sea bream served with bits of scallion and yellowtail marinated with cherry blossom leaves and served under a leaf that we were instructed to smell first, but not eat. After that came half a tuna roll, half a spicy tuna roll and an albacore hand roll placed directly in our hands from the chef right after she sealed the end. As of right now it serves no booze, but a liquor license is in the works.

The Service: Now, in our opinion service barely matters when it comes to whether or not a place becomes a NYC hot spot; snotty staffers hardly deter the crowds here. But from the moment we were handed a warm mug of green tea (the only beverage offered), we felt completely taken care of by the earnest server who chatted amiably with us and even came to our rescue when our zipper got stuck and we couldn't zip up our coat.

The crowd: The recent NY Times article has definitely made Tanoshi more popular, but inside, the crowd was still laid back and low key. No one was dressed up, talking loudly on cell phones (or talking loudly period), and the only jerk snapping a photo of each bite was me.

The bottom line: There are three seatings: at 6, 7:30 and 9. We did have the freezing weather on our side, but getting there a little before 6 to put our names on the clipboard attached to the door for the 7:30 seating was plenty early. The price tag is affordable - the omakase was just $47. And even if we're wrong, and it doesn't become a premier NYC dining destination, well, that's perfectly fine with us. It just means we'll have an easier time getting in.

* the full list of sushi we had: seared king salmon, scallop, fluke cured with kelp, tuna sprinkled with yuzu pepper, sea bream, albacore, yellowtail, salmon roe marinated in sake, uni, sea eel.


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