Secrets of Sushi Nakazawa's Success

By Kirsten Stamn  |  January 22, 2014

The first time most Americans saw chef Daisuke Nakazawa, he was a mere apprentice; a humble, subservient kid attempting to please his boss, Jiro Ono, the exacting Tokyo sushi taskmaster in the celebrated documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Today? Nakazawa is running his own shop, Sushi Nakazawa, one of the most acclaimed NYC debuts in years. After receiving a rare four-star review from the New York Times’ Pete Wells, a seat at the sushi bar is one of the toughest perches to snag in the city. How did Nakazawa get to such an elevated place so quickly? It’s the combination of his mind-blowing sushi, impeccable service, an out-of-this-world sake sommelier and one of the most entertaining chef’s counters in the city. Here, four secrets to Sushi Nakazawa's success.

  • The Sushi:
    The sushi here “wrecks you,” according to the restaurant’s general manager, Vito Ferraro. And it’s true: each piece of the omakase-centric menu focuses on drawing out the maximum flavor of the fish, which is picked out every day by the chef. Sitting at the chef’s counter, you can see the delicacy and skill in which Nakazawa cuts the each piece and fold it in his hands with a swish of freshly-grated wasabi or Japanese mustard (a rarity in this city) and a palmful of warmed rice. It’s not quite as traditional as his training in Japan, but it’s not entirely Americanized either; Nakazawa refers to his style as “New York-mae.”

    When the restaurant’s owner Alessandro Borgognone sought out Nakazawa for the restaurant, he asked for the chef to make some sushi for him as a test run. With just a cheap rice cooker and ordinary ingredients from a Chinese market, Nakazawa was able to make extraordinary sushi, sealing the deal for their partnership. Just think of how good it is with top-of-the-line ingredients.

  • The Tamago:
    Tamago is what made Nakazawa famous; his appearance in the Jiro documentary focused on him making the egg custard dish over 200 times before he finally gained his teacher’s approval. (At that point, Nakazawa cried tears of relief.) He’s still making the sweet, fluffy egg custard and while the process has changed slightly, Nakazawa uses traditional techniques to make it, including holding the hot pan close to his face to test the heat (pictured). Fun fact: Nakazawa’s attention to detail is so profound, he cuts the tamago in two pieces for the women so the bites aren’t as cumbersome.

  • The Sake and Wine Pairings: 
    Sommelier Rick Zouad creates incredible sake pairings for the omakase menu every day in the form of two tasting menus: the $40 5-glass pairing and the premium $80 7-glass option. (You can also opt for great à la carte glasses of wine, too.)

    Zouad got his start in sake at Japanese restaurants like Masa, 15 East and the now-shuttered Lan, and his knowledge gives Sushi Nakazawa one of the best sake lists in the city, especially for the price. As he explains each of the sakes to you, watch out for two standouts: the Joto-Daiginjo, a smooth, apple-tinged variety that pairs beautifully with salmon, as well as Zouad’s favorite, the Koten, a 7-year savory sake with a rich mouthfeel.

  • It’s Sushi Without the Stuffiness: 
    Unlike his former teacher, Nakazawa has an almost comically cheerful disposition and an obvious joy at doing what he does best - making incredible, life-altering sushi. There’s no trace of the stoicism that pervades the Japanese sushi scene in his restaurant. He doesn’t care if you eat with your fingers or your chopsticks (when asked, he’ll fire back, “Whichever! This is not a French restaurant!”) and loves shocking guests with live “dancing” scallops or shrimp. To get the full effect, sit at the chef’s counter (if you can) and be prepared for an endless stream of jokes and laughter, making this the most fun sushi experience we’ve found in the city.