By Ted Reilly
Back in 2008, I decided to move from New York to Japan. I did this despite not speaking any Japanese, not knowing anyone in the country, and having tried to eat sushi only once before when I was 16 (I embarrassingly chickened out before I could even finish a single piece of salmon sashimi). My decision to move was a concoction of extreme undeserved self-confidence and youthful ignorance. I had seen an episode of No Reservations that took place in Osaka and I wanted to experience what Anthony Bourdain was describing.
I ended up living in Japan for three years, just south of Osaka, learning just enough Japanese to get into trouble, and eating A LOT of sushi. I returned to home basically never having eaten sushi in the United States, and not fully realizing how spoiled I had been while in Japan. I remember picking up a $12 for a package of pre-made California rolls (which I had never had before) at a university cafeteria and quickly learning to never ever do that again. I had left for Japan a sushi novice and came back a sushi snob.
Even in a city as diverse and cosmopolitan, it’s hard to find a great sushi experience. I have found myself at high-end places being unimpressed with the service, the ingredients, and the bill, and I have found myself at more affordable sushi restaurants and regretting everything. This is what makes Mizu in the Flat Iron District such a gem. Owner David Sunarto and Japanese trained Chef Nakao Hirakata have created an experience that that both conjured nostalgia for the fantastic sushi I had in Japan while also surprising me with offerings I had never seen before, let alone at a sushi restaurant.
I’m sure part of this success is due to the fact that they source their high-quality ingredients directly from Japan. My dining partner and I visited on a Wednesday night and the ingredients, and most importantly the fish, were consistently fresh throughout the meal. For those who want the true sushi experience, Mizu offers an Omakase menu (meaning you let the Chef chose the menu for you) and can include King Salmon, Red Snapper, Scallop, Fatty Tuna, and Sea Urchin, for a very reasonable $45 a person. They also have a wide selection of sake and Japanese beers.
The appetizer section is where I saw the most envelope-pushing on the menu. My inner-sushi snob initially hesitated at ordering dishes I would have never seen, let alone been able to read, at any of the weathered sushi stands I frequented in Japanese seaside towns. That said, my role is not to impose my biases on the menu, but to explore what the Chef is trying to achieve with their cuisine and then to let readers know if it works. Thus, per our waiter’s recommendation and my reservations, we opted to try the spicy tuna gyoza and the white tuna truffle. The spicy tuna gyoza sit atop a generous bed of avocado, the gyoza was large and the shell was deliciously crispy. Each gyoza was had a tangy sweet and sour sauce that I would probably dip just about anything in. This was a solid dish and an effective fusion of ingredients and cuisines.
The white truffle tuna was more adventurous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen truffle anything on a menu at a sushi restaurant. Each slice of seared tuna sat in a bed of yuzu soy sauce with small truffle slice and what can only be described as actual sprinkles on top of it. While the presentation was appealing, I wasn’t exactly sure I was going to like eating it. Despite my reservations, the dish was a success and I have to commend the Chef for his creativity and innovation.
On the recommendation of the staff, we also tried two of their rolls, the Salmon Naruto roll, and the Flatiron roll. Like everything served at Mizu, the quality of the ingredients was excellent. The portion size of the Salmon Naruto was generous –so much so that it seemed to cause structural issues when trying to eat it; the ingredients often fell apart before they could make it to my mouth but to be honest, this was a good problem to have. The Flatiron was one of the best rolls I have ever had. The roll was filled with crunchy salmon and avocado, but the outside wrapping was almost like a fluffy puff pastry and was my favorite part of the dish.
For more you can visit the Mizu Sushi website.