Sugarfish, a Wildly Popular Sushi Chain, Goes National
These days, New York is a giant sea of destination sushi spots. The newest entry to swim into the mix (ha, ha) comes from Los Angeles. The wildly popular mini-chain Sugarfish will open its doors on Friday, Nov. 4, in the Flatiron District.
The 10 Sugarfish locations around Southern California feature well-priced, quality sushi, namely the three bestselling Trust Me omakase menus, from the $27 Trust Me Lite (seven selections) to the $51 Nozawa Trust Me (10 selections).
The name is a joking reference to Sugarfish co-founder, sushi master Kazunori Nozawa. At his legendary, now-shuttered, shoebox-sized Sushi Nozawa in Studio City, the chef was notorious for his my-way-or-the-highway service, personified by a sign on the wall that read "Today’s Special: Trust Me." It was funny but also a serious instruction. At Sugarfish, Nozawa's son, Tom, who cooked with his father for eight years before helping him open the first location in 2008, maintains that strict eye when it comes to quality, using many of the same seafood sources that his father did. The edamame is organic, and the seaweed is top quality.
The menu at the New York outpost will be almost exactly the same as its predecessors, including more than a dozen sushi and sashimi selections and those Trust Me menus, plus a daily special and a couple of hand rolls. (Experts will notice that the fluke that's so popular in L.A. won't be on the opening menu in Manhattan). Price-wise, it’s a great deal, given the quality and hard-core attitude: “We politely decline requests for extra sauces, salt, or additional rice,” the menu states.
According to Sugarfish co-founder Jerry Greenberg, the inspiration to open Sugarfish came from a surprising source: L.A.’s old-school burger spot, Apple Pan.
“[Kazunori Nozawa and I] found out we were both passionate about Apple Pan and their focus on one one dish and its quality,” said Greenberg. “That’s how we see what we’ve done at Sugarfish, with a focus on a very different type of food.” They determined that they could create a menu that mirrored the pristine seafood of Nozawa in a less expensive way by changing the way it was prepared—for instance, using line cooks instead of a few select sushi chefs—and opening in less pricey neighborhoods.
As for New York, they've been wanting to expand here for five years, give or take. “With apologies to the rest of the country, when you think about sushi in the U.S., you think about L.A. and New York,” Greenberg said.
Like top sushi spots, the team at Sugarfish geeks out about the rice as well as the fish. It has jacked up commercial rice cookers to deliver grains that are light and cleanly flavored. As at elite sushi places, the rice is served warm—something fans of the chain, who may not have had that experience, often acclaim.
An additional Sugarfish feature is that you won’t see a sushi chef standing behind the eight-person counter at the Flatiron location, which also has a 40-seat dining room. Instead, it's a service counter with a window into the semi-open kitchen, where a team of chefs works to deliver dishes as soon as they’re prepared. Fresh fish and crisp seaweed don’t benefit from sitting too long on top of a ball of warm rice.
The space itself is a former wine wholesale shop, with exposed brick walls and concrete floors, plus ample mezzanine space for waiting. There are no reservations.
Chef Nozawa (the elder) plans to be at the opening. Another thing the team is planning: an outpost of its popular handroll spot, KazuNori. Meanwhile, you can find a Nozawa-style handroll—namely the signature blue crab-filled one, as well as salmon sashimi, bay scallop hand roll, and (when it's available) the albacore belly sushi special—on the menu when Sugarfish opens on Friday.