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09 November 2006

Kuruma Zushi

I can't be bothered to begin to guess how many restaurants there are in New York. It is fair to assume there are enough that they all need to vie for attention. The most obvious way is with a decent frontage - make it clear to the passer-by that within lies a restaurant. 7 East 47th Street is an office building. A very dull office building by New York standards. Its entrance is narrow, not much wider than its plate glass door, the hallway lit by a dull yellow bulb and manned by a grumpy security guard. This is your first impression of Kuruma Zushi.

It would seem this is not a restaurant that feels a need to attract passing traffic. Which is lucky because it is tiny and could not handle walk-ins. Perched on the first floor (or second according to Americans) is a small sushi bar with not more than fifteen seats. There are some tables around the back, but you do not want to sit there. The sushi bar is where the action takes place. In an atmosphere that feels more like a home than a transcendental experience the customer is served course after course of sashimi.

I had dinner with Silverbrowess and a friend. I was supposed to be taking Silverbrowess to Yasuda, but was convinced by our friend that Kuruma was better. I gasped at the prospect but he was right. He should know, he is a semi-pro food critic. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention it was going to be as expensive as Urasawa. Gulp. But it was much more enjoyable. Phew.


I was told the fish is flown in from Japan. I am unsure whether this is all the fish or just some, such as the succulent fatty tuna. Either way, this flight of fishy must account for a fair proportion of the cost. Food miles fascists might be aghast at the prospect, but we need to be realistic that the best restaurants only serve the best ingredients and they are not always outside your door. Home cooks can and should shorten their horizons, but professional chefs often do not.

The fish at Kuruma was outstanding and the meal is essentially an omakase of sashimi. If you like nigiri, you can opt for that, as Silverbrowess did. Be warned, they like it if you eat your nigiri with your fingers rather than chopsticks. Silverbrowess demurred and opted to wield her sticks instead.

Throughout the meal the three of us kept saying that the fish was creamy. As a descriptor for fish I appreciate that can sound gross. It reminds me of that gunk you get on overcooked salmon (a speciality of my grandmother, along with brown asparagus). But for fish of this quality it is meant as a compliment. I think the creaminess can be attributed to the rich, fatty, silky texture of the fish. The fatty tuna made my mouth water, craving for more.

Many of the dishes I ate had a depth of flavour unrivalled by anything I have eaten before. I am not saying I have never had tastier food. I am saying that I have never experienced repeated hits of something so pure, so untainted, that tasted this good.

For this price meal (remember, up there with Urasawa) you expect everything to be spot-on. There were flaws, in particular a couple of the dishes were icy cold and I must assume their flavour was dulled. However, I should note that I was the only one of the three of us to complain of this, so maybe my gnashers were a bit sensitive.

This was a truly excellent meal. In the UK we are used to paying a lot for meals when the chef has had a large input of working magic on a group of ingredients.  With sushi, you are paying for the opposite.  The ingredients are left to work for themselves.  I suppose in both cases one could argue it is about doing what is best with the ingredients. The difference lies in the doing.

Kuruma Zushi, 7 E 47th Street, Second Floor, New York, NY, 10017, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 317 2802

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What others say
Gayot - The fish...[is] so fresh you'll swear it's still moving
New York Times - ...one of New York's most venerable sushi bars


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