On June 25, the East Village welcomed yet another small sushi restaurant: Sushi Dojo. The new restaurant, which seats only 36, specializes in traditional Japanese cuisine and seasonal dishes. Kiyo and I were excited to be invited to check it out last night, and despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of fish (and the menu is very seafood-focused) I had already heard good things, so I was curious to see what the experience would be like.
Executive Chef David Bouhadana studied in Japan and trained with top sushi masters there, as well as back in the US. He apparently “fell in love with Japanese culture, language, and cuisine.” He says that sushi “found” him.
“Dojo” means “place of study” in Japanese, and the name is not arbitrary. Sushi Dojo’s team of professional Japanese chefs have trained for years and aim to make every customer “feel like their apprentice by sharing knowledge, education, and sushi delicacies.”
The restaurant aims for an atmosphere where customers feel relaxed and are able to enjoy Japanese cuisine in a satisfying environment, and after our visit I can confidently say that they succeed in this goal. Chef David was happily slapping sushi down onto large leaves in front of delighted customers seated at the counter. He was clearly excited to be there and that enthusiasm definitely affected the overall atmosphere of the restaurant. It was very lively and upbeat, and everyone around us seemed to be having a good time.
We began with beer (Sapporo for Kiyo and Asahi for me) and four appetizers: kaki age, kimpaira gobo, grilled shishito peppers and seaweed salad. Each time our [very friendly] waitress set something down in front of us, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Pretty!” All the dishes used were gorgeous and presentation was beautiful without being overdone.
Kimpaira gobo is braised burdock root, which I had to research later but wanted to try since I love other root vegetables. Burdock is a plant found in Europe and Asia, generally growing along fences and roads. It has a gummy consistency and is sweet to the taste. Apparently it is rich in calcium, flavonoids, iron, potassium and more; but I only knew last night that it tasted good! Sauteed in sesame oil with crunchy lotus root, carrots and some other squishy, gray item (mushroom?) the dish was well-dressed and tangy. It was one of my favorite items of the night.
Kaki age is mixed tempura; this was a combination of greens and seafood. I think for both of us, this was the star dish of the night. Although fried to a satisfying crisp, it was so incredibly light you could hardly call it “fried food.” The seafood – I’m not sure exactly what it was – wasn’t fishy in flavor at all, but it was nicely spongy and the greens were tasty. Additionally, the chef chose to include a small pile of green tea powder on the side for dipping, which was brilliant. Not enough people realize that green tea powder is a versatile ingredient and I was so excited to see it on a dish in a restaurant. It definitely elevated the appetizer and wasn’t just placed on the plate for show or as an afterthought.
I’m not a huge fan of squishy / slimy food, and this seaweed salad definitely had that texture and consistency. The flavors were good though, and it was light and refreshing. I was happy with just a few bites and Kiyo finished the rest. It was probably the most gorgeous dish of them all, though!
Shishito peppers are difficult to make shine or to mess up; these grilled ones were good, as are most.
Next up: the sushi! Kiyo ordered fatty tuna (pink) and I went with Japanese yam (white). We obviously traded a couple of pieces! The yam was crunchy, which I wasn’t expecting. The fatty tuna roll wasn’t fishy at all and even I, self-proclaimed “seafood-hater,” enjoyed one piece. The seaweed was quite slimy for my taste, but I usually don’t eat sushi at all so that I was happy to eat not just one but five whole pieces says a lot… and Kiyo, a sushi fan, loved it!
I definitely recommend checking this new place out if you’re in the area. Thanks so much to Sushi Dojo for inviting us!
Location: 110 1st Ave, New York, 10009 Phone: (646) 692-9398