The wasabi is from Oregon, the rice is Californian. The soy sauce comes from Kentucky, and the fish are fresh from Long Island. In fact, the only thing made in Japan at Mayanoki is the Junmai sake, and even that is offered up alongside other, local sakes which are made at a brewery in Brooklyn; while wine is available, it is not Italian.
The American-ness of the inventory is the first hint at the fact that, while Mayanoki serves sushi, the cuisine is not Japanese. As Mayanoki co-founder TJ Provenzano explains, Mayanoki is a New York sushi restaurant - an American sushi restaurant, “and I don’t just mean California rolls by that,” he adds. Although the idea of sustainable locally-sourced sushi and wine is unique in an industry still excited by the exotic and imported, Provenzano insists that Mayanoki’s food philosophy is a return to folk ways of feeding. “Sushi, traditionally, hundreds even thousands of years ago, was what was local, what was seasonal, what they could get from the water directly next to them - not let’s drag the biggest predator out of the ocean that we can find,” Provenzano asserts. “This is kind of a return to that.”
Mayanoki’s wine selection, although entirely from New York, is similarly inspired by old-fashioned Italian ideas; “It’s the philosophy that the Europeans have always had,” says Provenzano, justifying the decision to only look locally for Mayanoki’s wines. “When you go to Italy, you’re not drinking American wine. When you go to Italy, you’re dragging your jug to the top of the hill and filling it with whatever they have.”
However, the creation of what Provenzano claims is New York’s first and only all-sustainable sushi omakase is as much a product of a respect for the past as it is a means of protecting the planet. “It’s taking the farm to table movement and applying it to the ocean without sacrificing quality,” states Provenzano. In practice, an ocean-based farm to table movement means both buying fish from local waters and avoiding endangered species even if they are popular sushi favorites. Instead of highly-endangered but highly-acclaimed species like blue fin tuna, Mayanoki serves what, as far as their fame is concerned, are the underdogs of the ocean - species like porgy, blue fish, and line-caught fluke.
Mayanoki also applies the farm to table concept to its wines. “Especially in New York, chefs and restaurants are so particular about … having their vegetables grown locally, their produce, their meats raised humanely and locally,” Provenzano notes. “Yet, their entire wine list is from France or from Italy, and, to me, that makes no sense.” So, Mayanoki’s wines come from the Hudson Valley or the Finger Lakes, and one of the things Mayanoki is recognized for is its pairings of local sushi with local wines. “‘If it grows together, it goes together’ is kind of our philosophy,” Provenzano says. “It makes the pairing just seamless that way.”
Aside from honoring old traditions and saving ocean habitats, Provenzano, who wears a Sea Shepherd shirt, mentions that American sushi and New York wines are the only way that he and the rest of the team can serve a piece of themselves at Mayanoki: at the time of writing, no one who works at Mayanoki is Japanese. “We’re New Yorkers,” Provenzano says proudly of Mayanoki’s founders. Jeff Miller, the current chef at the time of writing, is from Northern California.“He went to the University of Florida,” Provenzano goes on to say; “He’s a White dude like me.”
The chef is one of the most crucial variables in the sustainable sushi formula. The job goes beyond just preparing food. A Mayanoki chef must also believe in the restaurant’s environmentalist vision and support it through his or her work. Such all-encompassing expectations can make finding a new chef a difficult process. The intersection of sufficient sushi-making ability and satisfactory sushi philosophy is rarely encountered. However, finding the right chef is a point on which Provenzano is unwavering.
“Change happens through the chefs,” he contends. “The chefs are serving this food. It’s not up to the consumer to say ‘Hey, we only want sustainable seafood from you.’ It’s up to the chef to say ‘We’re only going to give you sustainable seafood’… and then, the consumers will follow.”
One of Mayanoki’s approaches to spreading its message among consumers is remaining at a middling price point, 115 dollars per person. By charging less than many of the other omakase in the city, Mayanoki hopes to be more accessible and thus able to reach a larger community of people. “We’re talking about sustainable sushi,” Provenzano specifies. “It has a larger mission than just feeding you dinner… Sustainable sushi should not be something that’s just for the rich. It should be something that anyone can enjoy.”
As it sustains its community with sushi and feeds it with knowledge, Mayanoki contributes to the emergence of new life on and around its side street. All of the restaurant’s fish-heads and other organic waste are composted and used to grow flowers in the nearby community garden on Avenue B. Its oysters are donated to the Billion Oyster Project, which is working to restore oyster populations in New York Harbor.
“We’re just so proud to be a part of the community rather than trying to milk it,” Provenzano remarks. “That’s just the only way we’re gonna do it.”
Tucked away beneath an outdated awning that says “Against the Grain,” the name of the wine bar that previously occupied the space, Mayanoki is unmarked, underground, and somewhat unusual among sushi restaurants. Everything, up to and including its name, is unorthodox. “Mayanoki actually doesn’t mean anything,” Provenzano admits. “It’s a name that we kind of invented… I’ve been told that maya means in front of and noki means tree, so if you literally translate it, it means to be in front of the tree.”
Situated on Sixth Street, Mayanoki is, in fact, beside a botanical garden and between two trees. It is also located at the at (currently) lonely forefront of a movement to serve sushi sustainably.
Perhaps my nostalgia for a familiar bowl of steaming ramen noodles drew us to Minca. The bowls of vegetarian ramen that we ordered, however, were nothing like the microwavable versions that my children chose to exist on in college. Minca's ramen is authentic in every way with fresh, handmade noodles and ingredients imported from Japan.
We had the pleasure of spending time at Joe's Bar in 2011 before Joe passed away and it closed down. Continuously operated for over one hundred years, Joe's even had a bowling alley down stairs in the early 1900's. Now, renamed to Josies, the bar is owned by the guy who also runs Sophie's. This was his favorite place to hang out years ago, and he has every intention of keeping the bar's "small town" feeling exactly the same. "The theme of this bar will be just that - a bar where people can play pool and listen to the juke box," the contractor of Josies told us. Hopefully, the bar still remains as the neighborhood hangout that it was before Joe passed away - a place where moms came in the late afternoon for coffee with friends and babies and the locals drank at night.
Masami Hosono’s mother worked in fashion. Growing up in Tokyo, she always knew that she wanted to work in fashion herself, but something was missing: socializing. “I love to talk and meet people,” she explained to me with an amicable smile. In a white, modern space with a rack of clothing on her left, Masami shared her story. When she turned eighteen, Masami met a “very great hairstylist,” with whom she would work and learn for the next four years. Her passion for hair, style, music, and socializing ultimately led her to quit her job in Tokyo and board her very first plane to New York in 2012. “I was like, I don’t speak English, but I can cut hair,” she recounted. “Maybe I can do it.”The New York Masami had heard about back home could not compare to the one she arrived in. She told me, “Japanese people love New York City, but they only know cool fashion, cool hair, cool music. But there’s more good stuff, personality, freedom.” One of the biggest surprises, but also most appealing aspects of the city, was its dynamic queer scene. “Being gay in Japan is very hard,” Masami recalled. “I’m from Tokyo, and it’s a very conservative place. But in New York City, everything is mixed. The queer culture is amazing.”Life in New York was, understandably, a big adjustment. With no place to live, Masami spent her first nights in a hotel, and her first days exploring the streets. But she took the challenges of a new country in stride by doing what she does best: cutting hair and meeting people. While Masami made a living by cutting hair in Williamsburg, she also offered free haircuts to make friends. “I just found people on the street,” she said with a nostalgic laugh. “Like, ‘oh, they look cool.' And I asked them, ‘Can I cut your hair?’” Little by little, through about 400 free cuts a year, Masami began to learn English, and build a community of friends. “Musician clients would say, ‘I’m playing tonight, you should come.’ So I go, and they introduce me to more musician friends. I met one designer because I cut his girlfriend’s hair, and he makes music videos, so he asked if I could do the hair for the music video. I’ve met so many very cool people who are musicians, artists, skateboarders...all these artists who can hang and make creative stuff together.”In 2015, Masami moved from Williamsburg to the East Village to work at Assort International Hair Salon. There, she took the final leap: She told her boss she wanted to open her own store. In April of 2016, Masami and her boss went into business together as Creative Director and Founder, respectively, of Vacancy. Masami stressed the importance of collaboration in small business work: “I’m really happy to have the founder because I really can focus only on the creative side. It’s really important to have the creator and financial person separate.”Vacancy is more than a just a hair salon; it is also a pop-up retail shop (with items designed by friends of Masami) and artist hang-out. While Masami’s hair clients come from far and wide (“Do you know the singer Rachel Trachtenburg? Yeah, I chopped off her hair”), Vacancy still maintains the vibe of a small, local business, while serving a massive and ever-expanding web of Masami’s friends.Masami’s haircut services have a very specific appeal. “My haircut style is not super fancy,” she told me, “because when I came here, I met a lot of people on the street. They always have amazing hair, and I ask ‘Where did you get a haircut?' and they say ‘Oh, I cut it myself.’ So I do kind of DIY, very grungy, choppy, messy.” Her cuts are still customizable: Vacancy offers hair designs in “a lot of crazy colors,” from pink to blue and everything in between.Masami and her army of artistic friends will not be confined to the shop. In addition to haircuts, Masami collaborates with her friends to produce a number of visual and literary creative projects, to bring their art and vision to the general public. She edits and produces a blog (or “web journal”), which features interviews and photographs of all sorts of artists, from painters to sculptors to Instagrammers, whom she has met through cutting hair. She also produces a monthly radio show, Vacancy Radio, through which she introduces listeners to her musical friends (“People are at work like ‘What am I gonna listen to today? Vacancy Radio!’”). Most recently, Masami has produced a zine (a self-published, miniature magazine) featuring her own hair and makeup designs and pictures by her friends in photography. She is currently working on a second zine. To bring everyone together, Masami often hosts “book and zine events” in the Vacancy space, where her friends can gather and share their work. “People can come and hang out and, well, drink,” she added with a laugh.With so many friends and projects in her repertoire, one might think she would be ready to call it a day, but this is only the beginning of Masami’s vision for Vacancy. While she will always be cutting hair, Masami dreams of an entire Vacancy building just for artists. “I want a full coffee shop, and maybe a bar. I want shared studios where the artists can make art. We can have an exhibition. We can have a music studio downstairs and live shows. Like an art house.”As she moves into the future, Masami Hosono makes sure never to lose sight of her roots. As she guided me on her journey from newcomer to centerpiece of New York’s artistic community, what became increasingly clear to me was her awareness of the potential that her prominence in a new country gave her to make change back home. No matter how well-known Masami’s work becomes, her queer identity has always been, and will continue to be, the center of her narrative. Masami has made the decision to return to Japan this summer, and potentially begin a regular practice of working in both countries. She has already booked an interview with a Japanese magazine and looks forward to bringing New York’s culture of openness back to her homeland in whatever ways she can. “When I have a magazine interview or work in Tokyo, I want to talk about it more, little by little,” she said. “I will change the culture if I can.”
Dating back to pre-Civil War days and formerly the St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran church, this stately red brick structure has been a synagogue since 1940. A devastating piece of New York history happened in 1904 when a boat filled with 1200 German immigrant women and children from the original church perished in a fire on the East River. Today, it has a modern Orthodox congregation that offers services every day of the year.
“I’m not a chef. I am a scholar of nutrition and an idealist who loves health and happiness,” proclaimed Angel Moreno, who left his home in Spain in the 1980s to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and to set up a chiringuito — the Spanish term for a cafe or juice kiosk — in the U.S.Before finding what he calls his “true purpose,” Angel was a pilot. “But this was killing my heart,” Angel said. He reevaluated his life and chose to pursue his aptitude for music. Though untrained, Angel had a good ear, a passion for playing the drums, and a desire to share music, poetry readings, and photography exhibits with the public. He came to open a handful of cafes and bars throughout Spain that were akin to laidback performance venues.Just as Angel planned to start a new venture in London, he met a master of Sufi (a form of Islamic mysticism). “This man was doing everything I wanted to do: yoga, traveling, and music. He was a fun guy.” The guru made such a powerful impression that Angel followed him to the States, where he spent the next decade doing odd jobs, learning to practice Sufism, and waiting for the right time to start his chiringuito.As Angel puts it, the universe eventually led him to the ideal place. It had two rooms — one that would serveas the dining area and a second space that was used to educate others about nutrition, health, and assortedimportant subjects. At first, “I didn’t even know what kind of cuisine I was going to offer.” But the teachingsof Sufi, which focus on purity and wellness, inspired him to avoid anchoring himself to any specific type of cuisine. “Instead, I did international dishes and used my knowledge to adjust any recipe to incorporate organic ingredients and to be vegan or vegetarian."Caravan of Dreams retains some of the elements of Angel’s first Spanish cafes, with daily live music andbright colors on the walls to spark joy in its guests. Yet the key component is the wholesome meals it serves.“Without health, we cannot be happy.”