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130 St. Marks Place
Kura   LOST GEM 1 Japanese Sushi East Village

When I walked into the little, unmarked restaurant on the edge of St. Marks, I had no idea what a treat was in store for me. I pulled back the thick pine door and there, centered behind the counter under the spotlights, stood Chef Ishizuka, Executive Chef at the critically acclaimed Kura.

Chef Ishizuka smiled as I took my seat at the counter. While he arranged a traditional omakase plate for me to sample, we talked about Tokyo - the chef’s patria - and the thousand-dollar knives he uses to slice Kura’s famous sashimi. When I asked how long he had been making sushi, Chef Ishizuka said that he had been crafting the dish since he was thirteen, which means that he has been practicing the art of sushi creation for sixty years. His mastery was apparent. As I watched his hands whirl around the rice and fish, I realized that his technique rivaled the grace and delicacy of a conservatory ballerina.

On my plate were torch-seared salmon, tuna, shrimp, fluke, and stripe jack sushi, with sides of monkfish liver topped in thinly sliced radish and cubed tuna blanketed with sticky mountain potato. Chef Ishizuka poured a splash of soy sauce into a small saucer for me and then instructed me in the art of eating sushi by hand “Tokyo style.” He showed me how to cleanse my palate with ginger between each piece in order to appreciate the diverse profiles of each fish, 90% of which Kura sources from Japan.

Already in awe of the preparation, I was equally amazed by the flavors and textures. Everything was beyond enjoyable, even the fish liver, which I admit, I was a bit nervous to try in the presence of the chef.

Since Kura opened in February of 2013, they have gained a strong following and receive a full dining room’s worth of reservations each night. The reason for this is the food and service, even though it is true that Kura has a tiny dining room. The restaurant's team intentionally chose a small space, arguing that all the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo are that way, allowing chefs to better care for their customers and creating an intimate environment.

During my visit, I certainly felt well attended to, not to mention well fed. With no advertising or Internet presence, Kura operates solely by word of mouth, so take my word for it when I say this is an experience not to be missed.

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Kura   LOST GEM 1 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 2 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 3 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 4 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 5 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 6 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 7 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 8 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 9 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 10 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 11 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 12 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 13 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 14 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 15 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 16 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 17 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 18 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 19 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 20 Japanese Sushi East Village
Kura   LOST GEM 21 Japanese Sushi East Village

More Japanese nearby

Lost Gem
Mayanoki 1 Japanese undefined


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.

More places on 8th Street

Lost Gem
Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor 1 Bars Beer Bars undefined

Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor

What a find... down a flight of stairs from street level on 8th Street, Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor is the "antithesis of a sports bar. " Artisan and craft beer are brought together in a friendly environment that certainly had us feeling like we were right at home. The Parlor is also named for the Arts and Crafts movement, “a cultural revolt against the ideals of industrialization. ”When we visited, we spoke to Robert, one of the two owners, with whom we thoroughly enjoyed chatting. Robert is an internationally recognized speaker and writer on dining out and traveling with special diets (he co-authored the series Let’s Eat Out! ), and he also has a background in acting and producing on Broadway. He told us that the other owner, Don, has an impressive resume working with the FBI and counterterrorism efforts both in New York and around the world - which left us wondering what brought this dynamic duo together as friends and eventually co-owners. Robert informed us it was a love of American Craft Beer and the visual and performing arts... and that they actually met enjoying a pint of beer in Manhattan. Just as intriguing as its owners, the interior of Arts and Crafts is beautifully designed; the sophisticated wallpaper is custom made by Bradbury and Bradbury, and the soft green and beige pattern was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite, supposedly. The constantly changing art is displayed along the wall opposite the bar, and an exposed brick wall and fireplace give the parlor a true “extension of your living room” feel. Described by Robert, as the “Bugatti of beer systems, ” the twenty plus beers the Parlor keeps on tap rotate monthly and are kept by this state of the art system at a refreshing 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Robert also astounded us with how small the carbon footprint of the Parlor is — he told us they are very conscious of keeping things compostable and earth-friendly. In addition to their rotating display of art from both established and up-and-coming artists, the Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor also hosts a monthly lecture series on the subjects of art as well as culinary topics. We could not get enough of how interesting this place is — both the concept of art and beer coming together and the two fascinating minds behind it.