“We have always felt that sushi should be a lighthearted kind of food,” said Keito Sato, whose father, Katsuhide, started Hatsuhana as a way to share this belief. Japanese dining is known for its upscale omakase experiences, in which patrons are served whatever the chef pleases. “What we push at our restaurant is basically the opposite: okonomi, meaning ‘what you like.’” This unique approach has made Hatsuhana stand out since its inception.
Katsuhide emigrated to the U.S. from Japan in the late 1960s, drawn to the American lifestyle and seeking a change of pace. He spent years as a chef in upstate New York before happily joining a Japanese restaurant in midtown. At the age of twenty-five, he was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease and was told he would need dialysis three times a week. The news put an end to his career as a sushi chef, which required him to work long hours with only one day off, and he was forced to find a new path. “Sushi is what my father knew best in the world. If he couldn’t be a chef, then he realized he had to open his own sushi restaurant.” Thus, Katsuhide created Hatsuhana and “set the standard for the sushi industry, offering the most authentic sushi possible to New Yorkers.”
Not only did other Japanese eateries take their cue from Hatsuhana’s menu, but Katsuhide was also insistent about procuring the highest-quality ingredients possible. Upon finding that pink-dyed sushi ginger was common in U.S. restaurants, he traveled to California and struck a deal with a vendor for more natural sliced ginger that was free of food coloring. To this day, all fish and food is sourced from “wherever the best place is for the specific item” – be it flying in sushi-grade yellowtail and sea urchin from Japan or salmon from Norway.
Today, Katsuhide is retired and resides in Hawaii, while Keito continues to run the show. Though Keito was rigorously trained in sushi making and endeavored to master the art, he devoted much of his attention to working on the business rather than in the kitchen. Most importantly, he continues to promote his father’s overarching philosophy on Japanese cuisine. Instead of viewing sushi as an extravagant indulgence, Harsuhana strives to present the food in a more accessible light. “People should understand the essence of sushi. At the end of the day, it is a snack.”
Dainobu is a small Japanese market filled to the brim with aisles of colorful packages of food. Fridges along the side walls house the day's selection of bento boxes prepared fresh in a small kitchen at the back of the store. When we walked 47th street, Maria and Jasphy, two of the summer interns, loved browsing the aisles, impressed by its authenticity – "Dainobu is the real deal, " they said. The girls picked up a daifuku each and left happy with their sweet treats.
Initially serving as a resting stop for Scandinavian sailors when they disembarked in lower Manhattan, the Swedish Seaman's Church opened its doors on Water Street in 1873. The neo-Gothic building in which the Church currently resides was constructed in 1921 for "The Bible House" before being sold to the Church of Sweden in 1978. The Church's nautical past is evidenced in the model boats placed among the large collection of Swedish books. With a chapel, a library, and a coffee shop, the Church's doors are always open to Swedes. While tasting their delicious Swedish buns, I chatted with the staff who spoke enthusiastically about the function that the center plays in people's lives. For families, it provides a "wind" of Sweden whenever they miss their homeland. There are also multiple weddings conducted in the chapel each week, and people come from all over to celebrate holidays and shop at their Christmas Bazaar.
Clinton Garden is a striking testament to the power of residential communities in New York. One of the earliest examples of urban agricultural reclamation, the garden was created in 1979 in a lot that had been abandoned for twenty-eight years. Seeing potential in the space and hoping to improve the area around the neighborhood, residents (with the help of Operation Green Thumb, which leased the lot from the city) transformed the VACANT property into a garden using reclaimed and salvaged bricks, concrete, and slate. Finding the gates open on a beautiful spring Saturday, I wandered in and strolled down the paths filled with magnificent flowers and shrubs. I also met committed people tending to their small plots of land, of which there are now over one hundred. I have since been back many times, as I think this is a magnificent retreat on those days that I am in a need of a place to rest while walking the side streets of Manhattan.
Tucked between a Swiss and an Italian restaurant, Scent Elate brings Eastern spirituality to the neighborhood. With the doors swung open, the aromas were an enticing trail that led me into this tiny boutique packed with an array of incense, candles, soaps, oils and lotions. Scent Elate also has books on meditation and yoga scattered among crystals, jewelry, chimes and hanging ornaments. In fact, it might just be "the" place to go when searching for sticks of incense - not only is there a vast selection, but Mo, the owner, makes a special effort to find the perfect scent to enhance each individual customer's environment.
Named after Bible verses in Isaiah (the wolf and the lamb shall feed together), this restaurant opened in Manhattan in 1998, and expanded to Brooklyn the following year. Initially a traditional kosher deli, it later reinvented itself as a steakhouse. The extensive menu ranges from matzo ball soup to salmon burgers, veal Bolognese gnocchi and, of course, includes a variety of steaks and chops. Drawing on influences as diverse as Vietnamese, Tex-Mex, and French-country, Wolf and Lamb adapts its more customary function to a cosmopolitan venue. "Just because you're keeping kosher doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on quality, " shared a waitress. And while we were told that the majority of customers keep kosher regularly, the crowded space was testament to Wolf and Lamb's broad culinary appeal.