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.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal." Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7.Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U.S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off.While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City.Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool.” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved.”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases.Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.