top 100 (off shoot edition): sushi of gari 46

sushiMy go-to Japanese has long been Sushi of Gari. Simple and unpretentious, with a meticulous presentation that borders on wizardry, it’s an Upper East Side anomaly hidden on a sleepy side street. When it comes to omakase (letting the chef decide what you eat) it’s easily the best deal in town, too. The only drawback is that the room is tiny, making a casual drop-by almost impossible. Over the past year, however, chef Gari has grown his humble one-off into a mini fish empire, opening branches in Tribeca, the Upper West Side, the Theater District, and even the food halls underneath The Plaza Hotel. Can Gari’s reputation for quality and fastidious attention to detail hold up across so many outlets? If Sushi of Gari 46 is any barometer the answer would be no. The setting is more refined, the lighting more forgiving, but there’s a chain mentality at work here that seems to be less about divinely sliced fish and more about herding people in and out as quickly as possible. The front of house is brusque, the servers even more so. And while you’d love to linger longer over a sweet, unfiltered nigori which comes to the table in a beautiful flask of blown glass, subliminally you’re waiting for a not-so-subtle cattle prod to signal your time is up. The sushi and sashimi are respectable, if not sublime – and certainly not worth making a special trip. But it is the atmosphere, which borders on aggressively hostile, that is so off-putting. Part of the allure of the east side original has always been that it’s very much a neighborhood joint, albeit one where the man with his name on the door is the one behind the counter wielding the shokunin. Sushi of Gari 46 might have style to spare, but it lacks the appeal that comes with having soul.

sake

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lounging at the lancaster

Houston is huge. Not only does a population of 2+ million make it the fourth largest city in America but its zoning-free urban sprawl occupies an area half the size of Rhode Island. So I guess I lucked out in choosing to stay downtown at The Lancaster. The perfect balance between history and luxury, The Lancaster hotel is Houston’s oldest, continuously-operating hotel, as well as the city’s first boutique hotel. (It’s also the only hotel in town still owned and operated by descendants of the original developer, Michele DeGeorge) Occupying a landmark building on the corner of Texas and Louisiana avenues in an area commonly referred to as The Theater District, it sits directly across street from the theater where my friend is performing. The central location turns out to be one of the best in Houston, within easy walking distance to all the downtown area attractions and just a few blocks away from the city’s Metro, too. Plus, with downtown doubling as Houston’s central business district, the weekend neighborhood vibe is relatively low-key and relaxing. I can take it at my own pace – which is good considering the mercury is expected to hit an egg-frying 105 degrees.

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