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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top 100: corton

Despite the oddly antiseptic LED lighting that imbued me and my companions – not to mention the food – with a sallow, slightly cirrohtic tinge, Corton, occupying the Tribeca space formerly home to the late, great Montrachet, builds on Drew Nieporent’s unbroken string of gastro-success. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to dine here on a regular basis but let me qualify that by saying I mean that as high compliment. The food at Corton is rarefied, and as is the current fashion within molecular gastronomy circles, purposely imperfect. Visually stunning, it does not, alas, invite the diner to dig in with anything resembling gusto. Each course in the five-course Seasonal Tasting – there is a 10-course tasting menu as well – comes with an assortment of intriguing side dishes: an Albacore tuna amuse with charred limes on a brick of pink salt; tandoori monkfish twinned with both a cocotte of vegetable stew and a single, perfect Kushi oyster; red-legged partridge accompanied by a partridge shepherd’s pie. It’s the perfect dining exper –

ience for a group: each plate is greeted by oohs and aahs and quizzical looks and occasionally, shrieks of glee. Part restaurant, part gallery the plates are studied at first, as if stanchioned behind a velvet rope, before being timidly poked and prodded and twirled about. (and photographed, natch.) While I wish the wait staff were a bit more instructive in how to approach each course, there’s something to said for the fun involved in discovering the satisfying contrasts of texture and flavor that crash like waves across each successive dish. (Word to the wise: try to get a little bit of everything into each bite.) Even more surprising is the fact that after three hours, five courses, a quartet of amuse and mignardises, and one magic magnum of St. Julien that mysteriously paired beautifully with both fish and fowl, four happy diners trotted off into the windy night feeling perfectly sated yet not stuffed. Uniformly imaginative and delicious, the experience of Corton is so very grown up, so very European. Which is perhaps why I can’t shake the sensation that dinner here resembled less of a Top 100 meal than a vacation.

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the top 100

I spend an extraordinary amount of time eating out. Whether at home or on the road, it’s a rare week that goes by when I’m not eating outside of the house a good six out of seven nights. When New York Magazine published critic Adam Platt’s occasional Top 100 ranking of the city’s restaurants right before the new year, I did a quick scan and discovered that despite my excessive consumption I had eaten at only a handful of the garlanded hundred. Perfect timing for a New Year’s Resolution, I’d say: spend 2012 working my way through the list. Not only would it help in getting me out of a restaurant rut (at present I can’t seem to get enough of Candle Cafe’s seitan) but it would make each Top 100 meal an occasion – look out, Tribeca; hallo, Queens – and a good excuse to spend festive time with fellow foodie friends. The ground rules are simple: no rules. So despite the New Frugality – another pesky resolution I now wish I had saved for 2013 – let the feasting begin.

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