Sushi Omakase Restaurant Nakaji Opens in NYC’s Chinatown – Eater NY

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When Kunihide Nakajima first moved to New York City from Tokyo as a 23-year-old, he was making more California rolls than he would have liked. “Don’t get me wrong,” Nakajima says, “They’re delicious, but they’re closer to french fries than sushi.” Though there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the avocado-filled American invention, Nakajima long sought a way to practice a more traditionally Japanese form of sushi — especially as an edokko, what he defines as “the son of the son of a sushi chef,” a legacy that often means multi-generational relationships with fishmongers in Tokyo.

Now, some 20 years later, the sushi scene in New York has changed to be far more welcoming to edomae. Nakajima went on to work at top sushi restaurants like the now-shuttered Midtown mainstay Sushiden and as executive chef of Harlem’s Michelin-starred Sushi Inoue. And today, he’s finally opening his vision of an edomae restaurant with a sushi counter and bar called Nakaji, in Chinatown’s Canal Arcade at 48 Bowery Street, between Canal and Bayard Streets.

A man in a white chef’s outfit sets a dish on a sushi counter made from light wood. Behind him, sake glasses and other family heirlooms sit on a shelf.

Melissa Hom/Nakaji

Nakaji is the culmination of two centuries of Japanese tradition, three generations of family legacy, and more than twenty years of experience working in New York City’s top sushi counters. History abounds on the walls and counters of Nakaji, where family heirlooms are on prominent display. Much of the restaurant’s fish is also imported from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji and Toyosu fish markets, where one of the chef’s childhood friends purchases fish each morning.

Like at Sushi Inoue, Nakaji’s omakase menu is available at two price points: a nigiri omakase priced at $165 includes a seasonal starter, 12 pieces of sushi, and dessert, while the $195 chef omakase includes sashimi and seasonal appetizers, as well.

The ten-seat chef counter is available by reservation only, but walk-in customers can order a la carte sushi, small plates, and a $30 cocktail omakase next door at the adjoining Bar at Nakaji. This intimate Tokyo-style bar — which is designed to look like a sushi counter and also takes reservations — serves limited-edition Japanese whiskies and contemporary cocktails, like an old fashioned made with green tea and a gin drink called Shobu made with egg white and lemongrass shochu.

The entrance to Nakaji is located in Chinatown’s Canal Arcade, an easily-overlooked alleyway next to Joe’s Shanghai that links Bowery and Elizabeth Streets, which has been outfitted with new walls and ceilings, made from blackened cedar wood. The only indication that there’s a restaurant located in the passageway is a single illuminated lantern, barely visible from the sidewalk on Bowery. In order to enter the restaurant and bar, visitors must first ring a doorbell. Inside, the only reminder that diners are in Chinatown — and not Tokyo — is a small, horizontal window that runs the length of the restaurant’s walls.

“If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might walk right by us,” Nakajima says.

A small lantern with Japanese characters illuminates a tall wooden door against dark, charred wooden walls. To the right, a restaurant is barely visible through a narrow, horizontal window.

Melissa Hom/Nakaji

Glasses, chopsticks, and napkins are set at a 10-seat sushi counter crafted from light wood. Behind the counter, sake glasses and other heirlooms sit on a shelf.

Melissa Hom/Nakaji

That’s part of the point: Nakaji has been modeled after the sushi counters of Tokyo, where small one-room operations tend to be tucked away in alleyways and under subway tracks. Nakajima says the restaurants there are small enough that sushi is often served to close friends and customers, who after long enough, are treated like family.

“When people come to Nakaji, I want them to feel like they are in Japan,” Nakajima says, “but more importantly, I want them to feel like they are in my home.”

Nakaji opens tonight at 48 Bowery Street, between Canal and Bayard Streets. The $165 and $195 omakase sushi menus are available by reservation only, with seatings available from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Bar at Nakaji, which serves small snacks, appetizers, and Japanese cocktails, is available for walk-in customers Tuesday through Saturday.

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