These days, it seems like every sushi restaurant of note that opens is auditioning for a role as a set on Billions and Succession. As New York critic Adam Platt puts it, “Sushi replaced the steakhouse as the plutocrat class’s restaurant decades ago.” So much so that when an affordable sushi place opens, it’s practically breaking news in the food world. (Remember people freaking out when Sugarfish expanded here in 2016?) When three alums of Masa, the priciest of the pricey sushi restaurants, set out to open their own place, they decided they wanted something their friends and family could actually go to. Enter Nami Nori, a new temaki specialist that opens in the West Village tomorrow.
“Working at such a high-end restaurant, it’s something where we obviously would love to share what we do with our friends and family. But it’s kind of hard to invite people to a restaurant that charges $600 a person,” says Lisa Limb, Nami Nori’s operations manager. “Sushi has gone into this unattainable sphere. We really want to bring it back, that aspect of accessibility and casualness.”
Limb is one-third of the group behind the restaurant, which also includes executive chef Taka Sakaeda, who worked at Masa for ten years, and chef Jihan Lee. When Limb talks about the 40-seat, 1,000-square-foot restaurant, she uses the word inclusivity not infrequently with regard to both the prices and the menu. The focus is temaki, the large hand roll, which they’ve grouped into a few different categories. There is some Western-style sushi, like a classic California roll and the spicy crab dynamite. The latter is made here with crab, a mayo-based sauce, and tobiko. It gets broiled and served warm.
“The dynamite was a thing back in the day,” Limb says. She adds that the dynamite roll was a signature dish of Lee’s father, who owned a sushi restaurant in Portland. As it was of the first sushi chef Sakeeda worked for on Long Island. “So we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to bring back the dynamite roll.’”
Other temaki include the lobster tempura with yuzu aioli, spicy seabass with the chojang (a gojuchang and vinegar sauce), and the salmon tomato with onion cream and chives. The salmon is a nod to bagels and lox, which Takeeda grew up eating on Long Island. More surprisingly, there’s a section of four vegan temaki that aren’t just boring handrolls with an under seasoned vegetable: Think eggplant broiled with miso and topped with gobo chips, and aburaage tofu with a spicy chili-bean sauce.
“Most vegans wouldn’t step foot in a sushi restaurant. They’re like, you know, ‘What am I going to do?’” Limb says. “For me, that was a really important addition to the menu. That we focus on great, interesting, and satisfying items for vegans.”
The vegan rolls are one way they’re trying to reach a wider audience, as well as the fact that the food is entirely gluten free. (Sakaeda can’t eat gluten.) Take the snack section’s rice chips infused with nori and served with a yogurt-chive dip. The appetizers include a calamari tempura made with a rice-flour batter (as is the lobster tempura), and the soy sauce served in the restaurant is a wheat-free tamari. Dessert means temaki ice cream in flavors like fior di latte, matcha, and red-bean paste or vegan coconut pineapple with toasted coconut. To drink, you can sip on Grüner Veltliner from Austria, plenty of sake, shochu infused with flavors like yuzu, and local beers like Greenport’s Tidal lager.
Nami Nori means “to surf” in Japanese, Lamb points out, and they had the firm MN Design Professional Corporation design the space with a seaside vibe in mind. The neutral colors and natural textures are meant to capture the feeling of arriving at a beach house, she says. At the very least, you’ll be able to relax more about the prices.
Nami Nori, 33 Carmine St., nr. Bleecker St.; 646-998-4588