• The New Akimori Omakase Bar: A Review

    February 3, 2024
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    A new sushi bar on the Upper East Side? It doesn't happen often, so TheManhattan sent me to check it out.

    As the city's restaurant industry continues to recover from Covid-related losses, new venues are more welcome than ever. Every fresh facade on a previously darkened storefront is a balm on the painful loss of local family-run eateries, and classic establishments such as the storied 21 Club, former speakeasy Chumley's, Bar Sardine, and Lucky Strike, among many others.

    Akimori is one of these new faces, with crisp signage on Lexington between E. 64th/65th. It's open for lunch and dinner, and in both cases, one must select from three experiences. For lunch, prices range from $40 to $130, and dinner, from $95 to $175, positioning Akimori as a less expensive option versus local omakase competitors Sushi Noz and Sushi of Gari. Not cheap by any means, but not as eye-popping as some local Asian prix-fixe fare. Rolls and individual pieces of sushi are available à la carte. Lastly, the restaurant bills itself as Kosher. In the world of seafood, this means that all fish must have fins and removable scales (sorry, Anglerfish and eels). Further, Kosher foods must not be combined with non-Kosher foods (such as dye made from shellfish or squid ink).

    This Akimori location (one of four) has only been open for a week and a half, and it shows in several frustrating ways. The host was overly solicitous and jokey in a way that clashed with the solemnity of the chefs and the minimalist decor. He didn't offer to take our coats, which seemed odd. A quick glance down the 12-seat bar confirmed that everyone's winter outerwear was hung on the low backs of their bar stools, a rather inelegant look for an otherwise clean, attractive space.

    Once seated, we were not asked for a drink order, nor were we provided with a list of drinks. After flagging down a server, she explained that they serve two kinds of sake (not true, there are four on the online menu), we chose the drier of the two. "Gimme two of the blue ones," she said to the host, and two small bottles with blue aluminum peel-back tops were produced. Again, the casual attitude of the staff and inexpert presentation was out of keeping with the setting.

    On the other hand, our sushi chef did fit the bill: careful in his preparation, formal and respectful when offering each new piece, maybe a bit too reliant on his kitchen torch for a mini-sear. The sushi itself was excellent, lovely cuts of cod, tuna, shad, and many others on pillows of just-right rice. Things were looking up...but the spell was broken on several occasions by the host bantering with the waitstaff near the front door. They were by far the loudest people in the small railroad space when basic fine dining decorum dictates that they should blend quietly into the background.

    Overall, Akimori felt off kilter. It slowly dawned on me that the dissonance between food, decor, and service was due in part to a lack of cultural homogeneity. There weren't enough Japanese employees to make it feel like a true sushi restaurant. In many other cities, this would be expected, but in New York, hundreds of establishments manage to hire staff indigenous to any given restaurant's cuisine, especially front-of-house staff. From the host's how-you-doin' Jersey brusqueness to the Long Island-esque "Gimme two blue ones" server, my evening out clearly suggested that diversity is not in fact our strength.

    We all want good restaurants to survive and thrive. Akimori is decent, and given that it just opened, it could reasonably get better in time. In order to bring customers back, management needs to offer a coat check and fix the spotty/casual service. When you can only seat 18 people at a time, results matter.

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