Sushi Dojo's Chef David Bouhadana Does Sushi With a Convert's Zeal
"I always say, I didn't find sushi, it found me," says chef David Bouhadana, who commands the counter at newly opened East Village sushi spot Sushi Dojo (110 First Avenue). He's a Jewish guy who was raised in Florida, he explains, but at 18, he fell into his first sushi job after one of the sushi chefs quit at a restaurant where he'd just been hired to wait tables.
After getting everything wrong that first day--he cut lettuce when the chef asked for cabbage, and fried items intended for tempura without first battering them--the owner gave him $20 and told him not to come back. Instead, Bouhadana went home and studied the menu, returning two days later to prove himself. "He told me I could start, and I've never stopped making sushi since," the chef says.
Propelled by a convert's zeal for the cuisine, he eventually made his way to Los Angeles, where a sushi master took him under his wing and sent him over to Japan. "I was 21, and it blew my mind," Bouhadana remembers. "At first I was like, 'That's not sushi,' when I saw what places in Japan were making. But that was the point. In Japan, it's very different than what we get here." He dug in, moving back and forth between L.A., New York City, and Japan, training with such renowned masters as Morimoto and eventually spending enough time in the Asian country to learn the language. He also served a brief stint at Sushi UO in the Lower East Side, though he departed after just a few months.
Now back in the city, he's working the small, L-shaped room at Sushi Dojo, where he's turning out a menu of Japanese fare and sushi from a list not written down because it changes daily. Sit at the counter and your meal will come with an education, as Bouhadana talks you through why he serves sushi in a particular order (white fish, colored fish, silver fish, then shellfish), which part of the tuna each cut comes from, and a comparison of the different types of uni he has on hand. Sashimi comes with a server-allotted pour of soy sauce and some freshly grated wasabi root; sushi is served one piece at a time with no accoutrements. Omakase seems like the ideal way to eat here, not least because you'll be treated to a spiel with every dish.
A few photos:
Gently cooked octopus
Eggplant, a burdock root salad, and cold tofu are three of the chef's appetizers.
A sashimi course is served on a leaf; the selection rotates as fish comes in and out of season, Bouhadana says.
Bouhadana says salmon is unusual in Japan, and he doesn't like to serve the Scottish variety ubiquitous on sushi menus here. This is Tazmanian sea trout, a cleaner, less fatty fish.
A tuna education that compared three different cuts of the same fish
Bouhadana served us uni from Santa Barbara, California, and uni from Japan so we could compare them; this one comes from Japan.