Butterfish: Good Sushi Served in an Urban Ghost Town
Photos by Zachary Feldman
For this week's review, I checked in on David Bouhadana's groovy tunes and formidable knife skills at Sushi Dojo (110 First Avenue, 646-692-9398). The young, American-born chef's love for his craft is readily apparent in the fastidious way he treats his oceanic bounty, and the East Village spot succeeds doubly in offering affordable set menus, like a procession of 10 pieces of nigiri for $45. Many sushi restaurants offer similar combination deals as part of more comprehensive menus that branch out to include tataki, miso soup, soba and udon, teriyaki, sukiyaki, and tonkatsu. But Butterfish (550 Madison Avenue, 212-729-1819), a recently opened venture from Sushiden vet Hitoshi Fujita, has built an entire concept around them.
Hidden within the interior plaza of the Sony Tower, which turns dark and desolate after the workday has ended, Butterfish feels like a secret that few have shared. It joins other "secret" NYC Japanese restaurants like Bohemian and Sakagura. Perhaps it's because of the scattered groups of refugee tourists and down-on-their-luck folks grabbing some shuteye in the dreary corporate lobby, but it feels less like a hidden gem than a restaurant placed in the middle of a defunct mall.
Visiting on a weeknight, there was no one else in the main dining room when we arrived. There were also no other diners in either of the two cubby-like dining rooms separated by sliding glass doors. Finally, towards the kitchen we spied what appeared to be a group seated at a bar. But there was no master in sight -- there wasn't even a sushi bar, just another room filled with tables.
While other itamae preside over their sushi bars with gregarious zeal or hushed contemplation, their personalities are as essential to the meal as the fish they prepare. Mr. Fujita removes this element from the dining experience, but a friendly wait staff makes up for it -- and hey, at least the fish isn't delivered on a conveyor belt. Butterfish's menu is split up into five sets named for Japanese cities, ranging in price from $20 to $42. If the format seems familiar, that's because it's more or less poached from the similarly named SugarFISH in Los Angeles, which is overseen by west coast legend Kazunori Nozawa, who helped popularize this very specific kind of Edomae sushi procession.