Butterfish: Good Sushi Served in an Urban Ghost Town
The 'Tokyo' meal begins with a dish of edamame and a plate of roughly cut refrigerator-chilled yellowfin tuna dressed in ponzu sauce. Out west, it's usually albacore sashimi, a traditional upheld by Kenji Takahashi (who trained with Nozawa disciple Nobi Usuhara at the original Sasabune in Santa Monica) at New York's Sasabune on East 73rd Street. The full lineup totals 12 pieces of nigiri sushi, plus the sashimi plate and a crab hand roll for $42 -- a veritable bargain.
Depending on the city you choose, you might wind up with orbs of grilled plum tomato or shiitake mushrooms, or a bowl of chirashi, sashimi spread over rice. Our first sushi course arrived as three duets of tuna, yellowtail, and salmon. The pieces all come to the table sauced, but what Mr. Fujita doesn't see won't hurt him, and the table is set with soy sauce, powdered wasabi, and ginger to use at your whim. While the fish is faultlessly fresh, and cut with enough finesse to be visually appealing, beware that the rice is served slightly warm (as is the Nozawa custom), so if you happen to get a batch that's been sitting in the rice cooker awhile, things can turn gummy.
The next platter featured albacore tuna, sea bass, shrimp, seared salmon, sea urchin, and salmon roe. Both of the gunkan maki -- wherein seaweed is wrapped around rice to create a kind of boat for some of the sea's more slippery ingredients -- featured crisp roasted nori that crackled while being eaten, a sign of freshness.
And just like at SugarFISH and Sasabune, most of Butterfish's prix fixe options end with a blue crab hand roll, although the one I received was a bit on the thin side. Between the ultra-sweet crustacean and crunchy nori, it's as good a dessert as any. And although you won't find the usual accoutrements that come with dining at most sushi establishments, this sterilized version will at least do right by your stomach and your wallet.