photo credit: Teddy Wolff
When you walk up to a black door, marked with a single red lightbulb and a tiny square window, you’ll think you’re in the wrong place. This feeling will intensify as you make your way up the red-lit stairwell to a steel cage door that you won’t be able to open. Eventually, you’ll notice the words “Ring Me” spray painted beside a tiny buzzer, and since you’ve already made it this far, you’ll oblige.
Located in a cavernous space reminiscent of a ‘90s art loft, Studio 151 is like a house party thrown by someone with impeccable taste in records. This Alphabet City restaurant is technically a speakeasy, but unlike other IYKYK spots, it offers an $80 omakase that rivals options triple the price.
When booking a table here, you have three choices: chef’s counter, high top, or couch. Go for the couch if you want to come with a group and linger over temaki and cocktails, or book a high top if you’re on a casual date or catching up with a friend. But to really understand why it’s worth coming to Avenue C for sushi, try to snag one of the four seats at the chef’s counter.
If the rest of the restaurant is the living room of the house party, the chef’s counter is the bedroom where the cool kids go to smoke and make out. You feel special just sitting there, listening to records and being one of only four people at a time who get to have this experience. The chef will slice fish with obvious swagger, and you’ll eat a 12-course meal that you'll be thinking about for weeks.
Those looking for over-the-top nigiri embellished with gold leaf and torched wagyu should go somewhere else. Here, the style is minimal but modern: a buttery scallop comes seasoned with two kinds of salt, lemon zest, and yuzu juice, and Japanese sea bream arrives with a pinch of ume shiso tucked underneath, adding dimension to the otherwise mild fish.
Although the sushi is taken seriously, a sense of playfulness drives the experience. There’s a billboard-sized, half-finished poster of a naked lady on the wall beside the bar, and jazz records spin until around 10 PM, when the restaurant devolves into a dance club. On one visit, shots of sake were dropped with the check, along with an invite to check out the saxophonist at the music club downstairs.
Studio 151 is the perfect place to go if you’re tired of predictable dining. You never know when the music will shift from Mancini to The Abyssinians, and you might be practically alone at the chef’s counter or find yourself double-fisting temaki at a midnight bacchanalia. In any case, you’re going to have a good time. And you’re going to be torn between telling all your friends about it or keeping Studio 151 a secret.
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At $80 for around 12 pieces, this omakase is one of the city’s best values. The focus here is on the fish, with subtle seasonings rather than over-the-top garnishes. Akami, otoro, and chutoro will all hit your plate at various points, along with wildcard pieces like barracuda and horse mackerel. The meal ends with minced grilled unagi laced with a syrupy kabayaki sauce, making you rethink the concept of finishing with a little something sweet. You can also order nigiri à la carte.
Studio 151's handroll options are perfect for late night visits, since you can eat them while dancing to the midnight DJ’s set with a room full of new friends. The Toro Uni Caviar temaki is the signature offering, and it’s remarkably well-balanced. You get the sense that these ingredients were combined because of how well the briny caviar offsets the fatty uni and toro, and not just because they command a high price.
This regional pressed sushi from Osaka gets pressed in a wooden box rather than hand-shaped or rolled. Choose from yellowtail, salmon, or tuna, and allow yourself a moment to appreciate the jewel-box appearance. The hakozushi is ideal for sharing or as a supplement to a few temaki or pieces of à la carte nigiri.