When the apocalypse eventually comes for New York City, you’re going to have to find a good basement to bunker down. If you had your pick, where would you go? The underground archives of The Met could be cool. Or the storage area of a Trader Joe’s might be a more strategic choice. Reality is, you’d probably end up in the basement of your own apartment or office building, clutching the water heater for emotional support.
But if we did have a choice of a basement to be stuck in, we’d pick Sushi Azabu.
Of course, plenty of restaurants and bars in NYC are located in basements, but this semi-hidden sushi spot in the quiet cobblestone part of Tribeca really has a particular underground feel. You do get the feeling that if nuclear winter finally started outside while you were eating a piece of fatty toro in Sushi Azabu, you might miss it.
Sushi Azabu serves one of the city’s best sushi omakase meals, and there are a few ways to go about eating here. You can sit at a table, where you can order things like a very good $68 nigiri set, or any number of pieces a la carte. But if you’re coming here, it should be for the experience of the omakase, at the bar. You can order this at a table too, but you’ll miss out on the interactions with the chef that add to the experience.
The chef’s omakase is an impressive selection of incredible food that involves small appetizers, soup, sashimi pieces, a “toro tasting,” nigiri pieces, dessert, and a little dish in the middle called “grilled king crab with miso” that is one of the best single pieces of food we’ve eaten in recent memory. The sushi pieces here are good enough that you’ll find yourself wanting to write down the names of the fish in your Notes app, just to remember. They’re seasoned with things like a tiny bit of yuzu zest or a miniscule drop of chive paste, but mostly they highlight the freshness and quality of the fish and the skills of the chef.
At dinner, this costs $170 ($200 if you add an on an uni tasting, or $145 at lunch, during which you’ll also likely get even more of the chef’s attention). There’s also a nigiri-only version for $150, but it’s well worth paying up for the toro and the crab dish. When the bill comes, just tell yourself that maybe the world outside has ended and U.S. currency no longer has any value?
Those prices, if it helps at all, also include service, which is excellent here. Upon realizing we were left-handed, a server moved our little hand wipe thing to the left side, and the friendly sushi chefs will also reach over to wipe down your platter regularly throughout the sushi part of the meal, so that each piece can shine.
By the time your meal finishes and you walk up the narrow staircase and back into the street and see that taxis and Tribeca strollers are passing you, you’ll be glad that the world is still intact, and that you can go tell someone about the sushi meal you just finished.
This starts out with some little appetizers and sashimi, but things really start to take off when you get the three piece “toro tasting.” The show builds after that with a piece of king crab coated in miso and something else very rich. You’re instructed to pick it up with your hands, and we do believe it could possibly inspire a new religion. After that, you get a bunch of very, very good sushi and a miso soup.
For $68, you can get an eight-piece plus half a roll set at a table. It’s excellent quality fish, but you’ll also probably finish it in about eight minutes, even if you pace yourself. If you’re going to come here, it should be for the full experience at the bar.