It's always hard for a neighborhood restaurant to find the right balance between affordability and ambition. While there are many great places to eat in Queens, most of them tend to be cheap ethnic eateries. A recent meal at Takesushi in Sunnyside offered the best of both worlds, with cheap starting prices and food that went beyond "this is great for being in Queens". In fact, I think Takesushi may offer the best value for cheap, high quality seafood in NYC.
Simple and tasty, I find that eggplant also works well to stimulate the appetite.
I absolutely adore monkfish liver, so I usually order it whenever I see it on a menu. While the portion was very sizeable and the flavors were fine, I found the texture a bit too cold and firm for my taste. It could be because they were sliced pretty thick.
I don't know if it comes across in the photo, but this piece of tuna belly was huge. This was quite something for $10, as I would imagine the same slab of tuna belly served with a couple of sides could easily go for over $30 in Manhattan. The flesh tasted great and was very fatty, keeping it soft and moist even though the piece of fish was cooked through. The fish was perfectly grilled with a simple soy-based sauce, while the skin was very crunchy. The fish seemed very fresh, as the crunchy skin had a fairly restrained fishy flavor. To me that says a lot, as I find that no matter how fresh the fish is, skin from a very fatty, oily fish tends to have a very pronounced fishy flavor when cooked.
Another $10 dish, this whole fish was expertly fried in fresh oil, with a delicate crunch that worked well with the soft flesh. The special dipping sauce served with this had a nice little spicy kick to it which was great.
FUGU (BLOWFISH) 2 WAYS - TEMPURA AND SASHIMI
I don't know how much of a difference it makes, but most of the fugu served in NYC is the farm-raised, non-toxic version. I've never been particularly impressed by it, even when I had it at Masa, the most expensive restaurant in NYC. For $15, the fugu set here consists of a sizeable plate of sashimi and three nice pieces of fugu tempura. The fugu sashimi had a texture similar to that of fluke sashimi, while the tempura was again expertly fried, highlighting the meaty flesh.
Much of chef/proprietor Robin Kawada's expertise lies in the sourcing of the fish, so we decided to go with the sashimi instead of the sushi. In the end, this is a neighborhood restaurant and not a destination sushi-ya like 15 East where I would eat sushi one piece at a time and admire the chef's intricate knife skills and rice.
Takesushi offers two versions of omakase sashimi, with the regular priced at $38 each and one featuring specialty items priced at $59. The premium omakase sashimi that night had Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin), Kumamoto oysters, ika (squid), kanpachi (amberjack), mirugai (geoduck/giant clam), aoyagi (round clam), tai (sea bream), and bluefin chutoro (medium-fatty tuna). Everything was great although the squid was rather plain. The uni was really sweet and creamy, and the clams had great texture.
Even though we didn't have sushi, I highly recommend sitting at the sushi bar. Chef Robin is very friendly, and with over 40 years of experience in seafood wholesaling, he has plenty of great stories. One other special that I saw the chef making but that we didn't order was the Maine lobster special. For $25, there was a whole tail sliced and served raw for sashimi as well as two pieces of sushi featuring one cooked claw each and two pieces of tomalley gunkan maki. I don't think he was making money on this special, especially since lobster prices go up as the weather gets colder. However, he told me that he was just happy people were ordering the lobster special. He said that when he first opened in the neighborhood, people were only ordering maki rolls for the first few weeks. To me, that raising of food culture and appreciation in the area is the hallmark of a truly great neighborhood restaurant.
There are now more and more places in NYC with affordable quality omakase sushi, but it is hard to get full at the base price. At Takesushi, there is both quality and quantity, and the presence of excellent cooked seafood differentiates it from many of those sushi restaurants. While prices will change due to market availability, I think Takesushi will continue to be the best value for quality seafood in New York with a cheap entry price.
43-46 42nd St