I don't tend to find myself on the upper west side above 60th street for dinner too often. There aren't really many destination restaurants in the area, except for perhaps Lincoln. That's not to say there aren't good restaurants in the neighborhood, but as in the case of my visit to Red Farm, they don't tend to be much of a value proposition. So I usually just end up at Luke's Lobster or Shake Shack for a solid, inexpensive dinner.
I'd read good things about Sushi Yasaka before, noting good quality sushi and tempura at a reasonable price. In general, I have a strong aversion to neighborhood sushi restaurants, often finding them to be overpriced while serving generic salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and rolls. But since I was recently in the neighborhood anyway, I decided it was a good time to give them a try. I decided to go with their two signature menu items.
CHEF'S OMAKASE VEGETABLE TEMPURA ($18, 12 PIECES)
There was a good selection of vegetables, ranging from soft eggplant to crunchy lotus root to an interesting fried fig. Everything was fried well, with the flavor and texture of each of the underlying ingredients coming through. Accompanying the tempura was a selection of three flavored salts. The flavors were yuzu, green tea, and wasabi, and while they were quite delightful by themselves, they weren't really strong enough to assert themselves when sprinkled onto the pieces of tempura. There is a note on the menu about the seasonality of the vegetables and how they are fresh from the farm/market, but the percentage of root vegetables seemed a little high considering it was the middle of summer. It was a very enjoyable dish overall, and I guess the root vegetables helped to make it more filling.
While none of the fish was particularly exotic, there was good variety on offer, including an interesting piece of raw octopus tentacle. The seafood retained good texture and the rice was about on par with some of the slightly more expensive places in the city. Each piece came with its own non-traditional sauce, and was very reminiscent of Sushi of Gari. Some of these worked really spectacularly, such as a basil sauce on the king salmon, while none of the special sauces really felt out of place. Our uni, however, was so funky that it had a stink to it which was a bit off-putting. Luckily it didn't linger. The roll, which was half fatty tuna with scallion and half yellowtail with scallion, was pretty good. Although as is often the case when all the sushi is made at once, the seaweed was limp. Overall, there were definitely enough highlights to feel that this was more than just one of those neighborhood sushi spots that I try to avoid.
Speaking of Sushi of Gari, one of the Sushi Yasaka's main draws is the price. At the nearby Gari on Columbus, vegetable tempura costs $20 (although it comes with rice) while 8 pieces of Gari's signature sushi costs $52. I haven't been to any of the Gari branches in years, but I don't think Gari's sushi is superior enough to justify the price difference. In an area that I consider lacking in good restaurants that aren't overpriced, I'm happy to add Sushi Yasaka to my rotation of food options.
251 W 72nd St (West of Broadway)