While many upscale chefs are also artists in the way that they plate their food I was especially astounded by Chef Susuki's dioramic creations. Each plate was a three-dimensional work of art that literally smelled like the sea. The freshness was so prevalent in these creations that aromas of sea salt and Pacific flowers enveloped each dish, transporting you into the scene. The waitstaff were quite clear about how the plate should be presented and were somewhat perturbed that I intended to share the dish with my guest. After all, they said, the dish is meant to be viewed, and eaten, from a particular perspective! So my guest and I moved our seats together so that we could view each dish from the prescribed angle. As we admired the composition we reluctantly picked at it, approaching the plate with reverence. Each morsel disturbed the composition, yet revealed deeper layers, new flavors, tiny works of art and a conversation piece unfolding.
There is a reason why Sushi Zen’s meals are like Tibetan Buddhist sand paintings, with their ephemeral relationship to the artist and to the consumer. Chef Susuki has studied Buddhism all his life and brings its values and sensibilities to every meal.
For example you can order Omakase (which means “put yourself in the chef’s hands”) where the chef evaluates your physical and emotional needs and serves you a custom meal that, they claim, will leave you spiritually and physically renewed. Omakase starts at $120.
Sushi Zen’s food is traditional Edo-style sushi (Edo is the ancient name for Tokyo), which uses vinegar for better taste and preservation. Chef Susuki has been its proponent for 25 years in the U.S. and is mostly responsible for the acceptance of raw fish in the United States.
Chef Susuki now spends much of his time passing on his skills to the next generation including classes at the James Beard House teaching fish-vinegar pairing (a skill as complex as food-wine pairing), preservation techniques, sanitizing, flavor balancing, and aesthetics.
The restaurant Sushi Zen is wrapped in teak and appointed with some delicate art. Its two rooms are small and intimate, yet they absorb sounds well, maintaining privacy with your neighbors and allowing you to enjoy your company and your meal. There is one private table for about ten people surrounded by teak panels, a separate sushi bar, and a number of open tables.
Sushi Zen is at 108 West 44th Street, New York, NY. They may be contacted at 212-302-0707 - www.sushizen-ny.com.