People go crazy over Sushi of Gari, and there’s a reason why. The quality of fish is unbelievable, combinations are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and presentation makes it the perfect place for #foodporn. This sushi mecca rapidly expanded across the city, with four strategically placed locations in all of the city’s culinary hot spots.
A family friend, who’s culinary expertise I trust more then most, has been ranting and raving about Gari of Columbus, the original location, for months now. The return of my sister, Leigh, to New York seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out Gari and celebrate.
We met at the restaurant at 8:30pm on a Sunday night. The place was crowded, but not full, with lots of little kids running around our table and couples out on date night. The decor of the restaurant is far from glamorous. Simple, low wooden tables, a few lone paintings on the wall and bright lights that could make your eyes hurt.
We were seated quickly, at a table in the middle of the restaurant. The waitress placed a lone, tiny menu in the middle of the table and promptly walked away. I opened up the booklet, realizing we had only received the liquor menu. 4 oz glasses of sake were overly expensive, with the cheapest glass being hot sake (which I hate) at $12. We decided to skip drinks. I told the waitress, as she rolled her eyes and brought over glasses of water, the real menus for each of us, and hot towels.
As we glanced over the menu, we saw gigantic boards whizzing past us filled with sushi unlike anything I had ever seen before. Crazy toppings and beautiful presentations that seemingly went against all traditional ideas of the simplistic art of sushi. We were excited, and tried to find these amazing concoctions on the menu. To our dismay, they weren’t listed. We kept waiting for the waitress to come back and help us try and translate what was going on.
When we finally got the waitresses attention, she kept directing us the the Omakase, which is the market priced Chef’s Tasting Menu of Sushi. I’ve read rave reviews about the absurd combinations and life-changing dishes that come from this option. However, with a price point of at least $65 per person for only 10 pieces of sushi, I had to decline. Realizing she wasn’t going win, she then tried to turn us to the Signature of Gari, which was 8 pieces of sushi for the oh, so reasonable price, of $52. We asked for a few more minutes with the menu.
In the end, we decided to carve our own path. It wasn’t necessarily a matter of pricing that we stayed away from the combinations, it was the fact that we would still be hungry after only 8 pieces of sushi. We turned to the maki rolls, which included wildly unique preparations, as well. We asked our waitress about one of the rolls contents, and she looked at us as if we were crazy. “You come here for Gari Signature Sushi, not rolls.” Alright, ma’am, then why do you include a comprehensive list of rolls on the menu?
At this point in our dining experience, we still hadn’t ordered, sipping on water, and feeling completely shunned and insulted for the fact that we were unwilling to spend over $130 on a Sunday night for 20 pieces of sushi.
On our own, we opted to start with the Hajiki Salad (seaweed), Fried Oyster Roll, Squid Roll and four of the signature sushi dishes. We had to ask our waitress for the combinations, since it’s listed in her head and “there’s over 100 kinds.” We explained what fish we liked and how we wanted to steer away from spicy, and we ultimately came up with four unique combinations to fit our needs. Now that the ordering nightmare was over, we were able to sit back and enjoy each other’s company as the restaurant started to thin out.
The beautiful Hajiki Salad appeared in font of us, and all of our concerns from the traumatic ordering disaster went away. It was time to eat.
Seaweed Salad gets a radical face life, steering away from the neon green version seen so often. Instead, they opt for cooked black seaweed, which has a lovely sweet and tangy flavor. The entire salad is a wild play on textures and flavors, combining slightly warm pieces with the chilled, in addition to crunchy and soft. The daikon radish dressing was sweet and acidic. Combination of all of the ingredients, tied together through the dressing and cooked black seaweed created one of the best salads I’ve had in a long time. This would be a reason to come back alone.
We started off with the Fried Oyster Roll, which was one of the best bites. The sweet crunch of the oyster wrapped inside the sticky rice and nori kept the inside lightly warm. The sweet dressing on top added a little bit of acidity to an otherwise heavy fried piece of food. Once you get into the middle, the oyster bursts, allowing for the delicious, sweet flavor to control the senses. It’s amazing and wildly addictive. Easily one of the best unique rolls of sushi I’ve ever tried.
The waitress came around, scolding us to try the Salmon and Charred Tomato Sushi with Onion Dressing, since it was warm. The combination of warm and fresh raw fish was something I didn’t think would work. But this roll is pretty awesome, with the juiciness of the tomato adding to the beautifully sliced piece of fresh salmon.
The Squid roll was a little slimy, but we couldn’t stop eating it at the same time. Tuna and Tofu Crema sushi was one of the favorites, which is definitely why this roll seems to be on every plate whizzing by. Charred Miso White Fish sushi had a light smokiness, and a piece of fish so lightly cooked, that it could have easily been eaten without the rice. Finally, the last roll we devoured was Yellowtail with Sesame drizzle. Once again, the gorgeous piece of fresh fish acted as the star with all of the other funky elements adding to the high quality of product.
In the end, we were completely content with the amount of food and thrilled when our bill ended up being less then the price of the Omakase. We concluded that the Fried Oyster and Hijiki Salad would be a reason to come back alone, especially since the price was right for those items. However, the lack of customer service was slightly unforgivable. As we paid our check, the waitress dropped off half full glasses of hot tea, and proceeded to blatantly check the tip in front of our faces. Talk about lack of class.
If an elitist, you get the service you pay for, kind of environment is what Gari is going for, then they succeeded. But for the young foodie, be prepared to deal with a little bit of attitude before your life changing sushi arrives. And don’t be afraid to carve your own path. Because of favorite dishes of the night were not the Gari Signature Rolls, but instead the ones we chose after trusting our own instincts.
Sushi of Gari – 370 Columbus Avenue – New York, NY
Sushi of Gari
Location: Upper West Side
Type: Japanese, Sushi
Perfect For: Impressing Foodies, Quality Seafood, Special Occasions, Date Night
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable (requires credit card) or Phone Call (no credit card)
Favorite Dishes: Fried Oyster Roll, Hijiki Salad, Tuna and Tofu Sushi, Charred Miso White Fish Sushi