“Thank you…wait, WAIT! Mahalo Nui Loa? How do you know that?” I was surprised. That’s the first time anyone has said “Mahalo Nui Loa” to me over the phone upon making an NYC restaurant reservation.
“Of course I know Mahalo Nui Loa! How could you not?!”
And it turned out that the gentleman had lived in Honolulu for the last 21 years, only minutes away from my family’s home. Small world :)
On Tuesday, I took 3rd Avenue bus, dropping me right at 42nd, one block away from Yasuda. I entered through the glass sliding doors, just in time for the last seating. The people on either side of me at the bar, a couple, and two men, were finishing up their meal upon my arrival.
The two men wore suits, muttering hedge fund nonesense. They both declared their love for uni and an aversion to ikura. They had beer with lunch. One, the older one, was in the middle of a divorce. It’s ridiculous how much you can overhear in a restaurant when dining alone. The couple on my left were visiting from Korea – a very talkative male and his counterpart, a quiet female.
I came for the lunch prix fixe ($24), the one Su-Lin wrote about last year. It’s a swell deal considering the average price of sushi in this city. I’ve had this sushi craving for the past few weeks…a ridiculous, intense craving that has overidden any desire for doughnuts, bread pudding, and even, gasp, banana pudding.
I’ve been told there’s no better place to fulfill a sushi craving than at Yasuda. So here I was. The prix fixe starts with a choice of soup or salad. I went with the latter, studded with crunchy fish bits, ginger dressing on the side.
It was after the salad that things started to go astray, as they often do. The diners on either side of me had left, leaving me alone with Yasuda himself. Stupidly, it took me an entire ten minutes from when I first sat down to realize that I was sitting in front of Yasuda himself. And I had him all to myself.
Well, I can’t do just the prix fix, I thought. Let’s just have fun!
And so we started with sashimi, a glistening trio of Sea Bass, Kama Toro, and Tai. And then dashed on to the Orata and Hamachi. Between bites of utter bliss, I learned that Yasuda and I favoured the same bakeries in Hawai’i, including the now missed Kimuraya in Kaimuki. He has traveled to Hawai’i numerous times and was familiar with Alan Wong’s and many neighborhood spots. The words soon merged into another conversation about the very big eels on Canal Street, which turned into a creamy bite of Freshwater Eel.
Kobashira came afterwards, followed by the Wite King Salmon roll. That was the end of the prix fixe.
And now? Now what?
Yasuda looked at me with a grin, more?
I wanted more. Oh yes. I wanted that toro spotted from afar. And uni. One, two, or three. And ikura, of course!
Ok! More! Yes!
We started with the uni, which disappeared in my mouth as quite as it arrived. I silently cursed myself for not slowing savouring the bite. He saw my disappointed look and and asked if I liked it. The problem was, I liked it too much.
So I had one more.
And then one more. OH GOD IT WAS SO RIDICULOUSLY GOOD.
And then he said we should move on.
So we did. I have this unbashful love for ikura, the taut texture and then the endless pop, pop explosion with each bite. We stopped at two. Though I could have easily done a dozen. Now that would be intoxicating.
Then he said I should try the Toro. And I did. And if my pocketbook was thicker, I would have been back every day of the week.
The last piece was the Oyster, chilled, slippery, cut by the lighest sprinkle of salt.
But oh yes! Dessert. Sorry, that was the real last bite, haha. Red Bean Mochi Ice Cream.
And then it was all pau, all over. I realized the restaurant was empty.
As the host slid open the door for me to exit, he said, “Mahalo Nui Loa, we will see you soon!”
Mahalo Nui Loa?
It was him! The man on the phone! I turned around, and then he smiling knowingly and said, “it’s great to see another kama’aina here.” I smiled back.
And that smile never left my face for the rest of the day.
No, no, not the day. The week. I’ve still got that smile on my face :)
204 East 43rd Street
NY, NY 10017