Worth the Splurge

Sushi You're probably perfectly happy with your current sushi bar. If so, skip what follows. Once you've tried the pristine and perfectly cut sushi and sashimi at KURUMA ZUSHIand SUSHI YASUDA, you'll find it difficult to go back to your old place. You must sit right at the bar, where the sushi master will tend to your needs, both spiritual and piscatory, rather than one of his acolytes, who generate sushi for diners ordering combo platters at the tables. Put yourself in the itamae-san's hands, but always begin with toro (fatty tuna) sashimi to let him know you mean business, and know that it's perfectly OK to embargo certain fish or to give him a price limit. Expect to blow through $150 in 20 minutes. Some claim that SUSHISAY and HATSUHANAare equally as good. Newfangled downtown sushi dens have their advocates, too. The mother of these establishments is Nobu and its incestuous cousin Nobu Next Door, but easier to get into are BONDSTand newcomer JEWEL BAKO, whose interior really does look like a little jeweled coffin, where you can experience innovative appetizers like a yellowtail sushi plate that lets you compare four varieties of that tuna variant. Finally, when you become really serious in your pursuit of raw fish, it's necessary to visit CHIKUBU, the only place in town I know to sample fugu (blowfish) caught in the wild and prepared by a Japanese-licensed chef. As you eat the sashimi pinwheeled on the plate, stop and wonder: are my fingers really tingling with the toxin, or am I just paranoid? Kuruma Zushi 7 East 47th Street, 317-2802, Sushi Yasuda 204 East 43rd Street, 972-1001, Sushisay 38 East 51st Street, 755-1780, Hatsuhana17 East 48th Street, 355-3345, Bondst6 Bond Street, 777-2500, Jewel Bako239 East 5th Street, 979-1012, Chikubu12 East 44th Street, 818-0715Chinese I don't have too much use for pricey Chinese joints, since nearly everything can be duplicated at the lower end of the spectrum. Still, you might want to go just to experience luxe Chinese ingredients like abalone, imported Chinese crabs, and conpoy—sun-dried scallops. I've got to admit I've had some pretty superb meals at PING'S, the celebrated chef's third restaurant in New York, and the first to achieve a certain level of kitschy elegance. I once had a great dish of fettuccine and lobster, but was subsequently unable to locate it on the menu or get them to serve it to me. Just next door, the quackers are superb at PEKING DUCK HOUSE, where they're carved to order at your table with much ceremony. Proceed with caution as far as the rest of the Mandarin and Cantonese menu goes. Up in midtown, the two branches of SHUN LEE are justifiably famous, with drunken chicken and whole-fish preparations leading the way, though the dumplings are not the equal of places like Flushing's K.B. GARDEN. My favorite midtown Chinese blowout is WU LIANG YE, which excels at regional dishes from Sichuan and elsewhere. The townhouse setting is also a great pleasure, though it makes it hard to go back to your own tiny apartment. Ping's22 Mott Street, 602-9988, Peking Duck House28 Mott Street, 227-1810, Shun Lee43 West 65th Street, 596-8895, Shun Lee Palace155 East 55th Street, 371-8844, K.B. Garden136-28 39th Avenue, Flushing, Queens, Wu Liang Ye36 West 48th Street, 398-2308Indian Upscale Indian is in turmoil. That paragon of regional fare Dawat, once under the watchful eye of screen diva Madhur Jaffrey, is clearly not what it used to be. At one time the glory of West 56th Street, the $14.95 buffet at Bay Leaf was a brown and crusty mess when I revisited recently. Even Ismail Merchant couldn't keep the Indo-French fusion alive at Pondicherry, while partner elopement at Surya has reduced this former glam spot to selling boxed lunches out of the front door. Oh yeah, and the celebrated consulting chef at Tamarind, Raji Jallepalli-Reiss, died of cancer earlier in the year, leaving that ambitious project a flawed and unfinished work in progress. Where does that leave us? At CHOLA, once Dawat's boon competitor on the same block, now the city's only expensive Indian eatery that might be worth the price. In addition, Tabla's downstairs stepchild BREAD BAR turns out admirable informal meals and snacks in a handsome setting at prices not quite expensive, but not cheap either. Chola232 East 58th Street, 688-4619 Bread Bar At Tabla11 Madison Avenue, 889-0667Noodles If you think noodles are not splurgeworthy, you haven't been to HONMURA AN. This serene, walk-up Soho loft just might qualify as the best Japanese restaurant in town, or maybe in the whole country. Locally bought buckwheat is transformed into perfect soba noodles right on the premises. From fabrication to mastication takes only a few minutes. The menu limits itself to hot soba in soup, cold noodles presented in handsome lacquer boxes sided with various dipping sauces, a few udon preparations for soba skeptics, and appetizers that range from sashimi to a cooked salad of Japanese mountain veggies. Top of the line is a $21.95 bowl of soba in a soy-based broth topped with a pair of humongous tempura-fried shrimp. You've never had noodles this good, or shrimp this good, either. Honmura An170 Mercer Street, 334-5253

 
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