Antique Nipponware


Despite my decade-plus as a MetroCard-carrying member of the bridge-and-tunnel set, I still consider myself a Villager. So I was surprised when a new friend ushered me into a Japanese place I thought I knew, pronouncing it one of the best in the city and adding that it had been a special haunt of JFK Jr.’s, as though that would enhance the food. In fact, the Greenwich Avenue venue had been one of my hangouts for after-work sushi bites and sake slugs. The exterior remained the same, but more had changed than the prominently displayed photo of JFK that adorned the foyer. It wasn’t the crowd, which was as young and talkative as ever. Then I realized—it was me. My friend and I were antiques here. Time had indeed moved on.

Peering over my trifocals, I noticed that, actually, the room was slicker and sleeker than I’d remembered. The brick walls now bore a hanging composed of the shells of the mollusks we were about to consume, and the lights had morphed into pin spots decorated with hanging chain mail. The wooden tables were all that remained from times past. The menu too had exploded, from Sushi 101 to a multipaged tome. But I felt I’d moved on in the right way when I ordered the ankimo ponzu ($6.50), showing off my sushi sophistication and marveling at its jazzy presentation in a martini glass—four perfect medallions of air-light monkfish liver atop a thin julienne of daikon. I followed with an indulgence in the sea-sweetness of live scallop (market price, but $4 that day). No Southerner could resist the okra ponzu ($4.50), so I counted on my friend to get some. Although the mucilaginous pod had lost most of its slip under the soy-laced sauce and bonito-shard topping, the crunch and taste successfully mixed pure Nippon with below Mason-Dixon. My friend stayed downhome with an order of Japanese-style deep-fried soft-shell crabs as her main (market price, $13.50). I remembered the more recent past with a well-wrought tekkamaki ($4.75). I also sampled a bumblebee roll—a yellowtail maki swaddled with swirling bands of tuna, salmon, and avocado that alternated the sweet salmon and unctuous avocado and tuna with the bland yellowtail. It let me know how far I’d traveled since my first taste of raw tuna.

I was soon back in the ‘hood solo, stocking up on summer mysteries at Partners & Crime, and decided to pop in at the end of lunch so I could study what before I had only been able to glimpse. The JFK photo again intrigued me. It was odd, but not unusual in my ancestral circles, where Kennedy Sr., Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus form an omnipresent triptych. It did, however, prompt me to pay more attention to the menu notation that offered a $48 multi-course JFK Jr. special meal. I couldn’t eat it all, but I was curious enough to want to sample some of the Kennedy cuisine. So after my own replay of okra ponzu, which tasted even better now that I was used to it, as well as orders of sweet, dark butterfish sashimi ($12.50) and several flakily tender pieces of deep-fried flounder that came arranged in a basket made from its own deep-fried skeleton (market price, $10.50), I called for JFK Jr.’s special roll. Another of the double-wrapped rolls with tuna and avocado both inside and out, it combined two of sushi’s classic ingredients in a tasty conceit I doubt the scion’s dad would have cottoned to—unless he too had survived to become an antique. Too bad he didn’t.