Battle of the Upscale, Pre-Packaged Sushi: Dean & DeLuca v. the Lobster Place


New York abounds with pre-packaged sushi, and a lot of it sucks. But while dry rice and fish of questionable origin and freshness are often the order of the day (particularly if you’re stupid enough to buy your sushi at Duane Reade), we figured that there had to be some exceptions to the rule. This assumption took us to Dean & DeLuca, where the quality of every morsel, we’re led to believe, justifies the nosebleed price tag attached to it, and to the Lobster Place, which houses a similarly upscale selection of pre-packaged sushi. And thus began this week’s battle.

Our first stop was Dean & DeLuca, where a small group of people loitered around the boxed-sushi case, deliberating over their selection as if the fate of the free world hung in the balance. Because we’re easily swayed by pretty, colorful things, and also wanted as much variety as possible, we chose a $13.50 assortment of sushi and nigiri. It came with four pieces of sushi, four pieces of California roll, and two pieces each of tuna and salmon rolls. So we went outside, found a stoop on Greene Street, and cracked off the plastic lid.

If we’d been eating with our eyes, the sushi would have been outstanding. But our mouth begged to differ. Everything, regardless of whether it was tuna, salmon, or squid, tasted more or less the same, with flavors so elusive as to be nonexistent. An exception was the eel, which, thanks to its sweet, sticky cloak of sauce, tasted like the eel you’d eat in any decent sushi restaurant. The texture of the fish similarly lacked character — everything was soft and flaccid, and not in a melt-in-your-mouth kind of way. The rice, meanwhile, was sticky but underseasoned.

It followed that the salmon and tuna rolls were also disappointing, though the California roll was decent, thanks mainly to the crunch and sweet salinity of the flying fish eggs heaped on top of it. The pickled ginger that accompanied everything was, incidentally, terrific.

On we went to the Lobster Place. Like Dean & DeLuca, the store’s display of boxed sushi is both beautiful and impressive in variety. But that’s about where the similarity ends.

For $15.95, or less than $3 more than we’d paid at Dean & DeLuca, we got eight pieces of sushi and six pieces of nigiri. The slabs of impeccably fresh fish — salmon, tuna, mackerel, white tuna, and eel — were generous in size and flavor, and had that silky, voluptuous quality we were looking for. The salmon in particular was so rich it was almost buttery, while even the shrimp avoided the tough, rubbery fate it often encounters on sushi platters. The fish-to-rice ratio was also ideal, and the rice itself was endowed with the slightly sweet, tangy seasoning Dean & DeLuca’s lacked.

The rolls were also pretty great: The spicy tuna was riddled with little bits of scallion that added crunch to its creamy texture, and the California roll got a boost from the perfectly ripe avocado stuffed into its core. All in all, the Lobster Place’s takeout sushi was not markedly different from the fish you’d get in a sit-down restaurant, and in some ways even better, since you get to eat it while watching half the world wander through the Chelsea Market.

So the winner is — no, really? — the Lobster Place. While we’ll still go to Dean & DeLuca to gape at $15 bags of pasta and the people who buy them, there’s no way in hell we’ll go near its sushi case, except to admire the pretty colors of its contents.

The Lobster Place
75 Ninth Avenue

Dean & DeLuca
560 Broadway

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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2011

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