Ten years ago, Mi-Hyun Han worked as a sous-chef for Yoshihiko Kousaka at Jewel Bako. The pair grew close, regularly dining together, informally critiquing restaurants well after Han’s one-and-a-half-year stint as Kousaka’s pupil was over. For years, they talked about opening their own place together, somewhere the master sushi chef could really do his own thing. That dream has finally become a reality with Kosaka (220 West 13th Street; 212-727-1709). The eighteen-seat spot offers two omakase options at fairly reasonable prices.
Reasonable does not mean cheap — the sushi-only costs $125 and the Chef’s Tasting, which includes hot dishes from the kitchen, goes for $155 — but it’s the same high-quality product and technique as one would find at other top-tier tasting-menu spots in the city, some of which will set you back at least $250 per person.
A recent media preview featured traditional preparations of goldeneye snapper, rosy sea bass, fatty tuna, wild yellowtail, giant clam, and sea urchin (among many others), all sourced from New York and Tsukij fish markets. Each piece was served with house-made soy — which takes a week to make — and fresh wasabi atop fluffy pillows of rice. “You can’t just get Kikkoman,” Kosaka partner and Han’s husband Key Kim tells the Voice. “It kills all the natural flavors. Depending on the fish, the wasabi is seasoned differently. It’s the job of the sushi chef to cater to the ingredients.”
The goal at Kosaka is to offer a larger selection of rare fish than you’ll find at comparable spots. Since opening, Kousaka has been sourcing giant clam, redeye snapper, and deepwater (1,600 feet) sea bass from the chef’s homeland of Japan. “Hopefully we can educate our clients on certain types of fishes,” says Kim. “For winter, we’re getting a lot of seasonal fishes from Japan and Korea, live fluke from Korea — it’s almost as expensive as tuna.”
Kousaka, now 50, started making sushi at the age of 15. “Even when I was 25 I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Kim. For the majority of the past 35 years, Kousaka helmed the kitchens (or bars) of other restaurateurs, although he did own his own spot in Jersey for a brief time. He’s wanted to go on his own for a while, but it was important to assemble the right team. That’s where Han came in.
Han has spent time at both the front and back of the house in numerous pricey restaurants. She’s been executive chef of Korean establishments and is the former general manager of K-Town barbecue spot Don’s Bogam. Her goal all along, according to Kim, was “to own a small ‘best’ restaurant in New York.”
Three years ago, while having dinner and drinks, Kousaka, Han, and Kim decided it was time. “We finally said let’s do it,” says Kim. It was Kim’s job to find the space. It had to be small, in order to keep their price points as low as possible. He talked to numerous brokers and walked around the city in what he says felt like circles, all the while watching the market steadily rising.
Finally, he found an old sushi restaurant with a bar and some extra space off to the side. The next step was designing the layout to maximize seating. With a light American walnut bar and lots of slate-colored materials, the minimalist design (by Hiromi Tsuruta of Super Paprika) feels like it could be in Tokyo. Kim, an electronics writer and K-Town karaoke lounge owner, collaborated with Holland-based Kharma to install a high-end speaker system, the first of its kind in the U.S. To simplify the title, Kousaka decided to drop the U from his surname.
Omakase courses are rounded out with a long list of sakes as well as white and sparkling wines. A concise selection of Asian craft beer and red wine is offered as well.
For everything else, the team decided to bring on Japanese artisans. Seasonal desserts featuring ingredients mostly from Japan are made by Fujiko Aoki of Mochi Rin. Tea master Satoko Souheki Mori of Tea Whisk has curated the tea on the extensive list. Even most of the serving ware is custom made by potter Akihiro Nikaido. “Every little detail is important,” says Kim. “That’s what fine dining is all about.”