The Art of the Sushi Bar
By the time I walk in, it’s already nine o’ clock, but the place is still buzzing. The conveyor belt is moving, groups of friends and young couples chat over stacks of sushi dishes and sip hot drinks.
Sushein’s design is sleek, a montage of white and silver, plasma screens hanging on the walls. And if it weren’t for the yarmulke-wearing customers sitting at the bar or by the tables, one would never guess this place has constant rabbinic supervision.
“We’re going for a very young style,” the owner of Sushein tells me in Hebrew as he ushers me in. A bearded Jerusalemite in strict white and black, Yisrael is an unlikely owner of a hip Asian fusion restaurant in Tribeca. He proudly points to the light fixtures (“handmade!”), the long silver bar and booths to the side, then the more intimate dining room bathed in deep pink and blue tones.
It all began, according to Yisrael, on a leisurely afternoon in Paris. “My wife and I wanted to grab some sushi at this kosher place they have there, Sushiwest-- it’s a seven-branch kosher franchise throughout Paris. And we come there, and there are lines out the door.”
When Yisrael and his wife Sheindel asked why the long wait, the customers in front of them exclaimed that it’s conveyor belt sushi. “Conveyor belt sushi, conveyor belt sushi! They were going crazy about it. We went in, and my wife loved it, and said, ‘This is what we’re bringing back to the States.’ And she’s a stubborn woman, my wife,” he says, smiling.
Stubborn indeed. The whole restaurant is run by Sheindel, who’s mostly behind the scenes -- her name being the inspiration for part of the restaurant title, “out of respect to my wife,” Yisrael explains.
Later, Sheindel comes out to talk with me and orders chicken satay ($12) for both of us (grilled in light peanut sauce, sesame and lemon, served in martini glasses). The restaurant is run, it seems, not unlike a small army. “The conveyor runs at lunch and dinner,” she explains, gesturing to the dishes passing us by. “But a dish only lasts out there for an hour and twenty minutes maximum, and then is thrown away if uneaten. And our fish is freshly shipped every morning; it’s never made from frozen fish. Everywhere you eat, if you really know sushi, you can tell that the fish isn’t fresh, but frozen. In my restaurant? Unacceptable.” Sheindel taps the bar lightly. “I’m very particular. Sushi is a whole science, for those who know it well.”
The whole place seems like a novelty (it’s the only kosher restaurant in the area); those coming in look in amazement, while those of us with faint memories of treif restaurants nod approvingly. (Interesting: the kosher restaurants we hold in highest esteem are those which feel least kosher.) “We have lots of non-Jews coming here,” Yisrael says. “I used to be embarrassed to take my non-Jewish partners to a kosher place, but this -- now this is how a Jewish restaurant should be.”
Sushein, open late (till eleven on most nights), offers a diverse menu: If you’re in the mood for something light, grab a seat by the bar and choose from the 120 kinds of sushi rolls passing by on the conveyor (prices ranging from $2.50-$6.75).
Sitting down at the bar with the manager, I sampled the tuna avocado roll and the soy pepper wrap with tuna and avocado (it doesn’t help that my upbringing is hopelessly European and chopstick-free; I still eat the Stern sushi with a fork and knife). William, the manager, explained that the chef is always trying new designs. “Sushi is all about exotic mixtures. These days, it’s about intricate creativity.”
But if sushi isn’t your cup of tea, or you’re simply in the mood for something heftier, there’s a full menu of exotic Asian dishes to choose from. Bestsellers so far include the caramelized short ribs ($26), green curry chicken ($24), caramelized rib eye ($38), and lamb lollipops ($12). Sushein also offers a popular innovation among kosher sushi: meat sushi, using either chicken or beef, as well as noodle bar and full wine list.
The dessert menu boasts pies, cooked fruits, ice cream (nondairy, of course-- though few have discerned it as such), freshly brewed tea (order green), and array of coffee types.
By the time I stopped in, Sushein had only been open for two and a half days, and the response had been unbelievable. “Every day we double with customers,” Sheindel tells me matter-of-factly. “The first day we had 40, the second day 80, and today more than 150!”
Restaurant customers seemed to be glowing with praise. One couple from Flatbush raved about the meat sushi (“you must try that!”), and the sweet potato curry soup for $6, which may sound strange, but has an exotic sweet flavor to it.
“The best part of all about this place,” one customer explained, “is that you don’t have to wait for service here. You just take.”
The sushi itself has received excellent reviews from bloggers and critics (finally, real kosher sushi, they exclaim in surprise), but most recommend not coming during lunch hour -- it’s too hard to find a seat then, amidst the sea of businessmen (both kosher and not). And while it may be out of the way for those of us based in Washington Heights or midtown, this trendy place is well-worth the trip.
Sushein is located at 325 Broadway at the intersection with Worth Street, not far from the Canal Street subway station. Call 212-962-2500 for reservations. Receive a 10% discount when you mention this review and show student ID.