Restaurant: Jewel Bako
Executive Chef: Mitsunori Isoda
Location: East Village, New York City
My husband & I share love for Japanese culture and especially cuisine. Jewel Bako was an unforgettable culinary discovery back eight or nine years ago when Gary and I were still dating. As a young Marine Gary served overseas stationed in Okinawa where he developed a sophisticated palate for excellent quality sushi. He always told me that California roll (and rolls in generally) have nothing to do with Japanese sushi cuisine, that they are an American invention of the 1980s and that in most of Japan sushi is consumed on special occasions while sashimi is more common. So when I discovered that Jewel Bako serves raw octopus, which is really hard to find in the city, I knew that I had to take Gary there. We absolutely loved it and became patrons every since. The quality of the food and especially sushi and sashimi is absolutely superb. While seemingly simple to the initiated, preparation of sushi and sashimi is incredibly complex and intricate. From the quality of fish, the part of fish, the length of the knife, its edge and sharpness, everything matters. All of that orchestrated with the skill of the chef and combined with passion creates almost a mystical, majestic process that creates divine food and almost an existential experience. That’s the type of sushi experience Jewel Bako serves.
You know how sometimes it the tradition of traditionalism the decor of many Japanese restaurants can look, well, a bit dull. Jewel Bako is nothing like that. It is artistic and intimate; traditional and modern; intimate and sexy with light-wood banned wooden planks forming an arch in barrel shaped ceiling, sections of mirrored walls, velvet banquets and small tables. It is a cosy place always that always feels right as our hide-away romantic date-night place.
My favorite tables are by the mirrored wall, as seen on some of the photos. The restaurant is bustling with young, fashionably dressed crowd that appreciates excellence and values quality over quantity which is very refreshing when speaking about Japanese restaurants in the city. Moreover, Jewel Bako has that downtown vibe which I always crave (I used to live five blocks away when I came to the States). From the iron door entrance to a narrow small vestibule to the staff professionally dressed in suite & tie but in a stylish Japanese way- messy hair, thin tie, narrow cut pants, I love it all. As I walk inside, I know that I am no longer at one of my UWS hang outs. This place exhudes edginess and cool factor motivating the way I want to be dressed, but there will be more on that later, now let’s talk sushi…..
There are quite a few appetizers we like. The exotic Japanese mushrooms served steaming hot in “en papillote” (parchment paper twisted to create steaming effect inside) with smoked sea salt and wasabi oil – oh, delectable! Their seaweed salad and trio of tartars, blue fin tuna, salmon & yellowtail served with sweet potato chips are light and succulent.
A decadent bite of salmon tartar with caviar roe on top.
A sign of high quality Japanese restaurant is freshly grated wasabi root.
Skate wing grater and fresh wasabi.
An exquisite assortment of sashimi pieces. If ordering for the first time, choose Omakase, it’s technically a testing menu, in this case, of best sashimi pieces the chef will personally select for you. Fatty tuna, snapper, salmon and uni (sea urchin) are a must!
The silky, almost buttery texture and sweet briny taste of sea urchin is hard to compare to anything. If you haven’t tried one yet you must – it is our family’s absolute favorite. Santa Barbara uni is tender and slightly yielding, the roe melts on the tongue and yields the essence of the ocean. Golden hue of the deep ocean offsets the colorful sushi.
My candy- artfully composed sushi pieces.
I was fortunate enough to try all sushi rolls in one sitting, the chef prepared each sushi roll individually. And in Jewel Bako the rolls are also incredibly special and different speaking loudly of the inventiveness of the Chef.
I am a big fan of raw scallops & Jewel Bako’s version with lemon zest and tiny caviar grains of golden tobiko is simply sublime. Sweet, delicate bite with lemony clean finish.
Tuna with shisho leaf and spicy relish.
Japanese snow crab with avocado and cucumber.
Chutoro, which means medium fatty tuna in Japanese, served with takuwan and soy mousse.
We are true connoisseurs of sake, my favorite choices at Jewel Bako is always a carafe of Wakatake and Dassai 23, both Junmai Daiginjo.
And for beer aficionados, like my husband, top picks are Orion from Okinawa, Sapporo Reserve, Echigo, and Asahi Super Dry.
House made plum wine.
Don’t leave without green tea ice-cream sandwich- a perfect finish to a Japanese meal, well, at least in my opinion.
LOOK: My play on masculinity with femininity- khaki-colored military jacket with leather fringe over a silk slip dress which was so in last season (Celine, Givenchy, Burberry) and chunky heels with leather lace up to the ankles. To offset darker shades of my look, I wore calfskin clutch.
Photographed Gary Flom.