If all you know about Shiki is that it’s located in the heart of SoHo, serves a turbo Omakase and features a Wagyu Beef-Uni-Foie Gras mix – served on toast, no less – you’d probably think it’s just another of the mid-tier “bromakase” spots that have emerged in Manhattan.
And you’d be wrong.
Opened in the summer of 2021, right on Houston Street in North SoHo (is that a thing?), Shiki does indeed serve the Frankenstein of sushi, guilty as charged. But that Wagyu-Uni-Foie Gras mix is actually part of a bizarre iPad-related upsell that occurs midway through the Omakase (more on that later).
The Omakase itself though, is far better than you might expect, a true lunch or dinner-time option for both tourists, nearby NYU students and budget-conscious sushiphiles alike. Despite a menu that will seem familiar, Shiki’s two Itamae distinguish their Omakase with their waza (technique).
Let’s dive into the details.
SoHo doesn’t need much introduction Just 0.4 square miles, it was historically an artist’s haven thanks to high ceilings, big windows and (believe it or not) relatively lower cost of living.
Gentrification comes for us all of course, and so today it represents a district rife with designers, chi chi restaurants and fancy galleries that I’ll continue to stare longingly at (shoutout Peter Lik), at least until some private equity giant gives me a blank check for this blog.
It borders NYU and dormitory life to the north, and so, in many ways, it’s the perfect place for a strong, reasonably-priced sushiya for tourists, students and area residents.
The hiccup historically has been the astronomical commercial real estate prices.Reasonably priced sushiya don’t exist in SoHo. Places like Lure, Cipriani and Mamo do.Even Sushi Ikumi, which I enjoyed, checks in at $180.
But the pandemic hit commercial real estate in the city hard; as the city rebounds (stronger than ever, as it does), there’s financial viability for a reasonably priced omakase right on Houston Street itself.
Lin and Jackie
The operators are an Itamae duo: Jackie Zheng and En Lin, both of whom have over a decade of experience in the sushi game. They met at work, and decided to open Shiki (“four seasons” in English) to better highlight their skill and passion. Fortunately for them, save for a few small issues, both shine throughout their $65, 12 course Omakase.
Like other turbos, Shiki’s omakase starts with 2 otsumami courses – Kunamoto Oyster (from BC) and Madai with Enoki, baby lettuce and ponzu. Both are light, acidic, easy bites and a good preamble to the nigiri. Exactly what otsumami should be.
Middle of the meal features two of the highlights
The more sushi I’ve eaten – and trust me, I’ve been a barnyard animal in 2021 – the more Zuke (marinated tuna) rises in my power rankings. Though it’s is an edomae-sushi staple, different itamae will have different techniques for marinating and different recipes for their marinade. Most use some combination of Shoyu and Mirin, which helps preserves the Tuna and the beautiful natural colour of the akami.
At Shiki, it’s a brief 30-minute jaunt. Hot water is poured over a paper-towel-wrapped slab of Tuna, quickly removed, soaked in the marinade for 30 minutes, sliced and served. I avoided asking the obvious “what’s your secret”?, but some combination of the technique and ingredients – Shiki proudly serves Bluefin Tuna – yielded a nigiri to remember.
The second highlight?
A majestically cut, sublimely sauced, well-formed Hotategai nigiri. I’ve said it before, but longtime readers will know I’ll repeat myself until kingdome come if necessary: Scallops requires technical precision because, by itself, it tastes (at best) like an edible shoe. But add the right amount of seasoning or saucing, and voila – magic kingdom.
At Shiki, their hotate is brushed lightly with shoyu, nestled right into the grooves from the knife, Iand lightly seasoned. No salt quarries here.
Some light concerns
I like Shiki. I like their nigiri and I really like the “happy drink” they pour out when you walk in (spoiler: it’s sake).
But the Bluefin O Toro (pictured below) tastes delicious unencumbered. It doesn’t need the blowtorch or the caviar, neither of which help an already strong flavor. Some sushiya may use the blowtorch to drain the fat and make it easier to eat, but I’m not a fan.
Shiro Maguro (Albacore Tuna) also shows up, as it does on many New York City sushi menus, and continues to underwhelm. Turns out that a fish famous for giving us canned tuna doesn’t make the best sushi. Who knew.
Finally, Shiki maintains a fairly deep roster of a la carte favourites from American sushi cuisine. We’re talking all your fusion favourites. Not a huge deal, but some may be bothered by the iPad that the servers bring out, literally in the middle of the meal to display all the post-omakase options. And they go customer-by-customer, like sushi’s version of a door-to-door salesperson.
Ultimately, Shiki delivers…
Those are ultimately nits. At $65, a 12 course Omakase featuring quality behind the counter and ingredients proudly flown in from popular waters in Europe and Japan, Shiki offers a winner. More impressively, unlike other down-market Omakase sushiya, Shiki maintains a strong roster of off-menu nigiri options. I dove into Kanpachi and Aji, both pictured below.
And that Unagi(pictured above)…
It’s the perfect conclusion. Shiki’s unique spin is to almost chop the Unagi into the rice, rather than have an elongated Neta sit on top as is so often case. In doing so, it reminded me of how I eat Unadon, a rice bowl with Unagi. One of my favourite japanese dishes.
I suspect Shiki will be a very popular addition to the SoHo and Greenwich Village dining scenes.
Shiki is recommended.