I did not expect that…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or don’t look at social media – which actually sounds incredible – you’ve likely seen the East Village’s The Office of Mr. Moto plastered on social media over the last few months.
To the point that this might be the greatest Public Relations (“PR” for those in the biz) job in history. In fact, I’m not sure if the PR Oscars exist and/or who decides such things, but I think we have our 2023 Pubby of the Year (may need to workshop the name).
Part of the success might be the gimmick
The Office of Mr. Moto isn’t just a sushiya. It’s a story. It revolves around the aforementioned Mr. Moto, a fictional character, inviting diners to learn about 19th century Japan through a series of real artifacts, one of which, a payphone, is the only indication that you’ve arrived at the hidden sushiya.
Yes, legends. This is a sushi speakeasy. To get inside, enter a code, which is decipherable inside an email you receive upon reservation.
That’s if you can get reservations
In a city filled with every type of sushi spot, Mr. Moto seems to have caused a stir: reservations open a month in advance, and sell out almost instantly. For example, September reservations opened on August 1st.
Well, I started writing this blog on August 2nd and here was what I saw for September:
Alright, so we’ve got a speakeasy concept. Fictional story. Codes. Insanely difficult reservations.
All ingredients for an overhyped garbage soup, so let’s just say I was very skeptical.
I enjoyed the meal itself. It started with the Shari (rice), the taste of which was strong reminded me of Switzerland – not overly wet, not overly dry.
I had some Good Samaritans mention on Instagram that it looked off; in person, it was good. Warm, nothing falling apart, straight from the hangiri (flat-bottomed container with copper bands you see above).
But what made my Omakase at Moto so enjoyable were two things:
- The Value – wild to say at $195, but alas here we are
- The Variety – more on that later
My $195 Omakase was 21 courses
Good. Bring me the 20+ courses. I want to feel like it’s never ending. I want others telling – no, BEGGING – the Itamae to cut them off while I hose down sushi after sushi with everyone in awe like they’re watching Jordan in a Barcelona gym in 1992.
Again, it’s nuts that $195 is considered value. But if you look at my Omakase list here, it’s rare to see 20+ courses at that price point in New York.
And that brings me to the variety
I’ve said this no less than 1000 times (approximately) on this blog, but it’s a good sign when a sushiya has additional products on offer that are not included in the Omakase.
For example, some customers had an aversion to Uni. After Matsuoka-san finished calling the police, he took out Isaki (Chicken Grunt), a summertime neta, for the future felons instead.
If I wasn’t so mad that Isaki wasn’t on my menu, I would have been even more impressed.
Or how about the Ainame…
Ainame (Fat Greenling) is another summertime staple, a Shiromi (white-fleshed fish) that you rarely see on menus in New York City.
Or the Mako-Garei!
Mako-Garei (Marbled Flounder) is another notorious – and very special – summertime staple, that I rarely see in New York (seeing a pattern here?).
Another pattern that eagle eyed legends may spot – the Neta (toppings) at Moto have longer ‘tails’. I’ve heard someone call that “Los Angeles style”, though it’s not pretentious to hide its own insecurities, so I’m not 100% sure that’s true.
The O Toro Aburi (blowtorched) with Caviar was pander time
And they were so close to serving a meal filled with Edomae staples. Oh well.
Moto is also a well-oiled machine
Part of that comes from the background of the restaurant group that runs it. Mier Wang and Tomo Kubo have Tomokase (an at-home experience) and TabeTomo (ramen). Tomo-san has the chops from a decade as chef, and Wang has a business background, including twice selling his companies (dbag finance people call those “exits”).
There is clearly money behind the operation, and it shows in the design of the restaurant, the aforementioned PR, even the team.
For instance, I have no idea the name of the manager (bad journalism I know), but she spends the entire meal walking everyone through exactly what they’re eating, answering questions, pouring Sake, probably making sure the kitchen behind the counter is running, and a billion other things.
The smooth operation extends to the food
Moto is an 8 seat counter and 4 tables. Everyone gets served at once, and for a few of the courses, they offer a “choose your own adventure” (aka pick one of three options). Yes, that punches the spirit of Omakase in the face, but that’s not the point here. Precision is a staple of sushi, just like the mako-garei.
This is a great sushiya
Actually it’s not just great; it is, dare I say, needed. A sushiya at $195 that offers a wide range of Neta (besides the usual staples) may seem common in a city that has hundreds of options, but it’s actually not. Trust me, I’d know: I’m two more meals away from irreversible mercury poisoning (self-diagnosed).
More recent transplants won’t remember Jewel Bako, but Kousaka-san’s previous stop was infamous for checking the variety box at a lower price point. Perhaps not coincidentally, the first time I had Ainame was there.
Moto succeeds in the same way – not because of the gimmicks, but in spite of them. If you can stomach the sizzle, I think you’ll enjoy the steak (what a closing line).
Post-review note: Moto is apparently soon to offer a second menu, called their Modernity Menu, on Mondays and Tuesdays only with Kenji Kitahara (former of Tomokase and Sushi Den) presiding. It will be less traditional (duh).