I’ve always had a good eye for restaurant quality based on the aesthetic of a place. Take Japanese, for example: simple furnishings and classic papercraft usually means a solid, old-fashioned restaurant, while a saturation of stereotypical decor is usually a sign of pompous fusion cuisine, usually with a frustrated, creatively restrained chef at the helm. Its polar opposite, the minimal decor, strip-mall paneled style is kind of a crap shoot. I’ve had some truly repulsive meals, from lukewarm sashimi arranged into complicated flowers to blatantly over-seasoned dishes made by cooks with no appreciation for simplicity and time-honored pairings. Then again, I’ve been in plain places with amazing food, fusion or otherwise, run by everybody from Koreans to Hispanics. It’s not bad, it’s just not Japanese.
Sharaku at Stuyvesant and 3rd Ave falls into this mediocre category. I made the mistake of speaking Japanese to order here, based on the neighborhood, and I am embarrassed to say most of the staff wouldn’t have understood me. Either their Japanese were strictly behind the counters of their two sushi bars or simply nonexistent. Culture clashes continue through the minimal decor and basic food; where places like Menkui Tei celebrate simplicity and comfort, and Cha An revels in the almost ceremonial tea experience, Sharaku feels more like having surprisingly decent food court Japanese.
In any other neighborhood, the medium-priced, well-portioned noodle bowls and donburi would have been a welcome respite for an Asian man craving the tastes of home, but in St Marks, the standard is just far above what Sharaku can do. All right, to be fair, anybody who hasn’t been to Japan wouldn’t notice the difference. My unagi don was decently soft and savory, but the fish had the distinct flavor saturation of a pre-cooked product; in a word, it was too consistent and too well seasoned to be house-made. Considering the badly cut sashimi and falling-apart quality of the nigiri sushi, there’s very little chance anything at Sharaku is made with Japanese discipline and QC in mind. Just look at this sparsely spaced sushi boat!
When I spoke of an average neighborhood Japanese place last post, Sharaku is what I expect, like being in a room at actual room temperature: nothing is out of the ordinary, but there’s nothing to complain about really, either. There’s just nothing special about it, which is disappointing when you’ve got so many excellent Japanese places all around it, often at better prices too. I suppose the two floors of seating make a good place to bring a group, but for me, I’m looking forward to trying Hasaki or Robataya next.