Three alums of the country's only three-MICHELIN-starred sushi restaurant, Masa, have teamed up to open a more inclusive experience in the West Village. At Nami Nori, the trio aims to present sushi as high art with a more affordable price tag.
"We were so used to being in such a rarefied environment where only some people can afford to dine and if so, maybe once in their lifetime," says operations director Lisa Limb of her days at Masa. "With Nami Nori, we wanted to be able to invite and spend time with our friends and family."
Specializing in temaki, or hand-rolled sushi, Limb, executive chef Taka Sakaeda and chef de cuisine Jihan Lee are bringing this particular style of sushi center stage. "Temaki was always the second-to-last course during Masa's omakase, and to me, it was always the climax," Limb says.
The urgency with which one must eat a temaki roll also makes it that much more exciting. Traditionally, in order to keep the nori (or seaweed) crisp, temaki rolls are handed directly to the guest over the sushi counter, meant to be eaten immediately. At Nami Nori, custom wooden pedestals, hand-made by Limb's husband Sebastian Lucrecio, hold the temaki rolls perfectly in place as they are delivered to guests seated at the counters or tables (although it's still recommended that you eat them quickly).
Other reasons to love temaki, according to Limb: "The presentation is so much more visually appealing, plus it's easier to eat and the ingredients are so well-distributed in every bite." While many different temaki styles and shapes exist (cylindrical, cone-shaped, et al.), Nami Nori focuses on an open-style temaki in which the nori cradles the rice in a U-shape, allowing the main ingredients to be clearly visible from the top.
The menu runs the gamut from classic to vegan to luxe options—with most rolls costing $5 to $7 each—and the flavors derive inspiration from global influences beyond just the shores of Japan. You'll find their version of a Cantonese-style XO sauce coating a scallop roll, as well as a take on avocado toast via a hand roll that includes fried shallots and beets in addition to avocado. They're even bringing back dynamite rolls with their spicy crab version as a nod to suburban American sushi menus.
If you want to leave it up to the experts, opt for the omakase for only $28 that includes five rolls chosen by the chef. They're also doing a small luxe section (titled "Primo") with ingredients like lobster tempura, uni and toro (fatty tuna). Those who want to take it up a notch have the option to add white truffles or caviar to any roll for an additional cost.
The menu also features unique starters like the nori chips with yogurt chive dip, spicy tuna crispy rice and a buttery clam soup. For dessert, unique options include a take on a gas-station favorite, the Choco Taco, with what they're calling the choco hojicha, which is Japanese tea-flavored chocolate ice cream along with candied pecans and caramel. With a crunchy shell cradling the ice cream, it's a dessert temaki of sorts.
The drinks menu features a selection of beer, wine and sake alongside an array of non-alcoholic beverages including soda, buckwheat tea and matcha lattes.
Nami Nori, which means "to surf" in Japanese, appropriately features beach house-inspired interiors that call out to the Instagram audience: Moon-shaped menu holders and hammered copper cups storing wooden chopsticks adorn the sushi bar and tables, while warm lighting and tones of millennial pink and cream resonate against white-washed exposed brick walls and rattan stools. The intimate 40-seat space features opposing U-shaped sushi bars as well as a few tables and a private dining area separated by a thin wood curtain.
The concept calls out to a younger generation of sushi goers in a number of ways. Besides decor and price, the range of offerings (including their vegan rolls and the inherent gluten-free-friendliness of sushi) make it possible for those with dietary restrictions to indulge.
And since most of its seats are reserved for walk-ins, Nami Nori speaks to diners who don't necessarily want to go through the hassle of making plans too far in advance. "We save so many seats for walk-in guests, we think it's really important for everyone to be able to get in," Limb says. But despite their best intentions, Nami Nori's extreme popularity since opening has made it a tough table to get. It's advised to get there when they open at 5:30 p.m. to put your name in, and limited reservations for groups of five or more are also available.
Photos by Sebastian Lucrecio.