Sushi and sake are pretty inseparable from Japanese culinary culture. But what many people don’t realize is that the Japanese have mastered scotch, too. No joke, the country is dotted with a number of top-notch distilleries, a fact that was brought home to me during a recent visit to the excellent New York City eatery known as Sushi Seki Times Square.
Named for renowned chef/owner Seki Shi, Sushi Seki has been delighting patrons on the Upper East Side since 2002 and in Chelsea since 2014. Together with my Japanophile buddy Josh, I checked out the newest location in Times Square. There we met General Manager Yasuyuki Suzuki, who also happens to be one of NYC’s first sake sommeliers. Seems like a great guy to have around if you’re hoping to eat and especially drink well, no?
Memories can get hazy (especially after strong spirits), but I believe it was around this time we elected to dine omakase style. The word loosely translates to “I’ll leave it up to you,” and essentially means you trust the chef to assemble your meal—usually a series of progressively heavier dishes, creating a nuanced, multi-layered meal. I’ve never really done this before, but we went for it, with a promise from Suzuki to pair each dish with a fitting sake or scotch beverage and, spoiler alert, found ourselves with no regrets.
That we both enjoyed the meal so much is rather remarkable because we both have a pretty high bar, for different reasons. Josh has not only eaten at probably every good Japanese restaurant in the city, but also he has dined at many a Japanese restaurant in Japan, having traveled to the country many times. I’ve also been to Japan (once, for snowboarding, which was epic), but food-wise I was much more drawn to the tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet) and ramen than the raw seafood, which has always made me a bit squeamish.
So it’s real testament to what Sushi Seki brings to the table (quite literally) that these two very different palates were satiated. Chilling and chatting at the beautifully appointed bar, Josh and I were treated to course after course of creatively prepared and presented dishes. Not just sushi either. There was also miso soup, maguro avocado, tempura (fried shrimp and vegetables), zaru soba (noodles with dipping sauce), oysters and honestly a lot of edgy-looking stuff that I couldn’t identify—and didn’t think I would like… but did! Suzuki told me the names of these things, and I swore I would remember, but—blame it on the scotch—I did not.
Speaking of the scotch, though, man, did Suzuki deliver. In addition to fantastic cold and hot sake, we sampled a variety of amazing aged scotches, including Yamazaki, Hibiki and my personal favorite, an 18-year-old Hakushu. As soon as Suzuki mentioned that it’s reminiscent of Laphroaig, one of the smokiest Scotches (capital S, from Scotland) and also my favorite, I figured I’d fancy it. I sipped it straight and may have even put my rep on the line by sneaking a little extra pour from the bottle, it was that good.
The best compliment I can probably give these Japanese scotches is that if you hid the labels, I highly doubt I would be able to identify their provenance. And once you get to that point, does it really matter?
Anyway, suffice it to say that for both food and spirits, Sushi Seki really knows what it’s doing. So the next time you’re in New York City, swing by and give it a try. Go omakase, leave it up to the pros and trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Photos: food and drink photos by Tiffany Loria of NYC Food Photo; bar photo courtesy of Paul Wagtouicz; Hakushu photo by author