Trolling the streets or dining guides in New York City will lead to to an array of Japanese food options that span from the most elegant, purist incarnations of Tokyo’s impressive sushi bars, to American-influenced California Roll-only dens catering to those who think traditional Japanese sushi is served with a vat of cream cheese. But, finding a true gem that is both traditional is its foundations yet innovative in its delivery is not an easy task. That is until you stumble upon Neta on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village.
“Neta” means, “fresh ingredients of sushi” – and, they mean it. Co-chef and co-owner, Nick Kim along with co-owner and co-chef, Jimmy Lau have done time, a long time, with famed sushi impresario Masa Takayama. Masa’s restaurants are some of the most expensive in the world and cater to those who understand the subtle details and nuances of sushi and Japanese cooking. Mr. Kim and Mr. Lau took that idea and branched out, making it very “downtown” and a bit more approachable without compromising on ingredients or skill.
After being welcomed in to the bustling dining room, I was led right to my seat at the beautiful sushi counter with a view of everything the chef and his helpers were concocting in the kitchen. The beverage menu offered everything from some of the world’s best sakes along with an extensive wine and cocktail list that can compete with any major watering hole in the area. The cocktails are particularly impressive with fusions of extracts, juices, liquors and sculpted ice chunks that make drinking them as delicious and fun as they taste. Over the course of the evening I had a smattering of drinks that featured flavors from elerflower, sake and even bourbon.
After choosing a cocktail, I recommend leaving the composition of dinner to the chef. But, if you’re more particular, there is a full a-la-carte menu to choose from. I told the server that the chef could be my culinary tour guide throughout the evening and I wasn’t sorry. Hirame and cucumber, toro with caviar and toast, fluke, akami, uni risotto, truffle hand rolls, Spanish mackerel and more flowed steadily from the hands of the skilled masters. Incredible. Each piece of sushi and sashimi were the some of the freshest I’ve tasted anywhere. Each cooked dish, like the uni risotto, was imaginative and executed to perfection.
After 90-minutes of pure bliss for any foodie, desert was kept simple but packed a powerful punch. Pure peanut butter ice cream, so light and airy – yet with the strongest of flavor in each molecule. Perfection. The service throughout my meal and what seemingly was everyone’s experience, made an impact. Waiters were timely and attentive but not intrusive. I was left to enjoy my meal and company in peace, yet never waited more than a minute for a request to be fulfilled.
What Mr. Kim and Mr. Lau have created is a relaxed atmosphere where true lovers of Japanese cooking and thoughtfulness can come and relax in an unpretentious foodie paradise. By anyone’s standard, even the most jaded diners, there is a level of sophistication here that is hard to come by. It really is an example of the best of what, overall, downtown Manhattan has to offer.