Shoji at 69 Leonard - Tribeca

#1

Dinner at Shoji @ 69. Chef Derek Wilcox previously trained at Kikunoi for 7 years and 3 years at Sushi Aoki in Ginza. He returned stateside a year ago. I had my reservations prior to dining here, glad to report he has legit skills and does an excellent job sourcing ingredients from the local NY area and Japan.

Few thoughts… I think the concept might be better served skewing more towards kaiseki/Kikunoi style than going head-on with the new sushi heavy hitters. Don’t get me wrong, his sushi is very good aside from a few very very minor technical issues (i.e untoasted nori). IMO the city could do with a few more kaiseki restaurants at Okuda’s level. I would love to see Shoji evolve in this direction, especially one incorporating NY/Northeast seasonal ingredients executed by a chef of his caliber.

Hokkaido uni with eggplant “noodles”

Boston Chu-toro served with sauce made of egg yolk, tosa soy sauce


Grilled Long Island striped bass with local tomatoes dressed with pressed sesame oil, excellent.

Shioko (juvenile Kanpachi) served with yuzu white soy sauce

Poached octopus from Sajima with cucumber blossom, eggplant, pepper, new potato, myoga

Soy milk cream, egg white and CA botan ebi broth (no solids) custard - Amazing texture and flavor. Very smooth, soft and integrated flavors. Best dish of the night…

Summer corn soup

Shin Ika (Baby cuttlefish). This was the body of an entire cuttlefish. Soft and supple texture.

Aji, very good.

Boston bluefin akami

Long island fluke cured in kombu

Nodoguro

Scallop (forgot the specific source off the NE coast)

Anago

CA Uni

Sujiko ikura

Negi toro

Kama toro

Sake lees granita - excellent rich flavor! @beefnoguy & @thecookie would love this

Monaka (wafer) filled with soy cream, blueberries hyssop

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Tasting the Seasons of Japan - The Exquisite, Austere, Pure Kaiseki Cuisine of Hayato [Thoughts + Pics]
#2

Nice pics! This place has been slowly evolving since it opened. I really enjoy the mix of kaiseki-style dishes and nigiri sushi here. The sushi rice is always on-point.

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#3

Thanks, I do hope he will expand the repertoire of kaiseki/kappo style dishes.

#4

When you booked, were they offering multiple menu options? They introduced a short, medium and long format menu earlier in the summer, but it looks like they now have only 1 option. I’m sure that if you contacted them in advance, they’d accommodate a request for a more embellished menu. The add-ons there have always been a treat: aka uni from Amakasu, konowata and konoko. They pretty much always have ika gesso; an underated classic in my opinion.

#5

They only had 1 menu option during the night I was there.

#6

Glowing NYT review

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#7

Some pictures from a recent dinner at Shoji. @Sgee summed up the background of the chef and this establishment very well, but I’ll add that Chef Wilcox also informally trained with the legendary Kikuo Shimizu (who wrote this book). Shoji also recently hired Oona Tempest, a bit of a rising star in the NY sushi scene. For the last year or so, she helmed her own pop-up (Sushi by Bae) which was one of the better omakase counters in the $100 price range. Currently she’s assisting behind the scenes in the kitchen and with serving the kaiseki/kappo dishes. If/when she does start serving nigiri at the counter, I think it will be interesting to see how both her style and the Shoji style evolves.

Speaking of evolution, this is one of the pleasures or returning to this restaurant. Everything here gets incrementally better with every visit. We can quibble about how the nigiri compares to the other sushi bigs, but the composed dishes are fantastic.

I only took photos of the composed dishes; I have no self control and gobble up nigiri as soon as I’m served.


Introduced as squeteague a.k.a. “sea trout that isn’t sea trout” a.k.a. weakfish. Caught in Montauk, Long Island; it was salt cured, spread with a “schmear” of soy cream, rolled up and served with tosazu (bonito infused vinegar sauce) jelly with capers. The NY appetizing theme is pretty obvious, but exquisitely executed. There were 2 pieces but I ate 1 before I took the photo.


Fluke, also from Montauk, served with NY-state concord grapes, wasabi and side sauce made from the fluke liver, which was smoked over walnut.


wild shima-aji sashimi (look at that pink color!) with a condiment made from red peppers, chives, soy, vinegar and some other ingredients I didn’t catch. Tasted like relish. I should have asked for this striped jack as nigiri later.


Miso marinated, grilled sawara (spanish mackerel) with matsutake mushrooms (from Maine) and a slice of sudachi. Grilling of fish here is always flawless.


Simmered tako (from Sajima) with a salad of radish, carrot and persimmon in a miso sauce


California spot prawn agedashi with kabocha squash in a thickened dashi made from the shrimp heads. Side of grated daikon and ginger. This was a perfect late Fall dish!

nigiri parade:
sumi-ika - cuttlefish
kohada - very very well done!
aji - horse mackerel, also very well done
kinki - from hokkaido, great fat but also super nice crunchy-chewy-firm texture
chutoro - from maine
uni from maine
uni from santa barbara
mini-ikura don (tis the season)
scallop (nantucket) isobayaki - seaweed very crisp & scallop was super sweet, a real highlight!
anago - very old-school tsume sauce
negi-toro handroll
red pepper soup

plus some add-ons: fluke engawa, jabara (“belly button meat,” same maguro from Maine) & peak-season Boston mackerel. This saba can go fin-to-fin with the best Japanese saba I’ve had. Dessert included a yuzu granita and then poached pear w/cake. No photos, sorry!

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#8

Thanks for the update. I still think he will shine with a greater emphasis on the composed dishes which as you noted are excellent.

I haven’t tried Oona’s sushi, pretty tough competition though going up against those hardcore single chef new heavy hitters and there are more of these guys headed to NYC next year. :scream:

:laughing: I can relate.

#9

Back at Shoji last night. Composed dishes great as always. The sushi rice was better than ever. The vinegar and salt really popping, but not overwhelming the fish. No photos, sometimes you just have to eat.

Kappo portion:
Udo (mountain asaparagus), Nantucket scallop, citrus miso dressing
geoduck from Alaska w/ seaw eeds & white ponzu
North Carolina chutoro with signature egg yolk-shoyu & karashi
taichuo yuan-yaki
hotaru ika w/sweet miso sauce & watercress
top neck clam chawanmushi with French black truffles

Sushi parade:
sumi-ika
hirame
kinmedai
kohada
aji
akami
chutoro
uni (bafun, hokkaido) - no seaweed, no soy, just salt… sublime!
spot prawn, west coast season just starting, this was super creamy
anago
toro temaki (very crisp nori!)
kasu-jiru (sake kasu soup, kasu from Takara brewery in Berkley, CA)

add ons:
Santa Barbara murasaki uni (SB uni seems past peak right now)
kurumaebi with head miso
geso (ika tentacles)

Had 3 different sake throughout the meal:

  • Midorikawa junmai (Niigata) - light & dry with nice bitterness that complemented sweetness of first batch of kappo dishes
  • Nagaragawa junmai ginjo (Gifu) - aged on it’s lees, voluptuous structure & fragrance, went really well with clam & truffle chawan, a little too strong for early neta (ika, hirame) but was a good match for kohada & aji
  • Manzairaku junmai (Ishikawa) strong cedar aroma, for me this clashed with the neta, I would have enjoyed this on its own or with grilled food

desserts:
yuzu granita, candied ginger
monaka filled with apricots & creme fraiche

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#10

Surprised they didn’t use Brooklyn Kura sake kasu for proximity and freshness (as well as supporting local). What else was in the kasu jiru (what’s the stock they use and condiments?)

Midorikawa Junmai was my first entry into jizake, and what got me hooked.

Manzairaku is now available on the West Coast, they were pushing for a stronger East Coast presence for a while…just not a fun of the overseas packaging/label. I wonder who puts together the beverage list for Shoji?

#11

I’ve been able to get a little kasu from Brooklyn Kura, but last I checked in they don’t officially sell it. They were offering to restaurants that buy their sake. I asked Chef Derek Wilcox about this and he said he wasn’t aware they were doing this. Shoji doesn’t stock Brooklyn Kura so maybe one other reason why they don’t get the kasu from there. To be honest, I’ve tried BK sake on a number of occasions and I just can’t get into it (or maybe I don’t get it yet). Tasting the moromi and shiboritate available at the tap room was fun. Does Den have distribution on the East coast yet?

Kasu-jiru was just kasu, dashi & some diced chives. Didn’t ask what the composition of the dashi was, but I would guess based on taste that it was classic kombu/katsuboshi. When you do 7 years at Kikunoi, your dashi game is bound to be strong. This soup was amazing. Seemingly simple ingredients showing incredible complexity and very satisfying. It tasted like there was miso in there, but chef said there wasn’t. Must have been some salt.

I think the initial beverage list was put together by the owner and the chef, most likely with some input from some other friends in the industry. They currently have a GM who is the effective beverage manager, and she has helped evolve the list. The wine list is short but sweet, with focus on natural wines. Wish they had more by the glass, but I bet most people coming in want sake.

Here’s the sake list from November, not much has changed since then.

#12

Thanks for the sake menu, interesting selections!

Den does not have a presence outside of Northern California yet with the exception of Shibumi carrying them which seemed to be a bit of a stretch. But if you enjoyed Den more than Brooklyn Kura’s offerings, then that is very telling.

#13

Interesting conversation between Japan Eats podcast host Akiko Katayama and chef of Shoji Derek Wilcox: https://heritageradionetwork.org/podcast/mastering-sushi-and-kaiseki-in-japan/

#14

Special dinner at Shoji last night. Chef Derek Wilcox hosted Kenya Sakai, who designed and, with Chef Wilcox, implemented a wonderful mid-Spring kaiseki meal using mostly imported Japanese ingredients. They previously worked together at Kikunoi. Course titles are my best guesses based on what little I know about kaiseki. Course descriptions are from a printed menu, augmented with what I learned from the chefs during the meal. Photos by me. If you want to see much better ones, go lurk on Instagram, where more talented food photographers hawk their wares.

Sakizuke (先附): appetizer
Hotaru ika (firefly squid), angelica and fiddle head ferns with chopped kinome (sansho leaf) and kinome jelly. Angelica is called tara no me in Japanese and fiddleheads are either warabi, zenmai or kogomi. But since these were all foraged locally, let’s call them by their english names. These squid are at their peak right now, chunk full of guts. The flavors of kinome were a great contrast.

Hassun (八寸): the second course, which sets the seasonal theme.
Clockwise from top: Tomato enveloped in a clam tosazu (vinegar dressing), aburaage (fried strips of tofu) & spinach, roe-bearing iidako (baby or just small? octopus), smoked mackeral summer roll, grilled beans marinated in saikyo miso. The octopus with roe tasted like a the firefly squid but with the flavor increased by several orders of magnitude.

Mukōzuke (向付): a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi.
Tai (red sea bream), katsuo (skipjack tuna), sumi-ika (squid), kinmedai (golden eye snapper) and chutoro from Iwate. The katsuo was topped with ponzu, the other fish could be dipped into either tosa soy sauce or a sansho oil with sea salt.

Maine uni served over rice with nori, daikon and chives.
bonus mukōzuke? another name for this course? dunno…

Futamono (蓋物): a “lidded dish”; typically a soup.
Takenoko (bamboo shoots) from Kagoshima, wakame and kinome.
Tasted like corn! Dashi game is strong.

Yakimono (焼物): a grilled dish
Amadai (tilefish) grilled with its scales, nanohana (rapeseed, like broccoli rabe), dehydrated hatcho miso and a sesame dressing.

Nimono (煮物): a simmered dish
Poached awabi (abalone), mushrooms, kuwai (arrowhead bulb), shungiku (chrysanthemum) and ginger in a thickened dashi.

Naka-choko (中猪口): a palate-cleanser; often a light, acidic soup
Asparagus udon, nasturtium leaf and flower, myoga and shrimp oil. I’m guessing again on the name of this course; it was very paradoxically packed with flavor but light and refreshing. The dashi was very smokey and united the asparagus and shrimp oil. People were asking for seconds.

Shiizakana (強肴): a substantial dish.
Grilled Omi-gyu beef tenderloin, soy sauce-preserved sansho berries, winter truffle-potato puree, spring salad with yuzu dressing.

Gohan (御飯): a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients. x2!!!
Sakura ebi, gobo and onion, fried

Anago and green onion “oyakodon” - eel ‘n’ egg?

Kō no mono (香の物): seasonal pickled vegetables.
Daikon, radish, napa cabbage and kombu. All made in house by Sakai-san during his weeks in NY leading up to this dinner.

Tome-wan (止椀): a miso-based or vegetable soup***
This was aka (red) miso soup, sorry no photo.

Mizumono (水物): a seasonal dessert

Fresh strawberries, strawberry-champagne granita, strawberry jelly and confit with mint and orange blossoms.

Chilled apricot kernal “tofu”. Ugly(?) but seriously delicious. Wow.
I was expecting mostly an almond-like flavor, like what you get from peach pits. This had a little of that, but also a very delicate apricot flavor.

Does this portend a shift from sushi/kappo to more formal kaiseki at Shoji? While this meal was fantastic, I love Derek’s sushi so much, I hope this was the kick-off to special events, rather than a harbinger of a major change in direction. Congratulations to Sakai-san, for pulling off an amazing meal and who literally just days ago became a father!

Postscript: certain people might be curious what was drunk…

  • Amabuki Omachi Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo - good to start, but I drank too slow, it warmed up and I’m wasn’t so enamored with its profile at room temp.

  • Tedorigawa “Kinka” Nama Daiginjo - this was very easy to like, thought it paired well with the tilefish, abalone and udon.

  • Mimurosugi Junmai Daiginjo - glad to have tried it, wished I had a junmai or something bolder for the beef and donburi dishes.

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#15

I do hope he does this more often, besides Okuda, not sure where else to go for this style of Japanese.

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