[Photos: Rose Garrett]
"I am a simple sushi chef," says chef Masaki Sasaki, whose humility belies his extensive experience at places like Sebo, Hecho, Kantaro and New York's Blue Fin. As of today, Masaki and partners Ray Feliciano and fellow chef Hide Sueyoshi have launched a new restaurant: Maruya, an outpost of Japanese aesthetics.
Housed in the former Bar Bambino space on 16th Street, Maruya has been revamped to take the capacity from 40 seats down to 25, giving the wood-paneled restaurant an open, tranquil feel. The most notable change is the addition of an 8-inch-thick cyprus bar, which seats 10 and has no sushi case separating diner and chef: this makes these seats the most desirable in the house. Bar Bambino's memorable back patio remains closed for now, but there are some plans to open it up for dining at some point in the future. For now, the bar and table seating for 16 make up the seating options, and a large table at the back of the restaurant will soon be available for bigger parties.
When it comes to the menu, expect clean and traditional flavors, with no Americanized fare. Sasaki and Sueyoshi are offering a dining experience best enjoyed with their omakase chef's course menus: choose from "Masa's Course" or "Hide's Course," or go a la carte. Masa's menu includes six courses of sashimi, small plates, soup, broiled seafood and nigiri, and at $85, Sasaki promises the freshest and best quality fish and ingredients possible. Hide's course will include sushi and sashimi at market prices, while sushi and sashimi "moriawase" menus offer assorted options for around $40. The a la carte menu includes a salad of seawood, mixed mushrooms and marinated vegetables, and small plates like housemade tofu are available alongside dishes like Chilean sea bass, lobster and scallops.
Sasaki says he'll employ traditional methods of lightly curing fish to bring out the best flavors, a method that not all sushi chefs use. "We want to follow the authentic, traditional techniques," he said. "It's very hard work, but it makes it better." Unlike some sushi restaurants, fish will only be available according to seasonality; diners won't always be able to get their favorite hamachi, but will be introduced to new flavors and cuts as the season warrants. Saké will be served chilled or at room temperature, and a selection of Italian and French wines are also on offer. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30pm-11:30pm, with the last seating at 10:30pm.