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#TBT: Nami Nori – New York, NY

A post from my trip to New York in early February, the same trip where I got to visit Stone Barns for Chef Shola's residency! Craving this amazing fish and can't wait to go back!

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New York has been subject to tough pandemic restrictions throughout the last year, and the restaurant industry has been hit hard. After opening indoor dining at 25% capacity for a while, when the winter spikes happened, indoor dining was again halted, but restaurants that were back in the swing of things couldn't take the hit. So, many started to innovate.

You may have seen news about things like little individual plastic "igloos" that restaurants have deployed along New York City's sidewalks, or perhaps makeshift outdoor shanties to house diners and keep them warm despite the city's penchant for windy winter cold. The Onion even posted a delightful satire article noting the "City’s Outdoor Dining Solutions Slowly Advancing Beyond Rest Of Civilization."

Because my first classes at Davidson for the semester had been postponed for two weeks, I had been holed up in my apartment for far too long and was starting to feel the ennui. Knowing I would be coming up to NY for Chef Shola's residency at Stone Barns, I decided to make a day of it in the city before my dinner, and looked up some of the places doing awesome outdoor dining. While I am normally not one to jump right into a restaurant I'd already visited in a sprawling food city like New York where you couldn't possibly eat everything wonderful there is to eat in the city in a lifetime, I was happy to see Nami Nori, one of my favorite dining spots on my last visit, on the list, and knew that it would satiate my desire for amazing raw fish (something that is disappointingly scare in Charlotte).

In true Steven fashion, I waited until the last minute, and was dismayed to see no options available for a lunch reservation. But, I held my head high and made my way into the East Village, armed with an empty tummy and no backup plans, under a glorious day of blue skies and warm New York City winter sunshine.

Nami Nori is helmed by veterans of the most expensive and one of the most revered sushi restaurants in the country, Masa, so these people know their shit. The theme is temaki, which are almost like little sushi tacos, but are better described as "hand rolls." You can walk out of here for less than $30 stuffed with some of the freshest, most delicious sushi in the city––it's a steal.

It took me only about fifteen minutes to walk from the parking garage where I left my rental car to Nami Nori, through eerily quiet East Village streets. With mounds of snow on every sidewalk, and more dogs than I think I have ever seen in a single day, the city seemed peaceful and almost joyful, without any of the stress or urgency you might get on a typical day strolling around Manhattan, and refreshingly with literally everyone wearing masks. I got to Nami Nori praying to my atheist gods they had walk-in space, and was lucky enough to get their last sidewalk table, complete with "chairs" that were little vented boxes with heated bricks inside to keep my legs warm. Their little makeshift outdoor dining structure, full of diners with reservations, was just across the sidewalk, but I was glad of the sunshine and the chance to watch doggos passing by from my little perch.

Many restaurants in the city doing outdoor dining are offering hot cocktails, but anticipating a full slate of wine pairings that evening, I stuck to water, and ordered an appetizer of tempura-fried calamari, tubes still intact, with a dipping condiment of yuzu and chili. Delicious with a nice heat, with a subtle and aromatic citrusy yuzu essence, a flavor I absolutely love.

But, I was here for temaki, and temaki is what I got! They have a pretty impressive list, but my server focused me on a few favorites. Each in a gently-folded sheet of nori (seaweed) that was protected from moisture (and hence from becoming a flaccid, chewy mess) by plant-based, biodegradable wrappers to be removed before eating each hand roll, a layer of sushi rice, and some glorious gifts from the sea atop, they brought out the five rolls in a custom-made temaki tray.

From left to right:

- "Spicy crab dynamite," with a spicy crab mélange wrapped in a piece of nori with little crusted tempura balls affixed for crunch.

- Tempura-fried lobster, topped with a yuzu mayo and thin strands of frisée.

- Toro (tuna belly) and scallion, topped with a dollop of caviar.

- Hokkaido uni (sea urchin) from the winter oceans of northern Japan. The absolute best shit.

- Scallops with X.O. sauce and tobiko.

I ate them in the order I thought best, saving the most decadent temaki for last, going from outside to inside––crab, scallop, lobster, uni, and toro. Each was delicious, but my favorite, by far, was the Hokkaido uni. In the winter the urchins in Japan become particularly sweet and delicate, and the generous portion of uni provided coated my tongue with creamy, sweet, slightly briny goodness. There is nothing better than sea urchin, even if, as my auntie Amy once quipped, it resembles baby poop.

Still feeling a bit peckish and knowing I had a long way to go before dinner, I asked for a salmon and avocado temaki and another uni roll, just so I could be tasting the lingering glory of Japanese sea urchin for the rest of the afternoon.

There were plenty of people waiting for tables to open up by the end of the meal, so even though I could have stayed and enjoyed even more, I made my table available and took a meandering walk up to The Whitney Museum, where I had a timed entry ticket. On the way I stumbled across the Stonewall Memorial, commemorating the most seminal event in the history of queer rights in this country. Got a bit teary.

The Whitney was wonderful, though a shade crowded for pandemic comfort, and it was my first visit. Not only was the American modern art incredible, but I also got the chance to enjoy the blue skies and sunny views from the 8th floor overlooking lower Manhattan, with some prominent midtown and downtown skyscrapers peering over the horizon of buildings. Seeing New York City from a panoramic angle like this really makes you appreciate how vast and multifaceted this place is.

It's fun to provide reviews of accessible institutions of excellent food in cities like New York. If you find yourselves there, I can't recommend it more highly. Can't wait for my next visit to NYC to get some more world-class sushi!

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