Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Blue Ribbon For The Upper West

Don't Look Now, But There are Sexy Fish on 58th Street

For those of us “Upper West Siders” who are long time Blue Ribbon fans, the thought of the new Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill was too good to be true. Now that Bruce and Eric Bromberg’s terrific sushi spot is open, the bottom line is clear… quality Upper West dining comes with a price.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that New York restaurants come with a price tag, but unfortunately this spot has a price that will prohibit a weekly visit.

That said, everything the Bromberg brothers set out to do in this store works. It is hip, fun, sexy and mostly delicious.

In NY, and especially the Time Warner Center area, your space needs to scream “cool”. This one does. With a bar up front, the long narrow space opens into a surprisingly hip back room… with a sushi bar jammed with 8-10 sushi chefs.

If Frank Lloyd Wright had been Japanese, this would have been his design. A mix of expertly crafted raw and finished woods, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a design connection between the space and the cedar sake box before me. It works.

For sushi purists, the menu is overwhelmingly spectacular. There are a jillion varieties of fish here, and fresh is the rule. Sure there is tuna, mackerel and amberjack… but you can’t always find Japanese snapper and orange clam lingering around a menu in this area. The prices are steep ($4 a bite, or a California roll with King Crab for $17.50) but you get what you pay for.

For example, my $9 spicy tuna roll was good (fresh fish, but not very spicy)… but for 4 tiny pieces, I thought ahead to my next visit with friends, thinking a large dinner for four would get expensive fast.

The early star of the show was easily the San Daikon, a three radish salad in a terrific ginger-miso dressing. We coupled this with one of the good-looking specials, a platter of rock shrimp tempura with spicy sauce on the side. The dish was ok, but would be improved a great deal by frying the shrimp about one minute longer, and tossing the hot crispy shrimp with the sauce and heaping them on a platter with something fresh on the side (cucumber would be perfect).

The rest of the menu can be hit or miss. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t bad food here, I just feel that some dishes fall a little short.

Point in case:

For dinner I veered off of the sushi menu and ordered the salt and pepper shrimp, a dish that really showed me some of the limitations of the kitchen. Although the shrimp had good flavor, there was very little flavor on the shells… which were also very hard to peel. The manager made a point to make his way to our table and tell me I could (and should) eat the shells, but being from Louisiana and eating shrimp since birth, I know that one doesn’t digest shrimp shells easily. Let me cut to the chase… this was a platter of four medium large shrimp for $19.00. I wasn’t expecting a platter of ten, but for that price, they better be some bad ass shrimp. They weren’t.

In contrast, my companion stuck with sushi rolls and was happy happy. Again the freshness of the fish was front and center… and as you know, when you are dealing with fish of this quality, it’s hard to screw it up.

Blue Ribbon offers land lubbers several options here… a nice steak menu and their famous fried chicken… an option I may opt for when I return… and their desserts are simple if not underwhelming.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible sake collection, both pasteurized and unpasturized. We ordered two boxes of unpasturized (recommended by our waiter) and loved the choice. There is also a good wine selection and cocktails of all shapes and sizes.

The skinny? Well it’s good. For those like me that aren’t high-end sushi connoisseurs, it’s just enough. For those who are into sushi, it’s a haven. For everyone, it’s expensive. But hey, this is the new Upper West Side, right?

photos by Robert K. Chin