The Fish… It’s the Best Part!

10/25/2006 12:00 AM |

Photo by Arkady Sandoval

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Sakura 388 Fifth Ave, Park Slope, 718-832-2970
Price Range: $14-20  Rating: 
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I know that listening to people talk about their favorite sushi places can be tiresome. They get so personal, almost defensive, about their sushi: “Ooh, my place has the best ever fish-in-the-sea roll,” or “Why would you get the regular tuna when you could get spicy tuna?” A few weeks ago, I was with a friend who told me he loved sushi, so we dropped into a clean-looking place near his house. The first thing he tried to order was wonton soup, and then he said he didn’t like the “raw fish” aspect of sushi.

Bearing that in mind, probably not everybody would like Sakura, but it continues to impress me each time I visit. The service is so good that it reminds one how rare good service is. I have a problem with dropping my napkin on the floor. But every time it happened, a clean one silently appeared folded in front of me. The wait staff (it’s the same two women every time) are exact and graceful in the placement of all the tiny ceramic plates and blossom-covered dipping dishes. I get the sense that I am meant to feel comfortable, and special. 
For those who do like the raw fish part of sushi, Sakura features exquisite examples of the traditional ideal: simple, elegant, with great attention to small detail. A piece of Bonito ($3.50) topped with a dablet of grated ginger practically melts atop its bed of warm rice; lobster-like Botan Ebi (sweet shrimp, $4) is completely different from that pink hunk of rubber you’re used to. Disks of rich Monkfish Paté ($5.50) drizzled with pungent ponzu make foie gras seem clumsy.

The cooked foods represent Japanese home-style cooking, and are a far cry from chicken teriyaki. An appetizer of Broiled Eel ($7.50) atop flakes of cucumber pickles still keeps me up at night (in the good way). The Black Cod ($9.50) with miso sauce and a side of grated radish was perfectly delicate.
Even though the dining space is small, Sakura often feels empty. Recently, I was the last patron at 10pm on a Saturday night. As I passed through the noren curtains and stepped out onto a busyFifth Avenue, I saw other restaurants still packed, restaurants where I’ve felt regretful when the bill arrived. I recognize the paradox in writing this review. Sakura should be humming, even if it means I have to wait for a table at my new favorite restaurant in the city.