Nesconset, (631) 366-1688
As Yogi Berra saYs, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” This quote seems appropriate in discussing Kushi, the tiny new Japanese fusion restaurant in the Nesconset Plaza Shopping Center.
Eric Wu and Jason Chen, the same two young, enthusiastic, creative chefs who opened the very similar Onsen in Oakdale are behind Kushi. The first two paragraphs of my Onsen’s review (that follow) apply equally to Kushi.
“There must be a zillion little, look-alike, taste-alike, Japanese storefront restaurants on Long Island. Most of them mediocre. Often in nondescript shopping centers with predictable, interchangeable sushi dominated menus, these tiny spots understandably generate little excitement among diners who justifiably feel, ‘If you’ve eaten at one of them you’ve eaten at all of them.’
Now comes Onsen, yet another unimpressive looking peep of a place that’s as undistinguished as the Oakdale Shopping Center in which it’s located. Yet, although it seems like all the rest, it isn’t.”
Kushi is an unimpressive, narrow, small spot with six tables, 28 seats, a little sushi bar and seating for 18 more outside (in warm weather). At night the Nesconset Plaza is a sleepy shopping center. Yet, the very modest, diminutive Kushi, in a less than prime location, has the same assets as its predecessor. Assets that will no doubt lead to a successful second act for the talented duo of kitchen commanders. (Eric Wu was on duty during both of my visits while Jason Chen remained at Onsen).
Warm and friendly don’t do justice to the reception at Kushi. Customers are absolutely enveloped by the appreciative waitstaff. Complimentary starters are served to everyone and every dish was discounted 20 percent during the grand opening weeks.
In addition to all the usual sushi, sashimi and rolls, the sophisticated menu offers some adventurous, creative Japanese fusion offerings featuring French, Italian and Mexican touches. Rarely seen ingredients at Japanese restaurants such as foie gras, jalapeño, tortilla, barbecued baby back ribs, pizza and eggplant sandwiches dot the menu. Add beautiful looking food (every dish is a work of art, a still life with gentle prices) and you have an appealing, visual, monetary and culinary package.
Pay attention to salads as starters. The feathery mound of Martini Salad ($9) delivers a subtle balance of cool and spicy influences. Spicy ponzu sauce contrasts with cucumber, seaweed salad, crab and daikon radish. Tuna On the Beach ($12) offers a rarely encountered soy onion dressing over cucumber, mango, greens, tomato, cilantro and seared tuna.
Two other appetizers more than worth a nod are the eight tiny Crazy salmon sushis ($13) that pack welcome zing from their wasabi yuzu sauce and the Kenny special ($12), four tuna wrapped morsels stuffed with chopped shrimp, kani and avocado and enhanced by onion dressing.
Although conventional, conservative eaters can find all the usual tempuras, (the shrimp are crisp and plentiful), teriyakis, udon and soba dishes here.
The Onsen special rolls are the stars at Kushi: Three such parcels of satisfaction are the slightly sweet mango Hawaii roll ($12) of salmon and avocado crowned with mango and mango sauce; the simple red dragon roll ($13) layered with goat cheese and tuna that’s topped with sun dried tomato; and the sit up and take notice Joey roll ($14) powered by spicy crab, black pepper tuna and creamy wasabi sauce with shrimp, avocado and crunch. Thin, cold squares of Wagyu beef tataki ($16) came with sea salt, but the listed pepper and mustard sauce made only a miniscule appearance.
Kushi, like Onsen, offers a no cliché menu replete with distinctive dishes.
Photos by Stephen Lang