Top 35 sushi bars in America, Mori is not where some of us think it should be but it's another one of those "lists"

It’s another one of these lists…Are they good for business? Yes. Are they relevant to many types of diners? Yes.

Are they relevant to most people here? Probably not.

They don’t have the same values as us when it comes to what makes a good sushi. It’s a convenient starting point if someone knows nothing about the topic, but the problem is how it’ll be misinterpreted; to wit, places like Nobu and Masa become the American holy grail of sushi when in fact the abundance of truffle on nigiri, the so-called “new style,” and ostensibly fusion elements, etc. result in a brand of sushi that is quite foreign to the Japanese, i.e. original idea of what proper sushi is. Those places are good for what they are, but they’re not the “Best Sushi in America.” The list’s ranking style may also reflect a heavily western palette and priority for what elements makes a good restaurant experience (e.g. Nakazawa has the celebrity element of being a character in the Jiro documentary, Nobu has created an empire and popularized Japanese food and sushi as a fashionable and exotic luxury experience). Which is why this list is already quite doomed from the outset when it attempts to discuss something like sushi, whose origin and foundation are de facto non-Western. I’m not saying that Americans can’t rank or analyze sushi, I’m just saying that in order to do it “properly,” it’s a good idea to be better aligned with the Japanese idea of what sushi should be, its underlying culinary principles, etc.

If they did that, yeah probably Mori would be higher, Sushi Ginza Onodera would be on there, Akiko’s and many others would not. Sushi is about so many elements like the proper handling of the fish, knifework, balance in garnishing and the flavors of the fish and rice, proportions, rice texture and mouthfeel, progression, etc…Here, the list selects sushiyas based more likely on the criteria of who’s significant in legacy; what’s popping at the moment; a democratic sampling of price points, locations, and styles; and also some of who’s “underground.”

This list is perhaps better described as “An American View of the Currently Most Significant Sushiyas in the Nation.” But make no mistake, that does not necessarily correlate with “Best.”

The one thing that bothers me is how authoritative these lists claim to be; every list is the “top 10…”, “5 best”, when in fact they’re just a compilation of some editor’s semi-competent-but-not-that-accurate research / rehashing / regurgitation of information sampled from internet fora. It’s quite clear that the editor isn’t really an expert, and rather relies on a lot of basic heuristics in forming this list, so it really shouldn’t be titled “Best.” With that said, I’m not surprised to find yet another one of these lists; it’s just a symptom of the times.

That’s why we come to places like here to discuss our interests with like-minded people and ignore all the white noise that surrounds us.

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I know! That is why Akiko’s is on the list and not the others we know of and like.

It was a giveaway when he wrote something like “and before you know it you’re realizing that you prefer hamachi (or ooo knee wagyu taw law (toro) ) to a pristine aged Aomori wild hirame”.

He’s done his homework as a journalist would, but the problem is some of the sources he used. E.g. quoting Jose Icardi from South Beach’s Katsuya on how “Sushi should melt in your mouth.” Then relying on “local reviews and pre-existing regional and local rankings” (read: Yelp and its accomplices), which was probably the biggest blunder. (note: Mori Sushi has the same Yelp rating as Akiko’s…). But did he really? Sushi Ginza Onodera in Hawaii has higher local ratings than the listed Sansei. Did he purposefully exclude SGO despite its higher ranking? Again, it’s quite clear that this list is more about presenting a broad mix of what’s popular, what’s underground, who has notoriety, etc. at various price points and locales than it is about getting to the absolute “best sushi” available. Sure, Hide Sushi represents a good value, an easy, no-frills convenient neighborhood go-to that’s competent, but it’s not the “best” in America.

The author talks about the priority of rice, he implicates the idea of nebari, he mentions proportions, he discusses moisture control, but then his list is quite the non-sequitur. Both for places he included and failed to include. I get the sense that he’s researched the topic but is still rather off. E.g. in another article he wrote (“What Are Characteristics of High Quality Sushi”) he mentions su-jime, but misapplies it too broadly to say that it is usually applied to neutralize the fishy smell. Well, that is the effect of using su-jime on certain appropriate types of neta e.g. kohada, but he makes it sound like su-jime is a trick that sushi chefs can apply to any fish to neutralize a fishy smell. Here, he admits to sampling responses from Quora, but again merely compiling information can lead to misunderstanding, as we saw here, and it unfortunately dings his credibility. He’s doing what a journalist does, but he comes off as sophomoric.

Anyway, I don’t mean to imply that Westerners can’t understand or critique sushi. It’s just here the guy is a little misguided for being overly reliant on sources which aren’t themselves a great foundation. And, consider that one of the best sashimi dishes I had in the past 2 years was prepared by a non-sushi restaurant with American chefs: ike-jime karei and its engawa with shungiku, a vinegar reduction of karei bones, and wakame salt (I know it’s sashimi not nigiri sushi).

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