Manhattan's second Sugarfish outpost opened on February 21.

By Kat Odell
February 25, 2019
Courtesy of Sugarfish

It took the Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa team over four years to find their inaugural New York City outlet, which debuted in the fall of 2016 in Flatiron. And mere seconds after opening doors, sushi enthusiasts flocked to the wildly popular Los Angeles set-menu sushi concept, causing lines around the block for salmon nigiri and blue crab hand rolls. So, with New Yorkers confirming their appetite for sterling seafood at reasonable prices––an appreciated departure from the city’s recent influx of expense account sushi counters––founders Tom Nozawa, Lele Massimini, and Jerry Greenberg knew they hit a sweet spot. And, of course, a sophomore effort would have to follow.

Manhattan’s second Sugarfish outlet hit Soho on February 21, claiming a modest corner plot at 202 Spring Street near Sullivan Street, encompassing approximately 1,700 square feet, equipped with 42 seats, eight of which are at a bar.

"We love the neighborhood, and felt we would be a good welcomed addition to the food offerings down here,” says Massimini, who felt that Sugarfish’s casual omakase (chef’s choice) dining format would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

When Sugarfish expanded from California to New York, the team made their ambitions clear: that here on the East Coast, the brand would offer precisely the same high-quality, reasonably-priced sushi served in a clean, modern space, just like the locations in Los Angeles since the brand’s debut in Marina del Rey in 2008. That included the same three set menus with various selections of sashimi, nigiri, and a hand roll––Trust Me Lite, Trust Me, and The Nozawa––though in New York the team had to slightly raise prices to account for the city’s high rent. So, instead of paying $19, $27, or $37 during lunch and $23, $33, or $43 during dinner, depending on one’s menu choice, here in New York Sugarfish charges $23, $33, or $45 for lunch and $28, $40, or $52 during dinner, while offering a number of additional sushi preparations à la carte. Sugarfish also offers daily-changing specials based on seasonal availability of fish, like uni and engawa (halibut fin).

Sugarfish as a concept is an offshoot of what was once Los Angeles’ most respected sushi counter, Sushi Nozawa. The small, unfancy joint in a strip mall on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City was known for its excellent sushi and Hollywood industry clientele. Owner Kazunori Nozawa opened the tiny sushiya in 1987, and he was one of the first chefs in America to put high-end Edo-mae (a more traditional style of sushi-making using fish from around Tokyo Bay, which a chef marinates and preserves before serving), chef’s-choice sushi on the map. He called the style “trust me” sushi, also the moniker for Sugarfish’s set menus.

Nozawa was known for his pristine seafood, and it’s through his longstanding relationships with fish purveyors that he was consistently able to source the best seafood in Los Angeles. When Tom and the team launched Sugarfish over a decade ago now, he put to good use his father’s fish-sourcing relationships. He bought the same top-level seafood served at Sushi Nozawa for Sugarfish, and because he was buying a larger quantity of fish––first for just two restaurants, then three, then four––buying in bulk enabled him to keep prices at Sugarfish low, while maintaining a high fish-quality standard.

And that’s how Sugarfish came to be. The concept proved a quick hit in Los Angeles, and when Nozawa decided to retire in 2012, he flipped his iconic sushi bar into another Sugarfish. And from there the brand has grown throughout Los Angeles, now with two Manhattan outlets.

Lauded Los Angeles architect Marmol Radziner schemed aesthetics for Sugarfish’s Soho space, designing a contemporary room with clean lines and floor-to-ceiling white oak. Similar in looks to other Sugarfish locations, patrons can sit at booths, banquettes, or grab a sake or beer at a small bar area.

In addition to the three aforementioned set menus, Sugarfish Soho has one additional option called “Don’t Think Just Eat.” It began as an off-menu special menu that Nozawa introduced last year to celebrate Sugarfish’s tenth birthday, but it became so popular that the team decided to make it a permanent fixture at the new location. Like a classic omakase meal, the diners doesn’t know exactly what they will be served because the menu is based on what’s seasonally available at the moment. But that meal typically contains two sashimi courses, 12 pieces of nigiri (the same fish prepared in two different ways), and two hand rolls for $63.

In the last half decade, New York has welcomed in a spate of sushi bars traditional enough to zap diners to Tokyo for a few hours. With that experience found at places like Noda, Noz, Sushi AMANE, and Shoji at 69 Leonard comes freshly grated Japanese wasabi root, seafood flown in daily from Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market, and prices sometimes as high as a month’s rent.

Which explains why diners eagerly que up for Sugarfish’s $28 to $63 omakases.

Sugarfish hours of operation run Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until midnight, and Sunday from noon to 11 p.m.

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