136 W Houston St
New York, NY 10012-2512
In 2003, after 10 years of running a sushi bar of the same name in Cliffside Park, NJ, chef Hideo Kuribara transported his business to West Houston Street, among bridge-and-tunnel bars and tourist-trap restaurants. Sushi in this neighborhood tends toward the monstrous sort dispensed by Yama and Tomoe, where huge floppy fish is the draw and sushi's all-important rice is an afterthought. For eschewing this, Ushi Wakamaru stands out. The quality of its fish can't match that of big boys like Sushi Yasuda and Kuruma Zushi, but its low prices preclude comparison. The chef’s-choice assortment brings gorgeously fatty, pink toro, crunchy giant clam, and rich yellowtail atop fingers of properly warm vinegared rice. Kurihara also dabbles in unusual seafood such as sayori—often translated as needlefish—and shiroebi, tiny, creamy bone-white raw shrimp packed tightly together over rice; he snatches sazae, an uncommon Japanese shellfish served here as an appetizer, from a tank near the door and cooks it in its shell until it's tender and briny. The standard sushi bar décor—a long black lacquer counter displaying fish behind glass—doesn't hint at these exciting piscine wares, though the crowds inside do.