When you dine at the sushi counter of Shimizu Sushi and Shochu Bar, with chef Hisao Shimizu preparing the meal right in front of you, your singular focus on the pieces of sushi presented before you heightens your senses. The taste of the seafood is intensified.
Watching Shimizu work is mesmerizing. He deftly molds the rice and cuts the fish with precision and ease, his concentration fully on the ingredients at his disposal. Observing him working with the food you’re about to bite into only makes you grow hungrier by the minute.
At the counter, Shimizu shapes the piece of grilled eel and rice together into a perfectly bite-sized oval. The surface of the unagi gleams with a deep caramel sheen. When you pick it up and chew away, the generous layer of fat melts in your mouth as the flavors of its sweet and savory marinade—mirin, soy sauce, sugar—swirl around the mellow tang of sushi rice and the faintest hint of char.
Meanwhile, biting into the shrimp sushi reveals a spectacular sweetness, brought out by the slight tang and sweetness of the rice.
Rice, of course, is the most critical ingredient. “As a sushi chef, to be complimented for making good rice—that is a great honor,” said Shimizu through a translator. He has been making sushi for 30 years now, beginning with cooking for his family as a young child. After high school, he went straight into training to become a chef.
Shimizu uses California-grown sushi rice, with plump grains that possess the right balance between sticky and chewy. The amount of added sugar and rice vinegar defines the restaurant’s distinctive taste. After the rice is cooked, Shimizu must stir up the rice so that it cools down to the ideal temperature for eating. During this process, the vinegar also evaporates, eliminating some of the sharp acidity.
“It can’t be too hot, too sour, or too sticky. To be able to figure out the timing and the right amount [of rice], this can determine the skills of a chef,” he said.
The seafood, meanwhile, is a mix of local species and fish imported from the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.
The restaurant’s other defining element is its collection of shochu and other Japanese liquors. The bar offers snacks to go with its varying kinds of shochu, distilled from rice, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, and even sesame. Shimizu makes his own infusion by adding a few shiso leaves into the bottle, imparting a rich herbal flavor. After a busy day at work, enjoying a cup of warm liquor paired with finely made sushi seems like a terrific way to unwind.
Shimizu Sushi and Shochu Bar
Inside the Washington Jefferson Hotel
318 W. 51st St. (between Ninth & Tenth avenues)
Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan
Monday–Saturday, noon–2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.–midnight
Closed on Sundays