A couple of weeks ago one of my oldest, dearest, and most wonderful friends was visiting from North Carolina with his girlfriend, Carol. Because we have been friends for more than 25 years, Jim’s visits to Manhattan rank among some of the most precious days of my year. Who knew we would stick together for our whole lives when we both showed up to Miss LaBarge’s kindergarten class in our awkward Catholic School uniforms? Being the amazingly dedicated friend that he is, he comes to Harlem at least 3 times a year to hang with me and Keith and let me drag him around to every restaurant I have the slightest interest in. Though we clash on just about every hot button political issue plaguing the US right now (he is an impressive military man and I am a hardcore liberal), one thing we always agree on is Sushi. During previous visits we have had to trek more than 50 blocks South or take the train to really good sushi in the Village. But not anymore! Imagine how excited I was to bring our little foursome to an amazing sushi restaurant within walking distance of our apartment! Jado Sushi, located at 2118 Frederick Douglas Blvd (between W 114th and W 115th St) was the perfect place to have dinner after we had spent the day walking the High Line and drinking beers on the Porch at Terrior. A beautifully decorated restaurant that is perfectly lit with an intimate and welcoming layout, you could head to Jado with family, on a date, or with friends. Because we made reservations, we were greeted by the sweet hostess and immediately seated in one of the cozy booths in the back where your view is either of the spot lit Sushi Bar, or the alcohol bar and the street.
Because I always ask the waitstaff an excess of questions, I unintentionally flustered our waiter and he quickly admitted that he had only been on the job for two weeks. Having not yet fully integrated himself into the service/kitchen rhythm that any well-run restaurant establishes, what he lacked in formal skill he made up for with determined customer service and a great sense of humor.
Because we ordered mostly sushi, while we sipped on our drinks and gobbled (yes, gobbled) our appetizers, we caught glimpses of our rolls being hand crafted by the masterful Sushi chefs that were equally skilled in delivering flavor and presentation. Everything was excellent—and though each dish was distinct to one that you would find on a sushi menu, the flavor and texture combinations were modern and ingenious, and I knew that whoever conceptualized this menu had an appreciation for complex flavors with flare and depth. Check out the dish by dish review.
Drinks: We ordered both beer and specialty cocktails. If I see ‘cucumber’ anywhere on a drink menu, rest assured that I will be ordering it. I love the crisp and refreshing element that cucumbers lend to any cocktail, and though I normally see them paired with vodka, the Gin Cuke was unexpected and lovely. Slightly sweet with a beautiful color and shisho ‘basil’ garnish, I made everyone at the table taste my gin and cucumber masterpiece in a glass. We also ordered the Black Dahila, which was an almost spicy, but mostly sweet/sour combo of tamarind (bartenders everywhere–please use tamarind in more drinks!), fresno chili, shochu, and mariposa (an agave nectar liqueur). The beer offerings featured a bounty of Japan-only imports, while the wine and sake list were also impressive.
Appetizers: To start our meal we got the Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura and the (build your own) Lettuce Wraps with Shrimp. Because I was with a Tempura Conneasuer (Jim), and a Lettuce Wrap Expert (Keith) I knew these starters had some serious expectations to live up to. Rave reviews all around. We all pounced on them as soon as they hit the table; perfectly fried vegetables (red bell pepper, eggplant, onion, and sweet potato) or shrimp in a tempura batter that was crisp and airy, and butter lettuce leaves that were fresh, durable, and tender.
Tonkatsu Panko Pork: Because I am with a man who knows my love of pork and my need to sample as much food as possible, Keith ordered the Tonkatsu Panko Pork, which was served with shredded Nappa cabbage, seared shiitake mushrooms, and tonkatsu sauce nestled inside a smear of Japanese mustard. Knowing how difficult it is to cook a pork loin to perfect doneness without drying it out, I could not have been happier with the bite I got of this Panko Pork dipped in spicy mustard. The pork was juicy and flavorful with a crispy panko coating that risked being slightly heavy if it hadn’t been paired with the refreshing crunch of cabbage slaw and the earthiness of the seared mushrooms.
Lobster Roll & Spicy Mango Tuna Roll: Both simple in their ingredients and their presentation, had there been any flaws related to fish freshness, avocado ripeness, or sticky rice stickiness, we would have tasted it immediately. Both rolls had extremely fresh seafood (the lobster was very well cooked) and the spicy tuna/mango/crunch combo had outstanding flavor and texture contrast.
Dragon Roll: Eel and avocado is one of my favorite sushi combinations. When you add cucumber, two kinds of pepper (Szechuan and red), then garnish with a fried root vegetable (I think it was parsnip) you may have to fight me for the last piece. Since we had so many other tasty options we didn’t come to blows at the table, but I this was one of my favorites of the 5 rolls that we ordered.
Fuego Tuna Roll: A simple but well conceptualized roll, the tuna was outstandingly fresh, the chili apparent (but not overpowering), and the tiny crunch from the tempura puffs added the texture needed to round out the roll.
Soft Shell Crab Roll: The first time I ever had soft shell crab Jim ordered it as an appetizer at a now defunct Sushi shop on 2nd Ave in the 90s (it was a tragic casualty of the 2nd Ave Subway build). So, in honor of our first shared Soft Shell Crab experience, we got the Soft Shell Crab Roll. The crab was meaty and moist, and the cucumber added a refreshing crunch which made this roll my other favorite at the table.