On Clinton, a Sushi Traditionalist Gets Ready to Roll

DSC00477Kavitha Surana

The tiny storefront at 91 Clinton Street is starting to gain a reputation for quick turnover – in the past two and a half years it briefly housed Djerdan Burek and Xiao Qin Flower shop. Now, furious renovations are taking place as Chef John Daley aims to open his first solo venture, New York Sushi Ko, in about five weeks.

Mr. Daley, 33, is a member of the traditionalist sushi tribe. After training rigorously for almost three years at 15 East under Masato Shimizu in New York, he traveled to Tokyo to study under his master’s master, Rikio Kugo. “Outsiders of a culture usually delve deeper into aspects that people living inside the culture will take for granted, “ he said, musing about his passion for Japanese sushi philosophy and details. “I’m going to experiment with presentation at Sushi Ko, but this isn’t going to be an Asian fusion restaurant. I’m going for strictly traditional Japanese flavors.”

To recreate the quality of his experience culling fish from Tokyo’s legendary Tsukiji market, Mr. Daley plans to go to extreme lengths: “Last call at Sushi Ko will be at 3 a.m.,” he explained. “By 3:30 a.m. I’ll be in my car, driving to get my fish for the day in Queens or Brooklyn, just landed in JFK from Tokyo.”

The $50-$100 menus will be omakase-only, which roughly translates as “leave it to the chef.” With only 11 seats total, dining at New York Sushi Ko promises to be an intimate and informal experience. “I’ll be able to talk to everyone from the bar,” said Mr. Daley, gesturing to the blonde wood surface in the works. “You can walk in and say, ’10 pieces’ and in 10 minutes be eating.”

Suddenly, Clinton Street seems to be a hot destination for American-born chefs with a penchant for Japanese tradition. Ivan Orkin, an American with a traditional-style ramen empire in Japan, plans to open up his first stateside outpost down the block in May. Maybe they can start a club?