For the last 12 years, Kazu has been the lead sushi chef at Ten-Ichi on Fillmore Street. I fondly call him the Japanese Elvis ~ first, because he has the most gorgeous wave of shiny black hair of anyone who ever wielded a sushi knife; and second, because he's been known to croon a line or two from his favorite pop songs when the night begins to wane and he's had a glass or two of sake.
I can't count the number of evenings I've slid into a chair behind his counter, feeling a rare blend of both anticipation and comfortable familiarity. Of all the restaurant seats in the entire city, this is the one that feels most like home to me.
I realize that slabs of monkfish liver and mounds of rosy-pink salmon eggs might not be most people's idea of comfort food, but then maybe they haven't met Kazu.
Kazu-san is tall and lanky, with long slender fingers. He is shy; he blushes easily. And he has a way with raw fish that is simply brilliant. Not brilliant in the style of sushi chefs who concoct gorgeous towers of fish and seaweed and drizzle them with complex sauces, but brilliant in that the fish is always the star. His preparations are simple, highlighting one or two flavors, always with the intention that the cut, texture and flavor of the fish is the centerpiece.
I have never, not once, had a mediocre meal at Kazu's counter. And
given the number of times that I've been there, that seems nothing
short of remarkable. I've been dazzled and satiated with everything from hotate to kanpachi to house-cured sake.
When I come in suffering from a cold, he disappears into the kitchen and returns a few minutes later with a steaming bowl of his specially-prepared dashi, in which swim an assortment of vegetables and hunks of fish, spiked with tangles of seaweed and bright green chives and red flakes of something spicy. Thirty minutes later, I miraculously feel better.
I don't know how Kazu manages to keep he cool night after night. I don't know how he stays so gracious and considerate when one of the wait staff is tapping on his arm on one side, asking about a dish for a table, and someone from the kitchen is asking him a question on the other side, while a row of expectant faces stare up at him from the counter, many of whom want to chit-chat and tell him their jokes and regale him with stories about their latest adventures. I don't know how he does it, but he does, and he does it well.
And now Kazu is leaving Ten-Ichi.
He's been dreaming of a place of his own for a while now; in just about a month, he'll be opening his very own restaurant. It will be called Sushi Kazu, and it will open around the first of September on Irving Street between 9th & 10th.
But be forewarned that you'll have to fight me for a seat at the counter!