Lunch’er “Jon” Reports: Ocha vs. Aoki
I’m constantly on the lookout for good sushi deals, which to me consists of three rolls for $10 (the ML price limit.) Aoki, on 48th btw. 7+8th, has always been my go-to spot, even though they raised the price to $11. The last time I posted about it, Lunch’er “nycfoodie” mentioned that he was a bigger fan of Ocha (on 46th btw. 8+9th). Well, Lunch’er “Jon” took that as a challenge, and hit up both places on the same day. Here is his report:
Once in a great while, a battle wages between two restaurants for supremacy of a combo. On this day, I hoped to crown a champion. After reading up on the Aoki three roll combo, then hearing that Ocha’s was better from someone else, I took my large appetite, my pre-work hour, and my notepad to hit both Ocha and Aoki back-to-back to hopefully settle the qualms on ML. First up, Ocha.
I walked into Ocha about 1:10 to find a few tables filled with various walks of life. Business lunch, slackers, etc. The ambiance of Ocha screamed “hang out” to me. This is a place that I could certainly see a group of friends having this place be the regular spot to meet, catch up, and eat cheap sushi. I had every intention of ordering the three-roll combo, but I saw that they had a namesake roll called the “Ocha Roll” which was “Eel, shrimp, salmon, avocado outside hot pepper” for $7.95. Now, whenever I go to a restaurant and see anything named after the restaurant I’m in, I order it. Because if their namesake dish sucks, then chances are the rest of their food does too.
So, I ordered the two roll combo of Shrimp Tempura and Spicy Salmon with salad, and then the Ocha roll too. The salad came first, it was your standard greens/carrot salad with a very, albeit mild, Russian-esque dressing. Wasn’t bad, very light, primed me for the sushi. Everything came out very quickly. Sushi soon followed.
The Shrimp Tempura had a salty “twinge” to it that was a little off-setting. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was noticeable. The Spicy Salmon was nice enough, but no spice was noticeable. The Ocha roll, but I think I got something else, because the avocado was inside, and was completely devoid of hot pepper. The way it was arranged on the plate didn’t do anything to make my eyes go, “Mmmm” either. That said, the fish tasted very fresh and buttery, and I certainly cleaned the plate. I was in and out in 20 minutes. Next stop, Aoki.
Walking into Aoki around 1:45, I felt a tad under-dressed. This place was definitely swankier than Ocha, decor was certainly appealing, and the place was bustling. I was quickly seated at the sushi bar since I was flying solo, and handed a menu. I was planning on ordering their namesake roll as well, but at $15.95, that idea was quickly nixed. They’re pricier on the whole than Ocha, so I stuck with the three roll combo, and I’m glad I did.
I ordered the Shrimp Tempura, the Spicy Salmon Crunch, and the Eel Avocado, again with a salad. The former two were to compare directly to Ocha, the latter, well, because I like it, and I couldn’t compare namesakes. Salad came, standard greens and carrots, only this one came with two cherry tomatoes dotted on top. Nice touch. The dressing was a grainier, stronger tasting dressing. Tasted good, but wasn’t what I was focusing on.
Sushi took a few minutes longer, because of the Shrimp Tempura. I didn’t mind the wait at all, as I dug into that one first. The still-hot Shrimp Tempura combined with the velvet flavor of the avocado was great. The Spicy Salmon Crunch roll had a small amount of heat. Nothing to write home about, but I could tell that it was there, as opposed to Ocha. And the Eel Avocado was great too, as the eel was warmed through, as was the eel sauce on top. And keep in mind this is now three MORE rolls I’m consuming on top of the three I just ate 20 minutes prior.
The sushi itself was better aesthetically. Everything tasted very fresh, buttery. The hot Shrimp Tempura though…. I’m still salivating over that. And just like Ocha, I was in and out in 20 minutes.
Overall, if I were to recommend a hang out place, I’d probably say Ocha. Cheaper food, more of a hole in the wall, and friendlier staff. If I had the time to organize a weekly occurrence, that’d be on the list.
But this isn’t about hanging out. This is about eating. And while the Aoki combo is $1 more than Ocha, all the little touches and things you might not consciously notice more than make up for spending that extra dollar. You eat with your eyes first, and the plating that was given to me tasted much better than that of Ocha. And the hot tempura, the warmed eel/sauce, the flavors, the textures, really everything about it….
Aoki came out the clear winner.
Ocha, 350 W. 46th (btw. 8+9th), 212-581-3198
Aoki, 234 W. 48th St. (btw. B’way+8th), 212-956-2356