Holy Mackerel, Mai Sushi is Pretty Good
I should probably admit off the bat that I never ate at Chiyoda Sushi (on 41st btw. Mad+5th). Of all the times I walked right by it on my way to Cafe Zaiya, I think I stopped in once and I still ended up going to Zaiya. Despite Zach’s strong recommendation to check it out, I just couldn’t get excited for what was described as a more refined (more expensive) version of the Zaiya experience. Admittedly I’m not sure why that was because I’ve definitely spent $10 at Zaiya before, so it’s not like that is usually a dirt cheap lunch for me. Now that Chiyoda has been reborn as Mai Sushi, I decided it was time to give them a try.
It seems not a whole lot has changed, as promised. The “more upscale Zaiya” description definitely still holds true. There are a plethora of prepackaged options including sushi rolls, onigiri, rice bowls, noodle dishes and bento boxes. Past that is a “deli counter” where you can get some select pre-made items (tempura, croquettes, Korean fried chicken), special hot rice bowls and made-to-order noodles. There are a few tables plus some seating at a bar, and beyond that is the sit down restaurant. Their website features a thorough menu so you can check out what’s new and see if your favorite Chiyoda items made the jump (they definitely eliminated some of the onigiri varieties).
Since it was my first time, I figured that a bento box would be an economical way to sample a handful of items. My $8.79 bento came with a choice of seafood entree, an appetizer, a serving of brown or white rice and a small cup of pickled veggies. I chose the curried Spanish mackarel, calamari salad, brown rice and the pickled cucumbers. I also wanted to compare their onigiri to Zaiya’s, so I got a $2.50 salmon one that I fully expected to save for later in the afternoon (spoiler alert: I didn’t).
The Spanish mackarel and rice obviously had to be heated up, which involved me waiting for an employee to heat up a huge bag of noodles in their one microwave (and eventually remove said bag of noodles from the microwave myself).
Honestly, it was worth it though. The mackerel was delicious. I got two small-ish pieces of fish (I fully recommend digging until you find a serving you like the looks of). The pieces were nice and thick, and they have a slightly spicy, slightly sweet flavor that really hit the spot. They don’t look like much, but with the rice they formed a nice base for my lunch, although I would have gladly forked over a little more money for a double serving of fish.
The calamari salad was OK. It’s pretty small but I was reasonably happy with the amount of squid in it. Although the other ingredients (cucumber, tomato, red onion and parsley) were chopped considerably larger than the squid itself. The calamari wasn’t rubbery at all which is usually my worry with this kind of thing. Ultimately, it seemed no more than the sum of its parts, and left me wanting a bit more flavor. The pickled cucumbers were plenty crunchy but there isn’t much more to say about them.
The multi-grain rice salmon onigiri was a disappointment for me though. First of all, they sit in the refrigeration case with everything else. Even after my rather leisurely lunch, it was still a little too cold and hard for me. The salmon was also a little flavorless compared to Zaiya’s salty version. The multi-grain rice is a nice alternative to Zaiya’s white rice, and the amount of salmon was ample. Maybe I’d have enjoyed it more if I had exhibited just a smidge of self control and saved it until later in the afternoon.
In the end, I think the Bento Box may have been a rookie mistake. The fish, calamari and rice would have cost me $9.75 purchased separately (the pickled veggies don’t have a price on them). So I only saved about a buck. Instead, I could have gotten the $4.50 mackarel I loved so much, and then tried another more substantial dish like noodles or a sushi bowl and still only spent about $10 (this is why Zach’s original idea of bringing someone to increase the items you get to try is perfect for this place). The mackarel was good enough that I will definitely be back to give this method a try.
It’s also worth mentioning that these waffle creamwiches look pretty delicious.
- A huge variety of Japanese dishes and snacks that you can mix and match
- I prefer this healthier more upscale (and healthier) version of Cafe Zaiya
- Curried Spanish mackarel FTW!
- It’s a little on the expensive and you can go way over $10 if you’re not careful
- Many items require heating up, so if you’re eating there you are the mercy of other customers (and the employees)
Mai Sushi, 16 E. 41st St. (btw. 5+Mad.), 212-400-8880