Wasabi Sushi & Bento Serves up Fast & Casual Japanese to Midtown
Well everyone, Wasabi Sushi & Bento is finally here. After a
little bit of super long wait, Wasabi has opened to the public. Last week, I had reported that they were open, only to find out that it was more of a “soft opening”. Despite reports from other Midtown Lunchers that they had given it a try, I decided to wait until yesterday for their official opening. I was a little too excited to give Wasabi a try, opting for only one bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch rather than my usual two. Armed with a ferocious appetite, I practically ran over to Wasabi Sushi & Bento to give it the official Midtown Lunch breakdown.
Wasabi has been dishing out “fast-casual” Japanese food in the UK for a while now, with a considerable number of branches spaced out around London. Since I began working in Midtown, the signs on their first United States location have been up and I have been waiting patiently for their arrival. It seems like they only began working on the space a few months ago. As the work on Wasabi progressed, my excitement grew. Prior to my arrival at Wasabi for the very first time, I navigated over to their US website looking for any additional information I could gather. Fortunately, they had placed a menu on their website, which I immediately began looking over – planning my attack.
I was impressed with the prices, with all of their bento boxes coming in well under the ML limit. Seeing as this was a special occasion, I decided, before I even got there, that I would try out a few pieces of sushi, a bento box and an order of their pork ramen – these are the sacrifices I make for you, the readers. I contemplated heavily on my sprint over to Wasabi whether or not I really needed the ramen. However, I’m a huge fan of ramen, and if a place around the corner from my office is going to serve it up, then I owe myself a taste.
The interior is simple, clean and very nicely appointed, feeling almost…futuristic. Despite the appeal of the interior design, it was all-out chaos when I walked in. The place was packed with people, many of whom didn’t appear to have any idea of what was going on. To the left, there are stacks of shelves crammed with individually wrapped pieces of sushi. Directly in front, there is a counter with pre-made salads and specialty sushi rolls. Next to that are shelves that house their bento boxes. Needless to say, it was a little confusing, and I quickly joined in – shuffling from station to station deciding on exactly what I wanted to try. Finally, I settled down and set my targets on the sushi.
Organized neatly along the wall, there are pieces of individually wrapped sushi. It’s a strange concept at first, but it’s nice to be able to pick-and-choose as you move along the line. The types of sushi include hosomaki, futomaki, nigiri, and gunkan. At the bottom are the sushi and salad sets, which vary in price from $5.95 to $12.95. It becomes easy to distinguish between which pieces of sushi are more popular than others, so you can imagine that the more popular selections are being loaded with fresh sushi more often.
All of the sushi is priced for two pieces. Knowing the amount of food I was going to get in addition to this, I opted for two pieces of ebi (shrimp) nigiri ($2.50). Towards the end of the sushi section, I stumbled upon the onigiri, or “Individually-wrapped triangles of rice tied with nori and filled with your choice of savory options”, I grabbed a chicken teriyaki onigiri ($2.75) and moved onto the next station.
I found myself at the “Hot Food” section, where all of the pre-made box sets are located. It was a little disappointing to see that everything is prepared, then thrown out under heat lamps, but the kitchen appeared to be at full-speed when I looked back so I like to think nothing is sitting around too long.
Next to the hot section, they have a number of fresh salads that looked really good. I wasn’t looking to eat anything that healthy, so I moved along.
I opted for the Chicken Katsu Bento ($7.95). The contents of the box felt heavy, and I felt like it was a reasonable price to ask for the quantity ignoring the fact that Go! Go! Curry obviously dominates in this department. From there, I made my way into the line that, unfortunately, stretched into the center of the restaurant. The main line feeds into 4 smaller lines that correspond to a specific cashier, so this gets a little confusing. I was dying of hunger at this point, so time seemed to be crawling by, but the the line did move at a decent pace. There are certain items that you order from the cashiers, like ramen. You pay, get a number, and wait for it to be called.
I felt it was only right to begin with the sushi, so I opened that up first. It was a little
strange annoying to unwrap each piece, but I ripped apart the plastic and prepared my soy sauce.
I pretty much inhaled the ebi nigiri, but I thought it was good. Anyone expecting top-notch sushi from Wasabi is sorely mistaken, take one look at the prices and you begin to realize what you are getting at here. If you’re looking to eat like Bourdain, then take a trip downtown to Sushi Nakazawa – this is very different. I’d say the sushi at Wasabi falls somewhere right in the middle between what you could get at Sushi Nakazawa and what you would find at a rest stop gas station. It’s good, I could eat a lot of it and be very happy.
Moving onto the onigiri, I put some additional soy sauce on top, which brought it to the perfect level of saltiness I enjoy. There was obviously significantly more rice, but the chicken was there and very nicely flavored. It was then I realized that, in my hunger frenzy, I had completely neglected a large piece of nori that is included with the oginiri. It includes instructions on how to wrap the rice and chicken triangle – oops.
Wasabi also offers up a handful of made-to-order specialty rolls, ranging from $8.95 to $12.95. The rolls, named appropriately, looked delicious, but were just too expensive to include in my order.
The Chicken Katsu Bento Box at $7.95 seemed like a pretty good deal to me.
Opening it up, it looked a little depressing, as the food barely fills up the entire container. However, I began to dissect the meal, and there is definitely more food in here than it looks. The rice is like any rice you’ve had that’s been sitting around for a while – far from ideal. Further, the chicken didn’t have the initial crunch you would typically get from a cutlet right out of the fryer.
Fortunately, the cutlets were thick and very moist, and they packed a lot of flavor. I can only imagine how great this would taste had it been fresh. Difficult to see in the pictures, but underneath the cutlet was a type of vegetable salad. There were carrots, edamame, and what I believe was rakkyo (a topping commonly offered at Go! Go!). Seated below the chicken, this vegetable medley was very tasty and served as a pleasant surprise that went well with the cutlet.
The Pork Ramen ($8.45) at Wasabi came in a container much larger than I expected. I’ve been eating a ton of ramen around the city lately, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect when ordering it from Wasabi. Ordinarily, I would never order ramen to-go but I had to make an exception here, I opened up the container and looked inside…
The broth was a deep red color, and it was packed with veggies. Digging deeper, I found a very healthy helping of noodles, as well as plenty of chunks of pork. The broth was nicely flavored and had a little spice, nothing overwhelming. My only real complaint was that it was just too thin and watery. I like my broth to be on the thicker side, so those of you on the opposite end of the spectrum might really like this. Rather than a single large piece of pork, Wasabi’s ramen was filled with delicious little pork morsels.
Again, it’s all about managing your expectations here. I don’t think this ramen can compete with the many established ramen shops in NYC. Having said that, I would have no problem eating this for lunch – I really liked how it was filled with ingredients. It definitely exceeded my expectations. Now, one last shot of that fatty broth…
Wasabi Sushi & Bento has a lot going for it. Their menu is great, the prices are reasonable, and I have absolutely no doubt it will prove to be a valuable addition to the Midtown Lunch arsenal. Each item you get at Wasabi certainly won’t be the best you can get in Midtown – the cutlet is better at Go! Go!, the sushi better at Koi (Yes, I know..duh), and the ramen better at Ippudo or Totto. However, you shouldn’t go to Wasabi expecting the best. You should go expecting a delicious, affordable, quick meal – all of the qualities I look for in a great Midtown Lunch establishment. Manage your expectations, go to Wasabi Sushi & Bento and enjoy.
Wasabi Sushi & Bento, 561 7th Ave. (btw. 40th + 41st)