In any given town, you’d be lucky to find a handful of restaurants that truly make you stop mid-bite and say “wow” (Logan just found one here!). Well recently I’ve moved to a small town in New Jersey called Ridgewood, and so far, I haven’t had a bad meal yet. The one stand-out, is a little sushi joint called Sakura Bana. We’ve written quite a bit about sushi here at Eat a Duck, so I wouldn’t be sharing this if it was anything but spectacular. After dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro, Nobu, Masa and the like, I’d like to think that I’m a decent judge of quality. Somehow, this humble eatery on an off-street in downtown Ridgewood manages to elevate its cuisine to the point that I’d easily include it along with those titans of toro.
My father was up for a few days, and as we had been blown away on a previous visit, it was almost a no-brainer that we would be going back. One important note before we start, it’s BYOB, so stop by Wine Sellers down the street and pick up a nice bottle of Daiginjo sake. You’ll end up saving a bundle and enjoying a higher quality sake.
Sakura Bana is not flashy, it doesn’t have the designer decor or thumping dance music you’ll find at its high-end New York peers. What it does have, is comfort, warmth and diabolically delicious fish. The quality of the food is a direct result of there being more than 60 restaurants in Ridgewood, which is not a large town. The sheer density of eateries means that to stay in business, let alone stand out, your food had better be spot on. Sakura Bana nails it. There have been very few sushi restaurants that actually cause me to comment on how delicious each item is. Actually, in this price range, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a better one. So let’s get on to the food. There were three of us that night, so we all made our choices, keeping in mind the specials board up on the wall, which was offering Kampachi, Toro and Chu-toro and Amberjack just to name a few. We settled on an order of Hamachi Kama (Yellowtail collar), Black cod in a miso and butter sauce and an assortment of nigiri and rolls including: Sake, Kampachi (young yellowtail), Hotate, Amaebi, Toro, Chu-toro, a Salmon Skin Roll, a Glen Rock Roll (Shrimp tempura, fresh salmon, and cucumber inside; spicy sauce and tempura chips on top) and a Dynamite Toro Roll (Spicy fatty tuna with tempura chips).
Everything pictured above was off the charts in terms of freshness. Each piece was at room temperature, as it should be, the rice was sweet and sticky with a hint of tangy vinegar in the background. The toro was slick and buttery and literally melted on the tongue, while the scallop with its smooth texture was sweet and tender as could be. As for the two cooked dishes, the Hamachi Kama, we agreed, was one of the best examples we had ever tried. It was definitely as good if not better than some we’ve had at Nobu. The Black Cod took obvious inspiration from the famous chef, but instead of executing a simple copy, they developed their own sauce which was more savory while still retaining the familiar sweetness that makes the original so memorable. In between sips of the wonderfully crisp and dry Wakatake Daiginjo we had brought along and some red bean and green tea mochi for dessert, it made for the perfect sushi dinner that can be so difficult to find these days. It just goes to show that if you keep searching, you just might find a real gem right in your own backyard.
If not for my miniature bank roll, I’d visit twice a week as I live less than 10 minutes walk from their door. It is just so good, I can’t stress that enough, easily better than Morimoto and at a fraction of the price. Hopefully this will sway some of you to come visit me up here so I’ll have an excuse to visit this wonderful shangri-la of sushi. If the other restaurants in Ridgewood match the quality of Sakura Bana, then I’m looking forward to a tasty 2012. Kampai!