Noteworthy in Nyack
Newcomer Wasabi spices up a once-sleepy town
For years, part of Nyack’s appeal
was its off-beat, somewhat time-warped character. It felt like a sleepy town of antiques and craft stores, casual coffee shops, and low-key restaurants. More recently, though, the restaurant scene has become competitive and sophis-ticated—to diners’ advantage. Consider Wasabi. Celebrity spotting is a bona fide sport here, and those who play to win work the room. (Recently spotted: Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Murray, Stephen and Alec Baldwin, and Elizabeth Shue.)
While its barely lit, lime-green-and-black interior and post-modern menu— both of which stem from an appealing Japanese sensibility—may seem at odds with the pounding techno-music, the overall effect is hot and edgy, though the fare is somewhat more restrained than the ambience. Ignore the confusing categories on the menu and order whatever mix of cooked and raw foods appeals to you. Portion sizes vary widely, but entrÃ©es are the largest plates.
Start with classic sushi made with skill from sweet, clean-tasting fish, but don’t miss the more contemporary dishes, which offer evidence of creativity and a sense of balance both in the kitchen and behind the sushi bar.
A lobster martini—big chunks of steamed, tender lobster meat served in a martini glass with a velvety avocado garnish and an enormous dollop of sharp, briny black tobiko—was nearly big enough for an entire meal and certainly well-suited for sharing (if we were willing to give up a few bites).
Tuna Millennium, slices of raw tuna wrapped in seaweed and encrusted with an ethereal fried tempura batter that lent just a whisper of crunch, was also served fanned around the perimeter of a martini glass. In this dish, the juxtaposition of sensation came from a cool, creamy, and mild wasabi aioli.
The fried coating on the wasabi calamari was, appropriately, more dense than on the tuna, which helped it stand up to the inherently firmer texture of the calamari. But firm is a relative term here: the calamari was remarkably tender. We were saved from overeating this enormous pile of haunting coronas by the cloyingly sweet hoisin-based sauce that corrupted the flavor and texture of the rings that sat directly in it. By the time we had made our way that far down the pile, it was time to move on anyway; otherwise we wouldn’t have had room for the flurry of food that followed.
It’s hard to be sure how much food to order at Wasabi. Some dishes, like the calamari, were quite generously portioned, while others were not. Servers were not particularly helpful in this regard, although in general, service was adequate.
The menu clearly explains what is in each of the more creative dishes. But ingredient descriptions alone couldn’t set our expectations high enough for the rich, velvety black cod. This dish managed to one-up the original Nobu version, thanks to a pile of spicy pickled daikon that proved to be the perfect complement to lusciously fatty fish.
Knowing the “raw roll” contained “seared tuna, carrot, cucumber, and avocado” did not prepare us for this refreshingly crunchy version of a summer roll with a cucumber wrap. This clever interpretation harmonized with some of the richer and more intensely flavored dishes we sampled.
Soba, the warm, nutty Japanese noodles, formed a foundation for a lively cacophony of flavors and textures that resulted in a beguiling dish: thin, gingery-hot strips of striped bass tempura lay entwined with the noodles, proving that opposites truly do attract.
Not all the items on the menu are fish, though the best dishes seemed to be. A chicken tempura with wasabi sauce thrilled our seafood-eschewing diner, though a perfectly nice pan-seared duck breast was accompanied by an unremarkable sweet chili sauce with a touch of heat. On two occasions, we noted that all the cooked entrÃ©es appeared to be served with the same sides. And while there was nothing wrong with the mashed potatoes and baby bok choy, I would have expected this kitchen to take a more thoughtful or refined approach to balancing each plate.
I would return just to have those gorgeous scallops again: amazingly large, perfectly seared, sweet, moist, and tender. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a plate of these, and not the mermaid’s song, that lured so many sailors from their earthly course.
While there was no such magic at dessert time, the offerings did range from one of the best executions of fried ice cream we’ve ever had (that wonderful Wasabi tempura batter again?) to one of the truly strangest versions of sticky black-rice pudding, which was more like a hyper-sweet broth with rice than a pudding. We had mixed reactions to the green-tea mascarpone cheesecake, which had the appealing flavor so often found in green-tea ice cream but a pasty texture, and to a clafouti advertised as mango but with blueberries in the forefront.
Wasabi may not be flawless, but most dishes are well worth a trip back. The rare combination of style and substance is a welcome component of this new, enlivened Nyack.
110 Main Street, Nyack, NY
Lunch, Tue. to Fri. 12-2:30 pm
Dinner, Tue. to Thurs. 5-10 pm, Fri. to Sat. 5-11 pm, Sun. 4-9:30 pm
Entrees: $20-$24 ($55 for the love boat for two)