If you’re one of the many locals who’ve been trying to keep Dai Sushi under wraps, I apologize in advance. On each visit, I overheard some of the restaurant’s regulars bemoaning the fact that every week, it becomes a little harder to find a walk-in table at the small Pleasantville sushi joint. Since its opening a little more than a year ago, Dai Sushi has inspired a cult-like following for its consistently fresh fish, numerous and flavorful non-sushi options, and, up until recently, its under-the-radar profile.
Dai Sushi is casual enough to go on a whim, but save those whims for the weekdays. Walking in without a reservation on a busy Friday night could have you looking at a 30-plus-minute wait in a tiny vestibule, hovering over diners. One waiting patron was so close, he smelled our food and asked what we were having so that he could order it, too. It may be a great way to make friends but not the best way to enjoy a peaceful dinner.
My table was left hanging for 10 to 15 minutes on a Friday after we were seated and then again between each course. Two or three servers, although pleasant throughout the meal, are not enough to handle the 10 tables, four bar seats, and the growing line of potential customers at the door. Our server was so overwhelmed with customers that she forgot our drink order until we reminded her when our food arrived. Dai’s predecessor in the space, Hanada Sushi, made use of the upstairs for overflow on particularly busy nights, and it stands to reason that Dai could do the same to meet the demands of the weekends.
When you do finally get to the table, you’ll need a drink to relax from the hectic surroundings. Dai offers standard sushi-joint beverages, like the house sake or a cold Sapporo, but branch out a little bit by trying the light and refreshing Echigo Koshihikari beer.
From the sushi bar, the hamachi jalapeno drizzled in a yuzu-soy sauce with chili and cilantro is a fresh take on the standard jalapeno-topped yellowtail sashimi. Three fresh kumamoto oysters on the half shell are each topped with a different special sauce that packs a flavorful surprise in each bite. From the kitchen, don’t miss out on the rock shrimp tempura: The shrimp is insanely fresh; the tempura is light yet crispy; and the bright, citrusy sauce plays well with each crunchy bite. Homemade beef gyoza strays from the standard with the introduction of a slightly earthy spice and delivers the crisp, pan-fried texture you would hope for. The homemade shrimp shumai, presented in a miniature bamboo steamer, were adorable yet bland compared with the other appetizer options. Miso soup is a fail-safe option at almost any sushi spot, but enoki mushrooms add some personality to the standard combination of tofu and seaweed.
You can’t go wrong with any of the sushi options. Thickly sliced tuna in the tekka don—a bowl of rice topped with raw tuna, seaweed and some pickled vegetables—melts in your mouth. For their special rolls, Dai expertly layers flavors and pits tastes (often sweet and spicy) against each other, creating playful yet balanced bites. In the Shaggy Dog Roll, shrimp tempura is topped with sweet crabmeat, a crunchy, spicy mayo, and eel sauce. The Sweet Hot Roll pairs shrimp tempura and mango, topped with sliced tuna and a spicy miso sauce.
Hot dinners are equally tempting. Vegetarians will find a filling meal in the vegetable udon soup: Endless vegetables and thick udon noodles are packed in a giant bowl. You won’t find the words “steak teriyaki” on the menu, but you will want to try the rib-eye steak paired with the teriyaki sauce. Buttery-soft meat pairs perfectly with the sticky-sweet glaze, in which you’ll dip the crispy steamed vegetables. The only problem: The steak was not sliced all the way through, making my attempts to use my chopsticks as a fork and knife an exercise in awkward futility. Although a viable option, cooked seafood dishes, like the sautéed shrimp and lobster or the seafood toban yaki, fall short flavor-wise after experiencing the bursting freshness of the sushi bar.
The dessert options are limited but satisfying. The ice cream and mochi ice creams are a refreshingly cool option to end on, or try the decadent fried ice cream or the fried cheesecake (it’s not on the menu but well worth inquiring about). Both dipped in tempura batter, these are crisp on the outside and cool and creamy on the inside, without the greasiness that you’d expect from a fried dessert.
Different from its predecessor food-wise in so many fantastic ways, the exterior of the restaurant remains largely the same as it did under the previous owners. The interior, however, has been updated: The floral upholstery and blue-lit faux-waterfalls were replaced (thankfully) with sleeker, white-upholstered benches and chairs, with minimalistic yet thematically relevant décor, like wooden Japanese-style boats and a simple wooden fish, hanging by the sushi chefs’ station.
Stop into Dai Sushi to discover what many have tried but failed to hide from the rest of us: flawlessly fresh fish and top-notch variations on the Japanese fare America has grown to love.
Dai Sushi Japanese Cuisine
8 Pleasantville Rd.,