Jewel Bako (NYC): Live Lobster & Uni Galore

I’ve been on an omakase tear lately, but there aren’t too many restaurants that wow me to the point where I constantly try to find every excuse in the book to go back. So, I’m happy to report after a recent visit that Jewel Bako turned out to be one of those places.

UniDiaries_JewelBako_Collage
Some highlights from the omakase and live spiny lobster at Jewel Bako…A+.

One of my favorite sushi companions in the city is my former coworker SJU, who suggested we rendezvous at Jewel Bako because they had a limited time only $120 live spiny lobster special that she was dying to try. Curious about their 18-course sushi omakase myself (also $120), I was totally into the idea…and, so, we ended up at the 8-seat bar in front of the fantastically charming and endlessly amusing Chef Ishikawa on a random weekday night.

UniDiaries_JewelBako_Inside
By the time our omakase at the sushi bar started, Jewel Bako’s Instaworthy dining room – one of two identical halves in the same space – was alive with buzz.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Chef
The very personable Chef Ishikawa, who we absolutely adored (and decided is as close as you can get to being John Kasich’s Asian doppelganger…I mean, seriously…isn’t it uncanny?).

Where to begin? First of all, the service – from the gem that is Chef Ishikawa to our waiter who was extremely engaging and dapper – was all-around superb. We were completely smitten the entire evening. And of course, the sushi. From three (yes, three!) separate uni courses to smooth-as-butter fatty tuna to the texture thrill that is geoduck, we were impressed with the quality and taste from beginning to end.

Each course really was a highlight in and of itself:

UniDiaries_JewelBako_UniIkuraToroCup1
Maine uni, ikura, fatty tuna, and wasabi in a cup. One of my favorite courses of the night (surprise, surprise). Incredible flavor and texture combo.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Starter
Yam with tuna…I think (can’t really remember, oops). I just remember it was yummy.

These next pictures are completely out of sequence but sort of in order starting with my favorite bites first – though, end of the day, each one was very satisfying.

UniDiaries_JewelBako_FattyTunaUni
The fatty tuna topped with Maine uni. This is one of my favorite flavor combos in general so I was excited by Chef Ishikawa’s rendition of it.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Geoduck
My first and only visit to Seoul, South Korea – aka the land of geoduck – was in 2009, but at the time I wasn’t as much of a “foodie” so never ended up trying it despite seeing it live on every street corner (literally). Fast forward years of regret but then finally getting to try it at Jewel Bako… LOVE. Firm and chewy yet deliciously smooth and tender.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_HokkaidoUni
Hokkaido uni aka the last of three drool-worthy uni courses. Ocean fresh, silky smooth, creamy sweet. Delicious. ❤
UniDiaries_JewelBako_WhiteShrimp
I love love love raw shrimp but almost never get to have TINY raw shrimp. Thanks Chef Ishikawa for this glorious bite.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Lobster2
The reason we came to Jewel Bako is because SJU wanted to try the live spiny lobster – which entailed a live moving lobster put on the plate in front of us before it was slowly chopped alive by the Chef. First course was served as sashimi and it was delicious…though it didn’t necessarily feel $120 worth? Still, very aesthetic and appetizing.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Lobster1
Out of order but this was the live spiny lobster just before it sacrificed itself for its untimely but delicious demise.
Oh right - they also had LIVE SANTA BARBARA UNI. But I was already doing the omakase and going through a couple carafes of sake so I didn't fork over the $40something for this...maybe next time!
Oh right – they also had LIVE SANTA BARBARA UNI. But I was already doing the omakase and going through a couple carafes of sake so I didn’t fork over the $40something for this…maybe next time!
UniDiaries_JewelBako_SeaPerch
The delicate suzuki aka Japanese sea perch.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Needlefish
The sayori aka needlefish with shiso leaf, glossy and firm in texture with an enjoyably subtle minty fresh aftertaste.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_GoldenEyeSnapper
The kinmedai aka golden eye snapper was torched to a smoky perfection.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_GizzardShad
The kohada aka gizzard shad! We were hoping this would be one of the courses because we love its shimmery silver allure. Fishy but fun.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_FattyTuna
Glorious otoro. I’m obsessed with the show Wicked Tuna and love when they refer to their catches as being “butterballs” – fatty tuna, you are so buttery smooth and I heart you and I like to pretend you came from my favorite boats aka the Hard Merchandise or the Hot Tuna (hi Dave Marciano, Jay Muenzner, Jarrett Przybyszewski, and TJ Ott!).
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Eel
Eel isn’t always photogenic…what else is new. (But, it’s tasty.)
UniDiaries_JewelBako_LobsterMiso
So SJU’s raw spiny lobster course tasting came with two courses – the raw sashimi picture above (10 out of 10) and the lobster miso soup. This was one of two bowls, as they offered to make us each our own which was hard to say no to…rich and flavorful.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Squid
The ika aka squid with its nice and clean ocean crisp.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_BabySnapper
The baby tai aka Japanese red snapper was silky smooth.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_Bar
General dining room plating situation.
UniDiaries_JewelBako_UniIkuraToroCup2
Another shot of that first uni course…incredible. #alldayeveryday

So those courses aside, I forgot to take pictures of the marinated cured fluke with shiso, horse mackerel, and Japanese mackerel. All great, but, oops.

Jewel Bako – Pros:

  • It was a weeknight and SJU had a drink date after dinner so we ended up at the first dinner seating aka 6pm, but thankfully and unlike many other sushi restaurants looking for a quick turnover, never once did we feel rushed. Our meal ended up lasting about 2.5 hours, relaxed and seriously superb the entire way through.
  • As mentioned above, the service was absolutely A+. We can’t say enough lovely things about Chef Ishikawa and we just really, really enjoyed and appreciated the service and warm, hospitable atmosphere overall.
  • Quality! Each bite was high grade and certain combinations were just really enjoyable – i.e. the fatty tuna with Maine uni and first uni starter dish. Innovation aside, each individual piece was meticulously sliced and dressed, making for one highly memorable meal.

Jewel Bako – Cons:

  • Um…none. The one thing I’ll say here is that my previous impression of Jewel Bako was that it’s a trendy Easy Village dinner hangout for those stuck in the early 2000s vs. a truly respectable modern day sushi mecca. This visit changed that original, inaccurate perception. If you go, make doubly sure you sit at the sushi bar.

Rating [out of 5]: ★★★★★

Address:
239 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

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