It would’ve been easy to simply copy and paste.
In 2019, when three vets from one of New York’s most esteemed and extravagant omakase counters (yes, Masa) unleashed affordable sushi on the West Village in the form of temaki — sushi-grade fish wrapped in rice and crisp nori with a median price of $8 per piece — no one could argue with that. For the first seven months of its pre-pandemic life, Nami Nori was one of the hardest tables to book in the city.
Still, when Nami Nori’s partners debuted a new Williamsburg location this October, nearly two years to the day after opening their first locale, they surprised Brooklyn with some new additions. For executive chef and co-owner Taka Sakaeda, it wasn’t only about offering something new, but continuing to evolve Nami Nori as more than just your typical sushi restaurant. With the menu at the newest location, he’s broadening his repertoire of skills and ingredients, and appealing to vegan and vegetarian diners, too.
“This is part of the ethos of Nami Nori,” says Sakaeda. “We wanted to spend as much time and energy on the vegan dishes as on any other dish. To make sure it wasn’t an afterthought. We wanted to be intentional with everything that we did.”
Here are five new dishes — exclusive to the Williamsburg location for now — that show just that.
1. Top Neck Clams
(Fennel daikon salad, cilantro gremolata)
“Lisa [Limb, co-owner and managing partner at Nami Nori] and I went to a restaurant called Itamae down in Miami, and they have this dish that’s kind of like a clam ceviche. We loved it and were inspired to do our own take on it. So, how do we make it Japanese, but also the Nami Nori way, which is different, with more global flavors?
“We have daikon in the salad, with the acidity coming from the clam juice, fish sauce, and lime juice. The gremolata has yuzu kosho, yuzu juice, oil, cilantro, and garlic in it. All those flavors play really well together. We have a seasoning we make in house called Nami Nori Bay — it’s essentially like Old Bay, but our version of it — and we made an aioli with that spice mixture in it. We put small dollops of it to add a little bit of fat and more complexity to the flavors. The final image we wanted was for a green component, a nice garnish, to look like seaweed. We used the fennel fronds from the fennel already in the salad and really accentuated them. It looks like seaweed coming out, with the clams hiding behind it.”
2. Mushroom Dip
(Black garlic, tofu cream, crispy rice chips)
“We have this spicy tuna crispy rice dish that’s very popular in the West Village. We decided to do a series of dip-style dishes in Williamsburg instead of the pre-plated crispy rice, with chips on the side. But we were like, ‘How do we make a vegan-friendly version of this dish?’ One of the low-hanging fruits, obviously, is mushrooms. It’s so meaty and it’s got a lot of umami. So, we started to develop a mushroom dip.
“Our initial idea was to create a kind of mushroom duxelles with shiitakes in larger chunks for texture and very finely chopped button mushrooms to really add to the body, alongside chopped onions simply sautéed. We took the duxelles, added black garlic and soy sauce, and we turned that into a purée. Then, we wanted to bring a counterbalance to all that earthiness and do a creamy situation. How do we do that? Tofu. There’s a Japanese dressing called shira-ae, which is basically a tofu dressing with a creamy texture. So, why don’t we just make a cream? We take silken tofu, press out most of the moisture, purée that, and season it. There’s the duxelles, a layer of the mushroom purée, chives, and the dip is finished with the tofu cream and yuzu shichimi to finish the dish. And that’s our vegan dip.”
3. Salmon Lover’s Dip
(Ikura, salmon skin, myoga, crispy rice chips)
“We didn’t have salmon skin on the menu anywhere. So, we thought, how do we incorporate it? Originally, we were talking about doing a hand roll that had all these components inside: salmon tartare, salmon skin, pickled myoga, ikura. We had a French onion dip type of sauce, and we were mixing that into the salmon tartare and adding Dijon whole grain mustard, extracting it from being super Japanese to something a little bit different. Then, we were like, ‘Why don’t we just do this as a dip?’ We took everything from the temaki and put it into a bowl essentially, with the salmon skin acting as a crispy, crunchy component to the dip.”
About those crispy rice chips that come with the dips…
“Obviously, being a sushi restaurant, we make a lot of sushi rice. In Japanese, there’s this saying, ‘Mottainai’ or ‘What a waste!’ — it’s this idea and philosophy that we should use everything that we can and not waste anything. It’s always been a challenge, especially as a hand roll restaurant: how do we utilize all the nori and rice we don’t sell?
“We take the sushi rice and wash it to rinse off the layer of sushi vinegar on there, boil it down, and turn it into a purée. We lay it out, dehydrate it, and then rehydrate it to a certain point so that we can fry it. It puffs up and it creates these chips. It’s essentially the leftover repurposed sushi rice.
“My parents were kids during World War II in Japan, and they had this hoarding mentality because everything was so scarce. I grew up with my parents like that. At dinner, if we had a bowl of rice and there was one grain left on the side, they’d be like, ‘You gotta eat it.’ I was raised with that idea that one grain of rice takes a full year to grow. And I still carry that. It feels wrong when you have to throw something out. And utilizing the skin of the salmon was part of that, too. Not just utilizing it for the sake of it, but salmon skin is something that is delicious.”
4. Spicy Cauli Dynamite Temaki
“We wanted to debut some new temakis in Williamsburg, something vegan. Our spicy crab dynamite temaki was so popular, we wanted to be able to bring that experience in a vegan format. We were trying to figure out the texture, what made the most sense visually. We used a vegan mayonnaise to create the sauce — the sauce needed to be adjusted a lot — and have thinly shaved cauliflower that’s barely cooked, with white onions. We used our crispy rice puff nori wrapper, and it worked out! Everyone was happy with it.”
5. Phancy Philly Temaki
(Smoked salmon, caviar, cream cheese)
“This is coming back to growing up in Long Island and having an everything bagel. And just being in Williamsburg, there’s Acme in the neighborhood and I’m going to see if we can work together for all of our smoked salmon stuff. People may think cream cheese and sushi is a little weird, a little different. We’re already far from Japanese, but let’s just try and hit that border and put cream cheese in a temaki. I wanted to soften the cream cheese flavor with yogurt, so it’s not just straight-up in your face. But all those flavors, salmon, something cream-based, and elevating the bagel idea by adding caviar, how can you go wrong? It’s like cheating.”
Bonus: New Brunch Items
“Our usual brunch is tamagoyaki with different toppings. Here, we have three new variations. We’re going to do smoked white fish wrapped in tamago and finish it with crispy potatoes and dill. We have the tamago with marinated tomatoes and chimichurri, and then the last one we’re doing is a mushroom tamago, using the mushroom purée from the mushroom dip, but with roasted maitakes and chives.”