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Gaijin, literally translated, means “outside person,” and as a non-Japanese master of the fine art of omakase sushi, Chef Mark Garcia certainly fits the bill. With that said, Chef Garcia is leaving connoisseurs of fine sushi no choice but to stand up and take serious notice.
For starters, a top-rate omakase restaurant is certainly not the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of the Astoria section of Queens, New York. This area is best known for its celebrated Greek community and has evolved into the most diverse population anywhere on the planet.
Upon entering Gaijin, you are greeted by a modern warmth that is welcoming from the get go. Featuring a sushi bar up front where Chef Garcia spins out jewels of sushi like a Japanese wizard, you are welcomed by a knowledgeable and friendly staff. Toward the back of this 30-seat eatery, you will find a bustling team in an open kitchen preparing a different assortment of appetizers and hot plates to most assuredly tantalize your taste buds. Dishes like the Onsen Tamago (soft cooked egg, uni and ikura) and the Negima (chicken thigh, shio koji marinade and scallion) are sure to quicken your heartbeat, but for me, this night was all about the sushi.
A Chicago native, co-owner and Executive Chef Mark Garcia fell in love with Japanese cuisine while working at the famed Sushi Samba under Chef Kaze, a veteran Chicago sushi chef with a 30-year history of opening innovative and wildly successful sushi restaurants including Heat, Mirai and Macku Sushi. Approaching Chef Kaze to formally train and mentor him proved to be successful and a decade-long relationship during which Chef Garcia himself rose to the top of the Chicago restaurant scene.
Most recently, Garcia collaborated with both Chef Kaze and Michelin-starred chef Jeff Ramsey (renowned culinary engineer of BABE), to develop the menu and design the sushi bar for the opening of Momotaro, a multi-dimensional sushi spot that quickly became one of the hottest new restaurants in the area. Following his success in Chicago, Chef Garcia felt it was time to bring his culinary inspiration to New York and Gaijin is hitting the mark in a rather meaningful way.
The focus of the menu is six and 13-piece omakase offerings that brilliantly blend Japanese tradition with Chef Garcia’s thoughtful and inspired panaches. The term omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you,” and in this instance, that is certainly sage advice. To verbally delve into the intricacies of the bite -size masterpieces that were delivered during our omakase experience will simply not do them justice, so with that I offer a pictorial of what was quite simply one of the best sushi experiences of my eight year history as a food writer. www.gaijinny.com