Working at a super-refined, award-winning restaurant can be isolating. When friends Taka Sakaeda, Jihan Lee and Lisa Limb spent time together at New York’s Masa—the three Michelin-starred sushi restaurant known for having the most expensive dinner in the city—they rarely got to host family members and friends for a meal because the cost was so prohibitive.
“Oftentimes we’d want to invite people to come in, to check it out,” Limb said. “But it’s something that we weren’t able to do at Masa with it being $600 a person. We were like, wouldn’t it be great to open a restaurant where we can really share that with our friends and family? We wanted to do something that was really fun and casual and just accessible to people.”
So the trio teamed up to launch Nami Nori, a laid-back Japanese spot in the West Village that opened last night. The 40-seat restaurant specializes in temaki, or sushi hand rolls, in which fresh fish, vegetables and rice are wrapped in nori and eaten like a two-bite taco.
“Normally temaki is served either in a cone shape or like in a cylinder, but we serve an open-style of temaki, which allows you to see the ingredients inside,” Limb, the operations director, said. “You can eat with your eyes before you taste it, and it’s very easy to eat.”
While there are many classic rolls—Yellowtail and scallions, tuna poke—there are also playful, signature rolls inspired by the chef’s upbringings. The fresh salmon and tomato temaki, which is filled with onion cream and chives, replicates the flavors of bagels and lox, a dish that executive chef Taka Sakaeda grew up eating in Long Island. Chef de cuisine Jihan Lee, a second-generation sushi chef, is of Korean descent and spices up his sea bass temaki with gochujang—the Korean red pepper paste—and tops it with shredded daikon and perilla leaves.
Luxe rolls include uni, Toro-scallion and lobster tempura with yuzu aioli. Every roll can be topped with caviar or truffles. The team also has a vegan selection of rolls, which includes eggplant broiled in red miso and topped with crunchy gobo chips, and finger-food snacks such as fries sprinkled with furikaké and shishito peppers served with smoked miso honey. They even have open temaki-style desserts (sans nori). Ice cream flavors such as choco-Hojicha are topped with candied pecans and caramel and wrapped in a waffle-cone shell.
The design of the 1,000-square-foot restaurant was inspired by a modern, California beach house and traditional Japanese residences. There are white-washed wooden tables, rattan stools, weathered floors and wall-to-wall windows.
“It’s very light and airy, with a lot of natural textures and neutral color palette,” Limb said. “It’s really just like a relaxing environment. You know that feeling when you go on vacation and you just walk in the door and it’s like, ahhh. I’m here, I’m ready to relax. That’s the kind of feeling that we want people to have when they walk in.”
Nami Nori is open for dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 5:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday. It is closed on Sunday. Reservations for parties of five or more can be made through Resy.