Food & Drink

Column: Kasai Restaurant Brings Creative Sushi, Hard to Find Sashimi & High-End Sake to the Hub City

f5b170121a2149dd18be_img_85151__1_.jpg
Kasai Restaurant Credits: DEVIN HEALEY, COUGEATS
f5b170121a2149dd18be_img_85151__1_.jpg

Another sushi restaurant with a lounge in the same location as the previous sushi restaurant with a lounge? The same giant Buddha statue and koi pond? This seems familiar.

It isn’t.

I knew Hotoke was on its way out a few years back, when in addition to not updating the majority of their menu or wine list in well over a year, they began transforming into a dance club on weekends. A drastic change to your long time business model screams desperation, and when Hotoke finally closed their doors, I’ll admit I was sad. I spent a number of special occasions there, including dinner with my parents after Rutgers graduation. But for a city with such a diverse Asian food scene, New Brunswick was lacking for high quality sushi.

Sign Up for E-News

After Hotoke abruptly closed its doors several months ago, the remaining straightforward sushi options included EdoSushi RoomMidori Sushi in Highland Park, and Ninja Sushi in North Brunswick. Ninja Sushi, my favorite of those mentioned, delivers the freshest and most creative sushi options but is still a bit of a hike from downtown New Brunswick, while the “Sushi Burrito” from Sushi Room is still one of my favorite individual plates, even if the overall quality took a bit of a nosedive after the addition of a full bar and lackluster wine list.

In mid-November Kasai finally took over the former Hotoke location and completely raised the bar. Even just sitting and perusing the menu while waiting to meet with Director of Operations Mary Malek and General Manager Jacob Gabay, I could tell that New Brunswick’s newest sushi and Japanese fusion spot was on another level entirely. While the interior and layout may look remarkably similar to Hotoke, it’s time to forget their name. Kasai is not Hotoke.

It’s been hard to miss Kasai from the George Street sidewalk. They’ve had bright blue and red lights bathing their windows since well before opening. The signature Buddhas are still in place to welcome diners, but the walls of the restaurant are now covered in eclectic black light art which gives the whole space a mid-90s Joel Schumacher Batman & Robin vibe.

Gabay, formerly of New York City’s Mr. Broadway, was selected after an exhaustive search by Malek. While waiting to chat with them I sampled a few of their signature cocktails, which run the gamut from pretty damn sweet like the sake-based “Japanese Sunset” to the delightfully spirit forward “Toki-Yo Time, ” a Japanese whiskey spin on the Mint Julep. Both the cocktail and spirit lists have something for everyone, including an ever expanding collection of Japanese whiskies (always a favorite of mine), an expertly sourced wine list, and an impressive selection of high-end sake.

Gabay crafted the menu, which will stay relatively the same following the December 7th grand opening, with Head Sushi Chefs Jianjun Yang and Ming Ming Jiao. He described it as “Japanese fusion with an emphasis on sushi” and by browsing the array of sushi and sashimi options, you can tell they were meticulous in putting it together. Gabay and the co-head chefs wanted a selection of fish you simply can’t find anywhere else in New Jersey. In addition to options like kinmedai or golden eye snapper and bluefin tuna, you’ll also find torched foie gras and an entire Gunkan Maki section dedicated to uni (sea urchin) and caviar. If sashimi isn’t your game, there is also an extensive list of creative sushi rolls that include the aforementioned foie gras, caviar, and gold flakes, as well as more familiar options. Just make sure you get a high-end sake to pair, like the award winning Yuki No Bosha Junmai Daiginjo “Winter Beauty”.

Malek, who is also Bar Manager, has compiled the largest sake menu in the state, which continues to grow and is also offered in flights. She also plans to have an assortment of Japanese whiskies to match, so watch out INC. There will be a focus on wine as well as rotating taps, which includes their own Japanese-style “Kasai Beer,” which was crafted specifically for them by a local brewery

I was able to sample a few of the menu items including their Kasai House Salad, Miso Soup with tofu, wakame, and Enoki mushroom scallion, a Rock’n Tuna Roll, Kasai Roll, and a Chef’s Premium Nigiri Selection. Finishing the evening off was a more medium than medium rare filet mignon with a side of sliced king mushrooms, bok choy, and a mushroom teriyaki sauce that Gabay promises will never come atop your steak, unless otherwise specified. Every restaurant starts off with a few kinks, and Kasai’s were few and far between. Gabay also mentioned that aside from the rice, everything (including their soy sauce) is made in house.

As a particularly big fan of foie gras, the Kasai Roll with BBQ eel and avocado topped with foie gras, caviar, and gold flakes was a decadent highlight. The Chef’s Premium Nigiri Selection also failed to disappoint and included foie gras, kanpachi, chutoro, kinmedai, jumbo shrimp, bluefin tuna, otoro topped with a touch of American sturgeon caviar, and Ōra King salmon topped with ikura, all served over rice. The opening menu is not entirely finalized, but I’ve been assured that the sushi, sashimi, and nigiri portion will remain relatively unchanged.

Kasai Restaurant has already been operating for a few weeks following their soft opening on November 20th, but will have their official grand opening on December 7th. They also plan to have guest DJs and a lounge atmosphere complete with bottle service on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 PM to 2 AM, but according to Malek the vibe will be completely different than Hotoke’s clubbier weekends. They also already have a number of events scheduled throughout the holiday season, so be sure to follow their Facebook page for more info.

I’ve been a sushi connoisseur for well over a decade now, and am thrilled to have such an exciting new option in the Hub City. If the rest of the menu is anywhere as impressive as the sushi and nigiri I had the honor of tasting, New Brunswick has quite a treat waiting for it at 350 George Street. The city has a premier sushi restaurant destination once again. Just make sure to do a sake bomb with Mary and Jacob before you leave.

 

 

Devin Healey knows food and drink. In addition to writing columns for TAPinto New Brunswick, he runs a blog network called CougEats. You can find more of his work on FacebookInstagramWordpress, and Patreon.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Brunswick

The Jaffe Briefing - July 19, 2018

TRENTON - Once the state budget is adopted June 30, you'd think the governor gets a break from scrutiny. Unless you are former Gov. Chris Christie, sitting in that beach chair. Or, now, Gov. Phil Murphy, getting wacked for having the players on his Sky Blue FC pro women's soccer team living in alleged squalor. Living in houses with plastic bags for windows, sleeping in bunk ...

The Jaffe Briefing - July 18, 2018

STATEWIDE - One business in Pleasantville has flooded 32 different times since the early 1990s, and rebuilt each time with taxpayer money. A single-family home in North Wildwood has been flooded and rebuilt 23 times, again, on your dime. NJ.com reports that New Jersey is filled with 3,330 properties that have routinely flooded since the 1970s, some as many as 20 or more times, yet ...

The Jaffe Briefing - July 17, 2018

CAPE MAY - Call it a slow news day, nationwide, as the story of a lost dog somehow hit all the news wires. The pug named "Bean" escaped its owner's rental house over the weekend and wandered around backyards before police scooped it up on New Jersey Avenue. Cape May cops, likely not overrun with rampant crime from the bed-and-breakfast set, had plenty of time to post the ...

The Jaffe Briefing - July 16, 2018

STATEWIDE - No one really wants to talk about it. But every time you turn on a household faucet for tap water, its likely messing with a centuries-old system that's possibly leaching lead. And, because of so many World War I-era systems, some parts of the state have an over-abundance of water, while others easily face drought. Of course, upgrading our water ...

The Jaffe Briefing - July 12, 2018

WAYNE - Honey! Cancel our Aug. 9th anniversary dinner! I've got other plans! That's the night you can join this bozo and scores of others at "Lace," a Wayne "gentleman's club" where America's favorite tramp - Stormy Daniels - will strip live and in person. Stop at the bank, trade in your wad of 20s for stacks of singles.

The Jaffe Briefing - July 11, 2018

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL - There's a Democratic primary in New York between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and "Sex in the City" star Cynthia Nixon. And why do we care? Because our governor is not blindly throwing his support behind Cuomo in the race, reports New Jersey Globe. "We're not getting involved in that," Murphy said, when asked who he supports, admitting he ...

Rutgers Prof to Climb Alps for Climate Change Study on Glaciers

July 18, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Lauren Neitzke Adamo has long enjoyed hiking along trails and through forests and over rock formations largely to see the natural surroundings.

“I’ve been a huge science nerd all my life,” said Adamo, who has a doctorate degree and is co-director of the Rutgers University Geology museum in New Brunswick.

Next month Adamo will head to the Swiss Alps ...

RU ready for RU Brewfest?

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - There's a lot of promotions planned this fall, as part of the Rutgers football season.

Single game tickets go on sale Thursday, July 12, with seven home games. There's matchups against Big Ten East opponents Michigan and Penn State, and a first-time cross divisional meeting with Northwestern.

If football is not your thing, there's plenty else ...

New Brunswick Man Charged in Sex Assault of Ex-Girlfriend

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A city man was arrested today and charged with sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend and assaulting a bystander who tried to intervene, Rutgers University police said.

Frank Ferraro, 26, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and aggravated assault, university police said.

They said the victim was attacked about 5:27 p.m. Tuesday, July 3,  at the ...

Prosecutor: FBI Agent Took Improper Photos of Woman in Dressing Room

July 20, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK,NJ  - An FBI agent was arrested and charged with illegally photographing a 22-year-old woman in a dressing room, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said today.

The agent, Danuel Brown, 30, of Piscataway, was arrested was Thursday and charged with a single count of fourth-degree invasion of privacy for allegedly using his cell phone to take pictures of the woman while ...

OPINION

To Our Current and Future Representatives

July 17, 2018

To Our Current and Future Representatives - Wherever They May Be:

We can never forget we are a nation of immigrants. 

We cannot fall prey to fear, ignorance and anger when we  have been historically driven by freedom and justice. 

We must have the courage and will to fight hate, bigotry and prejudice. 

We must not wake up to what we hoped was a bad dream and ...

The Somerset Patriots And 9-1-1 On FOX Are Looking For Hero First Responders

July 20, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Somerset Patriots and 9-1-1 On FOX are asking for Hero First Responder nominations from the community.

Nominate a first responder to be recognized on the field during the pre-game ceremony and throw out a ceremonial first pitch at the Saturday, August 4th Somerset Patriots game against the New Britain Bees at TD Bank Ballpark. Three first responders will be chosen ...

Make the Call, Save a Life

July 12, 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - There is much focus on preventative opioid abuse education. Rightfully so. However, the goal in addressing the opioid epidemic is saving lives. Even if that means just saving one life. While people are becoming increasingly aware of resources relating to rehabilitative services, support groups for friends and family of addicts, and training parents for signs of opioid and ...