Oh Boy! Finally, my big chance to visit the brand-new conveyor belt sushi restaurant in New York. Scion of a famous Singaporean chain, this Sakae is located in the lobby of the Chrysler Building (405 Lexington Ave.) and, as such, pitifully easy for me to find after clambering out of the Grand Central Station.
Okay, it wasn't that easy, because the entrance is actually on the 43rd St. side of the building. But then I saw this window, and all became clear.
The frog is the international symbol of Sakae Sushi, which is extremely popular in its home country and abroad. Unfortunately, the pretty, modern restaurant and its attendant gadgets might be the best news about the place--for the time being, at least.
What's wrong? Well, the food itself seems a little timid, and in a funny way. The whole point of a sushi conveyor belt, which runs past the dining tables (actually, each one is a booth) and invites the customers to grab whatever they like, is a great idea, because it encourages people to take things which they might not otherwise try. Also, the portions are smaller (two pieces of futomaki, for example, instead of six), and the price is supposed to be low, so people are encouraged to experiment.
At Sakae Sushi, unfortunately, the dishes on the conveyor belt are so un-adventurous as to be bland. Sure, I got my fill of cucumber maki (I happen to like cucumber maki) and, at $1.90 per roll, it certainly was reasonable. But then I couldn't find so much as a plain tuna roll (mercury fears?) or a salmon hand-roll. Or one of those nice yellow oshinko (pickle) maki. When I did grab a maki with a yellow interior, it turned out to be egg. An unpleasant surprise, and New Yorkers, perhaps unlike other sushi-eating peoples of the world, will not put a plate back on the conveyor belt after they've taken the top off and examined it.
But the 30-page menu...which comes across as a kind of bedtime food porn for people who keep a sushi chef in their kitchen all night...had plenty of great ideas, and they weren't pricey, especially if you go for combo platter or, better, "donburi" and "chirarashi-zushi" dishes which involve a lot of rice along with the protein quotient. And you order these dishes at a table side computer, which is fun.
Best of all, Sakae Sushi is open Monday through Saturday from 11 AM to 12:00 AM, which makes it just about the only dinner choice in Midtown, especially on a weekend. (On Sunday it's open from 11 AM until 10 PM). And it's comfortable inside, and the staff are pleasant and friendly. So I'm willing to go back a few more times and see if I can grow to love this place.