Monday, February 4, 2008
The Grandest Tofu (JJ's Asian Fusion and Sushi Bar, 37-05 31st Avenue)
The Magazine That Shall Not Be Named, so dubbed because of its propensity for inducing status anxiety and making proclamations about the whole of the city that, in truth, only apply to a small set of middle-to-well-heeled Manhattanites, awarded JJ's Fusion the honor of best pot stickers in New York. We're always glad to see Astoria restaurants get their due but remain suspicious that there's some sort of outer-borough quota that the writers feel the need to fill. (At least they're not touting Uncle George's as the best Greek in New York.)
We'd be less wary if the heralded pot stickers lived up to the name. They're good, don't get us wrong, and original -- dumplings stuffed with tender soy beans, served with a wasabi cream sauce. But there's a reason soybeans are enjoyed one-by-one as edamame, as we found out when the beans took on a glue-like consistency when we bit in. They'd be better smaller, or with a sauce that didn't add to the paste problem -- cream is a dubious flavor carrier here, though it did nicely soften the wasabi punch. We also admit we can be skeptically ornery when the "Best _____ in New York" label is applied; we like to think that means we're merely open to the possibility of there being a better pot sticker in one of the city's 36,000 other restaurants.
Our cantankerous fits aside, JJ's is a delight. The Astoria roll, with crab meat and crunchy flakes, was topped with fresh salmon and an unidentifiable but delicious sauce. And the sushi was fresh and reasonably sized, well worth the risk of mercury poisoning. The basic rolls and sashimi we tried were of higher caliber than other sushi haunts in the neighborhood too -- the fish may not have been wriggling in our mouth, but close enough.
One of us used to get delivery from JJ's but had never dined there, so we knew going in that the food would be good. What we didn't expect was the rich yet restrained ambiance. "Romantic" lighting is too often just dim, but JJ's sleek paper lanterns hit the mark. Intricate geometric wood panels adorned the terra cotta walls. The music, that night showcasing a pseudo-Björk (or maybe it was Björk; we can never tell), managed to complement, not overwhelm, the gentility of the place. And though JJ's is small and was surprisingly full for a Wednesday night, we were hardly aware of anyone else there, feeling only the comforting satisfaction that comes from having picked a popular place without any special forethought.
It's a shame that outlets like The Magazine That Shall Not Be Named fingers restaurants like JJ's just for single items; the pleasure of dining there derives from the entire experience: the service, the mood, the sake, the food. Nestled at a perfect point on the continuum between neighborhood joint and destination restaurant, this is the kind of place that makes us sigh about our every-restaurant mission. We'd love to go back to JJ's soon, but every other sushi restaurant in Astoria calls.
Price: In line with neighborhood sushi; good value but not a total bargain.
Will we go again? We wish we were more prone to sushi moods, because we're eager to go back but have a helluva lot of places to venture into first.