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Meet Lenox Avenue's New Sushi Master

HARLEM — Tomoyuki Hayashi has spent 20 years trying to master the fine art of sushi.

The 42-year-old chef began his training in Tokyo before landing in some of the city’s best Japanese restaurants, including the Michelin Star-rated Sushi Azubu.

Now he is in Harlem, where he hopes to bring high-quality sushi to Lenox Avenue.

“I want to bring traditional sushi to the people,” Hayashi said.

Yuzu, the new restaurant, opened last week at 350 Lenox Ave. in what used to be an exterminator business and presents a more casual atmosphere than the other places where Hayashi has worked.

“The idea is to have high quality sushi but in a much more informal and relaxed place,” said manager Hao Phan.

At Azubu, a dinner course in which the chef gives you one-on-one attention and serves multiple rolls depending on what you are in the mood for costs $120. At Yuzu, the same experience is $45.

Apart from the traditional, one-on-one experience, there are also rolls like California, Spicy Tuna or Salmon Avocado rolls.

The restaurant is split between contemporary sushi and traditional rolls. Half of it is table seating where customers can order from a server. The other half is a bar where customers can interact with the chef.

Having both options is almost like running two restaurants, Hayashi said.

“Contemporary sushi gets its taste from the sauce while traditional sushi gets it from the ingredients,” he said.

While most contemporary sushi restaurants only use five or six varieties of fish, Yuzu has more than a dozen. Each one requires slightly different filleting techniques and pairs with different ingredients.

Some fish can be unforgiving, according to the chef.

“Blue fin tuna is difficult to work with because it is very delicate,” he said. “Its texture and color spoils quickly.”

So far, Harlemites seem to be embracing traditional sushi. The bar portion of the restaurant has been the most popular, Phan said.

The chef’s dinner course starts out with basic sushi and finishes with more complex rolls. It is a great way for someone who doesn’t know a lot about sushi to learn more about it, she added.