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Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Home Food Hajime - Sushi Without Compromise

Hajime – Sushi Without Compromise

Today our new restaurant columnist Diana Tapper talks to us about fresh fish. Welcome Diana!

When I moved to Westchester from the city three years ago, a friend who had already taken the plunge tried to prep me for suburban life.  He said we’d love the space, we’d hate the driving, and we would just have to come to terms with the fact that the sushi would never be as good.

He was wrong. 

I do love the space and I abhor the driving, but we did find good everyday sushi that rivals our beloved Haru delivery of old (the old Upper East and West-siders know what I’m talking about).  But following the cardinal rule of good restaurants, we have kept our find to ourselves and our closest friends for fear that we wouldn’t be able to get sushi when we wanted it.

Until now. 

Hajimi front IMG_5404 I love Sushi Nanasefor their nouveau Japanese cuisine and hyper-fresh sushi, and Koo in Rye has some of the most fun, interesting, and delicious rolls I’ve ever had.  But the place to go for just a simple honest sushi is Hajime in Harrison.

It’s not much to look at.  It’s in the strip mall that is downtown Harrison, sandwiched between a jewelry place and a “donut restaurant”.  The décor inside is pretty bare-bones, with small and cramped tables.  The green polyester tablecloths do their best to pretty up the plain light wood tables that are a perfect match to the sushi bar.  Zagat reviewers agree, giving décor a 14 out of 30 possible points.

And the service in the past has been notoriously huffy and short, clearly showing favoritism to regular customers, including reserving seats at the coveted sushi bar for an elite few.    But in my opinion, this trend has recently reversed.  Sometime over the summer, the attitude changed, and the employees from waitress to owner have replaced their scowls with sunny dispositions, welcoming us heartily upon arrival and thanking us profusely upon our departure (and payment). 

Something in the sake, perhaps?  Maybe.  But the more likely reason, and also the trigger for the crack in my code of silence, is the remarkable amount of empty space in the restaurant almost every time I go in to pick up my sushi order.  Could it be that the economy and job losses are forcing people to cut back on their sushi consumption?  Do people prefer the fancier sushi?  Are people concerned about too much mercury?

I’m not sure of the answer.  But I am happy to report that we suburbanites do not need to compromise our fine sushi palates for sub-prime sushi.  Zagat reviewers agree with me here too, by the way, giving the food a 24 out of 30.

I have eaten at Hajime a number of times and have taken out from them many, many more.  While the contents and quality of the dishes varies based on market availability of fresh fish, it is almost universally excellent and there are almost always at least a few pieces of fish that are stellar.

Usuzukuri IMG_5398(PHOTO: the usuzukuri) On a recent night, my husband and I started with Hajime’s “usuzukuri” appetizer, which is about seven pieces of thinly sliced fluke, accompanied by a soy-based sauce flavored with scallions.  Doesn’t sound like much at all – just a version of fluke sashimi.  Yet, it’s light and refreshing, with the sauce being the perfect accompaniment.  My husband calls it “phenomenally fresh fluke” (try saying that 10 times fast) but does think that perhaps it could be sliced more thinly to differentiate it more from sashimi. 

Sushi sashimi deluxe IMG_5400Our usual order is the sushi deluxe and sushi/sashimi combo.  The last time we got it,  the sushi deluxe came with 9 pieces of sushi:  two salmon, two tuna, one yellowtail, two “white” sushi (harder to identify, though fairly sure they were snapper and fluke), and two roe sushi – the big salmon eggs and the small flying fish roe – which I typically don’t consider “real” sushi..  It also came with a tekka maki or tuna roll.

The sushi/sashimi combination had three HUGE pieces of tuna sashimi, three thinly-sliced fluke pieces all rolled into a spiral creation, as well as two snapper and two yellowtail sashimi.  The sushi pieces were yellowtail, snapper, fluke, salmon and tuna, also accompanied by tekka maki. 

I have placed the same order on other nights and the composition has been different.  Most often we receive the biggest pieces of what is the most fresh and smaller pieces of those that are merely good.  As an example, the salmon sushi on our most recent night was good – not great.  So not surprisingly, our sashimi did not include any salmon, which is typically the case.  Yet the huge tuna sashimi was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  You didn’t even need to chew it – a toothless baby could have eaten it easily without fear of choking (but please don’t try this at home).

We also got a few pieces of toro, a fatty tuna.  As usual, it was delicious – firmer in texture than the tuna, though fattier, oiler and a whole lot richer.  We have also ordered scallops many times when available, which are a rich and delicious delicacy, with a smooth texture and sweet taste.

Everything is always incredibly fresh and there’s not a bad bite in the meal.  And some bites are great.  Besides the tuna and toro tonight, the yellowtail was also a cut above – firm but buttery and rich.  And on past orders, I can remember eating some of the best salmon sashimi I have ever had.

The sushi is just the right size – not those huge monster pieces you can find in the city, each with a bowlful of rice (anyone who remembers Yama in NYC will understand).  Somehow my husband and I both agree that the size is perfect, despite my eating them in two bites – which is how I typically like to eat sushi – and my husband being able to polish them off in one bite.  He claims he has a bigger mouth. 

Hajime also uses just the right amount of wasabi on each sushi piece.  Just a little dab –enough to give it flavor without causing your nose to burn and your eyes to water.  At times, however, they don’t get this delicate balance right on the rolls, however, with one piece sometimes containing all the wasabi meant for the group of six.  Ouch! 

Sushi dinner IMG_5401(PHOTO: sushi dinner) Prices are pretty average for area sushi places, with sushi and sashimi dinners ranging from $18 – $23, appetizers from $4 – $11, individual sushi and sashimi from $2.50 – $5.00 per piece, and rolls from $4 – $8.50.

In the spirit of full disclosure, all of my Hajime experiences have taken place at one of the aforementioned green polyester-tableclothed tables or in the comfort of my own home.  However, I’m told the real treat is to eat at the sushi bar for lunch or dinner and be treated to Chef Sam’s omakase.  If you are lucky enough to be allowed to sit at such a coveted spot and be treated to whatever delicacies you may be worthy enough to taste (preferably with a regular), I hear it is an experience worth writing about.  Sounds like a topic for a future month….

Hajime

267 Halstead Avenue, Harrison

(across from the Harrison Train Station)

Tel: (914) 777-1642

Tel: (914) 777-1543

Diana Tapper has been trying out Rye area restaurants since her move in early 2006 and has coordinated the Dining Around Town group for the Rye Newcomers and Neighbors Clubfor two years.  She is a Senior Vice President of the Berkely Group, the travel insurance division of Aon Corporation.

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