A true contender for best sushi in Great Neck
In a town with no paucity of sushi restaurants, Chez Kama rises to the top of the bunch with authentic, brilliantly prepared sushi from a master sushi chef.
Well, as I promised when I started this blog, whenever I revisit a restaurant I’ll update it. I’ve always found it kind of odd that people would base their opinion of a restaurant today on a 10-year old Newsday or New York Times write-up or even on Yelp or Google where a lot of people may visit a restaurant once.
I had the opportunity to re-visit Chez Kama yesterday. As I wrote back in June, my goal this time was to experience the sushi and sashimi. It was a pretty full house on a Saturday night, but we got a table really quickly.
I was fortunate enough to sit on the table right next to the sushi bar, where I could observe Chef Kama himself in person.
With the popularity of sushi in the last 20 years, you see all shapes, sizes, and flavors of what people call “sushi” these days. But while most restaurants focus on the ingredients, what I really liked about Chez Kama is that it pretty much sticks to the basics, and does it really well.
Long-time readers of this blog will know that my wife Lisa is crazy about clams, so we ordered the Asari clams for an appetizer again.
Just like last time these were excellent. The clams were exceptionally fresh and the broth was a deliciously subtle blend of garlic, onion, and miso that paired perfectly with the clams.
We ordered both the Sashimi platter and the Sushi platter, and I went back to observing Chef Kama in action preparing our sushi (and that of the many others in the restaurant–just he and an assistant were constantly in motion).
I definitely recommend taking a seat at the bar and watching the chef in action. His preparation was effortless, from forming the rice into balls for the nigiri sushi with one hand to watching him slice fish with expert cuts of the perfect width, angle, and speed.
Unlike other “sushi factory” type restaurants, he was very deliberate in preparing each roll. Granted, because the restaurant was so full this meant our order took a little more time (our server did apologize a few times).
I also appreciated how clean the preparation area was kept. Ingredients were all kept in containers to keep them fresh and prevent cross-contamination. Between different orders, the chefs would fastidiously wipe down the areas and clean their equipment (there’s a sink right there at the sushi bar).
We finally got our orders, and it was worth the wait. Here was the deluxe sushi platter:
The deluxe platter game with tuna, yellowtail, ikura, unagi, whitefish, salmon, shrimp, and a Chef Kama roll.
The fish was exceptionally fresh. The salmon had that excellent “buttery” flavor you find in fresh salmon and the tuna had a fresh, almost sweet taste. The sushi rice was expertly prepared with just the right amount of vinegar.
The sashimi platter was just as beautifully prepared.
We also ordered an additional roll, the Niki Roll, with crabstick, shrimp, spicy tuna, cucumber, crunchy, and avocado.
Again, there’s not much I can say except that the combination of flavors and textures were excellent. It definitely reinforced my impression of Chez Kama as the best sushi place in Great Neck for real, traditional Japanese sushi. It’s a little pricier than other sushi places in Great Neck, but it’s worth it.
With my latest visit, I’m upgrading my review from 4.5 of 5 stars to a full 5 of 5 stars.
ORIGINAL POST 6/26/12
In a town filled with so many great sushi restaurants, I’ve deliberately held off on picking a favorite. After all, on any given night any restaurant could be my favorite–if I’m in the mood for “westernized” sushi, I go to Daruma. If I want the freshest fish I go to Miraku. For stuffing my face I go to Era Asian Cuisine. And so on.
One thing I noticed about a lot of these restaurants is that they tend to be owned and operated by people from Korea or Taiwan or China. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in the least, of course. But at times it feels akin to eating Italian food prepared by someone from Greece or vice-versa. From a technical perspective the food may be prepared perfectly, but there’s just something special about having the food prepared by someone who’s had the methods and recipes handed down over generations.
And so if I had to pick a favorite sushi restaurant in Great Neck, hands down my choice would be Chez Kama. Why? First of all, the several times I’ve gone I could see Chef Kama himself behind the sushi bar doing much of the sushi preparation himself and using what I could tell was authentic and expert technique. The last time I went I silently observed him with two younger Japanese sushi chefs, showing them his technique. There was something really nice about this. Unlike other establishments that just slice fish, I could tell that he was passing down something special.
The restaurant is on the smallish side, with very simple decor. A few years ago the restaurant got lambasted by Newsday by a rather petulant reviewer who among other things complained about a gaudy mural. Since that article was written it appears the restaurant has been completely redesigned.
There are about 14 tables, all of which were filled on this particular Saturday night. We started off with the clams appetizer:
The clams were exceptionally fresh. They were prepared in a thick broth with miso, fresh chopped onions, chopped cilantro, and a hint of butter. There were about 18 in all, only one of which was slightly grainy.
We asked our server what the most popular sushi rolls were, and were told that they are the Dragon Roll (eel, avocado, cucumber, carrot, and asparagus), the Nikki Roll (crabstick, shrimp, spicy tuna, cucumber, and crunch with avocado outside), and the Kama Roll (shrimp/crabstick, flying fish roe, cucumber, crunchy, and mayo with avocado outside).
We ended up ordering the Dragon Roll and the Kama Roll, although in retrospect I wish I had ordered some sashimi. Maybe next time.
The rolls came out together.
The first thing I noticed about the rolls was that they were beautiful in their simplicity. I’ve seen dragon rolls that were made up with elaborate tails and eyes and even breathing fire, which is all well and good, but here was just a good, old-fashioned traditional dragon roll.
Looking inside, you can see how precise the chef’s work is:
As beautiful as it was, the taste was excellent as well. The carrot and asparagus were so fresh they snapped as you bit into them, and the flavors and textures all blended together just the way they should.
The Kama Roll also looked beautiful.
This one had a very light taste and again the vegetables were extremely fresh and refreshing.
We decided to try out an entree as well. We ended up choosing the Beef Negimaki.
This one was also prepared expertly. The vegetables, both the baby string beans on the side and the asparagus inside the negimaki, were again exceptionally fresh. The potatoes were wonderfully buttery, and the beef had a wonderful taste and were prepared to perfection.
I noticed that a lot of the reviews on Yelp, as usual, groused about the service. We didn’t experience anything but great and courteous service. It’s true that the hostess at the front desk (who is usually the diminutive Mrs. Kama) is not necessarily always the bubbly, overly-ebullient type of hostess that some people need to have to say they got “great service”, but in my opinion that just comes down to personality. She was certainly helpful to us and clearly did what she could to make sure we had a pleasant experience.
But of course, it comes down to the food, and in this case I have no qualms giving Chez Kama a highly coveted 5 out of 5 stars. I will be back, hopefully for the sashimi and the duck, which I’ve also heard rave things about.
Great Neck, NY 11021
Monday Closed (Private Functions only)
Tue-Fri 12:00pm – 2:30pm (lunch)
Tue-Sat 5:30pm – 11:00pm (dinner)
Sun 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Price Range: $$$ (around $20-$30 for an entree)
Takes Reservations: Yes