Truly experiencing sushi

love-opera-victoria-bakerWhen Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha first came out in 1997 I was obsessed with the novel and I wanted to go to Japan, Kyoto.

I was deeply struck by the discovery of this secret and beautiful world, so different from my own. There, the slightest gesture contained profound meaning and the everyday words we use to go about our daily lives could be charged with the poetry of life. So when I heard about Hakubai, a Japanese restaurant in New York so traditional it was like dining in Tokyo, I simply had to try it!

Located within the Kitano Hotel on Park Avenue, be prepared to leave behind the bustle of the city. Indeed, just steps away from Grand Central Station lies the doorway to another world.

Like Harry Potter I crossed the threshold of platform 9 ¾ and found myself in a magical wonderland as soon as I entered Hakubai and was greeted by the hostess in Japanese. Kimono clad servers, graceful gestures, lacquer dishware specially imported from Japan. As soon as you cross the threshold of Hakubai you are in a world you once dreamt about but didn’t think existed.

The chef offers guests an unparalleled opportunity to enjoy Kaiseki cuisine. Focused on highlighting seasonal ingredients, delicate Cherry blossom paintings decorated the Spartan walls and those same flowers infused my dishes with the aroma of spring. For me, this was a profound learning experience.

Kaiseki cuisine has its roots in Zen Buddhism and traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The five senses are all highlighted in Japanese cuisine. The sight of beautifully presented dishes, delicious aromas, texture and the appetite inducing sounds of slurping noodles all come into play to maximize the experience.

Unless you have been to Japan you may think you know sushi, but, as I realized for myself, I had never before tasted sushi in the truest sense of the word.

Frequented mainly by Japanese businessmen, Hakubai maintains a word of mouth reputation. All the patrons there are in the know, I’m almost afraid to let the secret out for fear the unique charm will fade like a shadow world exposed to too much sunlight. As I sat in the Western dining area, I caught glimpses of the private tatami rooms nestled in traditional low seating, patrons were served by kimono clad servers delicately kneeling like ballerinas as they presented sushi dishes in what seemed to my uninitiated glance to be a perfectly choreographed ballet.

As I walked back to Grand Central after dinner I was unprepared for the horn honking world outside, so different from the serene world of Hakubai. They taught me something that night: food should be a metaphor for life: beautiful and balanced.


Victoria Baker, of Greenwich, is an opera singer. Winner of many prestigious competitions, she has performed and worked with distinguished artists all over the world (notably at Lincoln Center). Should you have any questions that deserve answers and may be in print please call 203-531-7499 or e-mail [email protected]

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