THE LONG ISLANDER
January 10, 2014
Forgive us, dear readers, for this first paragraph, for it will not contain any clever puns, cheesy clichés, or lengthy-but-intriguing stories, as these Foodie articles so often do. We can’t bear to distract you with long-winded creativity when this plain and straightforward message will do: If you like sushi – real sushi – then you have to get to Be-Ju. It’s that simple.
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Tom Schaudel, a local celebrity chef with an impressive track record, opened the high-end sushi, sashimi and sake bar in November inside his glistening Melville restaurant, Jewel. Enter Jewel, take in the gorgeous décor, walk all the way to the left, and enter through the glass doors to Be-Ju.
There, in what once was a small catering room that quickly became a “repository for chairs”, the atmosphere is much like the food – sophisticated, upscale, classy and pure. It is more Tokyo than trendy; gone are the days of neon blue lighting and sushi rolls so drenched in sauce you can’t even taste the fish anymore.
In fact, the only thing that comes close to neon is Schaudel’s signature bandana. From his collection of about 300, he chose a bright yellow one on the night of our visit.
BeJu’s décor is warm and inviting, with earthy tones and soothing lighting. Take a spot at one of six seats at the bar, in front of a spotless prep station where Shigeki Uchiyama and Hiroki Tanii will dazzle you with their fast hands. Or, follow a woman dressed in full geisha garb to one of about 10 tables.
The menu can be intimidating at first glance, but don’t let words like kabayaki and mentai scare you. It’s all fresh, it’s all delicious, and it all exemplifies the simplicity and clarity of what makes Japanese cuisine beautiful.
You know you’re in an authentic place when a glass of sake is filled so high that it overflows into a box in which the glass is placed. But that’s just fine, because then when the glass is empty, you simply raise your box.
“That’s how we drink it,” Uchiyama tells us.
All this, and it’s still OK if you don’t know how to use chopsticks. Schaudel will be the first to show you the set of giant chopstick tweezers he has.
We put our choices in the hands of Schaudel and his chefs. Going “Omakase” like this costs $110 per person, but you couldn’t be in better hands. The 10 courses that follow are full of seasonal flavors and inspiring combinations. You can also order a la carte.
We started with the avocado salad ($12 a la carte), a beautifully plated (it even has edible flowers to top it off) dish of tofu topped with an avocado slice and shaved daikon (white radish), with a bit of black seaweed on the side. It’s a refreshing plate to wake the palate.
A Kumomoto oyster (three to an order) appears atop a bed of shaved ice with a cucumber verjus mignonette. It doesn’t contain a real pearl (sorry, ladies), but perhaps something better – tiny mango pearls, made in-house, that burst with sweetness as we sucked the oyster down.
Warm eel ($12) in a sticky soy sauce, atop egg custard and a thin pineapple slice, is the perfect combination of sweet and salty.
The two tataki dishes – tuna and salmon – represent how well Be-Ju does simple, raw fish. The tuna ($18) is dressed with a simple but divine black truffle vinaigrette, while the salmon ($14) pops with the flavor of ginger vinegar, basil oil and house-made soy caviar, giving just the right amount of salty soy to the fish.
Although all of the dishes are truly works of art, two dishes get top marks. One of the stars of the night was a soup appropriately named “Asian Penicillin” ($9). It’s just what you’d crave on a cold day, or when you need a pick-me-up. The tummy-warming soup of shredded chicken, coconut and green curry has a Thai spice that makes the chill of winter melt away. Presentation-wise, the bowl sits in its own tray under which your own personal flame keeps the soup at the perfect temperature. Stellar!
Another clever presentation comes for the Lapsang Suchong Tea Smoked Salmon ($14). A little glass jar with a clamp-down rubber lid is placed before you, and inside is a piece of salmon and a bit of smoke. Pop open the lid and the smoky scent wafts up to your nose.
“It kind of gets you ready for the flavor,” Schaudel says.
You see, the salmon is still being smoked in the vessel even as it hits the table. Bravo, Tom.
As expected, the sashimi ($9-$16) is excellent. Toro, yellowtail, King Crab, salmon and duck, on the night of our visit, are fresh and expertly prepared atop a small bed of rice.
Two specials added new flairs to standard dishes. Tuna tartare is served on an orange slice, bringing together bright citrusy flavors and creamy avocado. Sea bass is served with mushrooms, tomato and a sliced grape to add a bit of sweetness.
The menu also has sushi rolls, including a California roll and a spicy tuna roll. Schaudel admits it’s not his preference – “I didn’t want to do the roll thing but on Long Island you kind of have to,” he says – but he gave the people what they want, and as a compromise serves the rolls with accompaniments that are unique.
And with their own pastry chef, desserts are tops. Try the lychee crème brulee for a little something different.
Now, getting back to that drink menu. Choose from sake cocktails, rice beers, and plum wines, as well as wines by glass that pair well with sushi. All sake is served cold, and the plum wine is sweet and spectacular. Ask for a recommendation and you’ll be steered in the right direction for your tastes.
Be-Ju is a great move for Schaudel, who has been working in the restaurant business since he was a teenager. Huntington residents remember him for opening the popular Panama Hatties. Since then, he has been the driving force behind many successful Long Island restaurants, including Thom Thom in Wantagh, Lemongrass in Roslyn and Coolfish in Syosset, to name only a few.
“What a strange, crazy journey it’s been,” he says.
One thing’s for sure – we are happy his journey led him to sushi and sake.
Oh, and about all those bandanas, in case you were wondering… “It started just really as a sweat-and-hair thing, and then it grew into a look thing,” Schaudel said. “Now, customers will buy them and give them to me as gifts.” No wonder he has nearly 300.
Rubie’s Corporate Plaza
400 Broad Hollow Road,
Be-Ju Sashimi & Sake Bar
Tuesday11:30-3pm | 5-10pm
Wednesday11:30-3pm | 5-10pm
Thursday11:30-3pm | 5-10pm
Friday11:30-3pm | 5-11pm
Saturday5:00 PM -11:00 PM