Geido-NagetRollGeido
331 Flatbush Ave.
(btw’n Park Pl. and Prospect Pl.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 638-8866

 

 

Although it’s annoying, it’s also a little endearing that everyone in this town knows where “the best sushi place” is. It’s especially amusing that said place is always, conveniently, right around the corner from where the speaker lives or works.

I’m pretty new to the sushi game so I notice these things. And part of my naiveté is not really noticing many discernible differences between the billions of Japanese restaurants dotting the landscape in these parts.

In retrospect, this is probably not the best way to shore up some street cred for a report on Geido. But it is good to have the full disclosure out of the way before I try to figure out what is so alluring about this place, what calls me back sometimes multiple times a week. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing (which helps, in this case — sushi aficionados often ruin my experience here), and it is just steps away from my front door. But that’s not why.

Geido has a perfect mix of a couple things that make you feel like dinner, well-earned and well-prepared, is ready. One of these things requires time to appreciate (the food — we’ll get to that later), and the other is much more obvious: the joint is jumping.

Geido-Graffiti Most Asian restaurants are either very austere or intentionally over-the-top energetic. Geido is the first I’ve found that recalls the loud, laid-back Jewish delis of my youth. People come here to gab and eat and catch up with their neighbors. Those who speak Japanese gossip with the chefs and the waiters. It’s hard to hear the jazz over the ensuing noise, but it’s there, and both are comforting.

The dull roar of the place (every night is busy) is matched by the visual cacophony arrayed along the walls. Graffiti in the true sense, the coded messages in many languages and the strange pictograms speak to the regulars past and present who have come here for exuberant dinners over and over again.

Of course, they all come back for the food, and here I sit trying to decipher what it is that makes it so happy. On to the discernible differences.

Geido-Specials There’s the freshness, of course, but that’s certainly not very special. Well, the rolls are hearty and tasty, too. I sure do jump on the tuna avocado rolls — the most mundane roll, I’ve heard from my aficionado friends, but nonetheless buttery in its softness and satisfying in a not overly fishy way. There’s a reason why we have the old standbys, after all. There are many not-so-standbys, as well, like the stroke of genius they call the Chicken California Roll. One way to describe this would be: a regular California Roll wrapped in chicken, breaded and deep fried. Another way would be: let’s trick Jesse into thinking he’s not really eating sushi. Everything I’ve had here, standard or not (though there is that weird cream cheese and bacon one that I’m afraid to try), is just fine. And though that may make it sound mediocre (which it’s not), I think that’s the key.

Food writers often describe their favorite foods as “made with love.” Though love is a wonderful thing to find in food, I’m much more impressed with skill. Flashy specialness pales in comparison to workmanlike perfection.

Geido-AtWork1Once in a while, in haste, the little refrigerated case separating me from the chefs is left open, and I watch closely from my usual perch at the counter, rapt. These guys aren’t in the throes of anything emotional — they’re working . And they don’t work with the tired, memorized motions of a chef who couldn’t care less. They work in that practiced Zen flow that all experts demonstrate wordlessly. Ask a guitarist how he knows where the notes are, or ask a baker how she knows when the bread has risen to peak performance, and they’ll just blink. They do know. It’s just that all the knowledge is in their hands.

Here, each push and pull of the rolls, the precision slicing, even the selection of the cuts and the timing of which ones to start on first, are innate. Each goes to the next like clockwork in the chattering, musical din and the bright late-night diner glow. Watching them meticulously construct adds an essential quality to the eating, a gratefulness for enjoying such mastery at so low a price. It brings with it a little bit of jealousy, too.

Geido-SamOn nights when I’ve caught Sam, the head chef, in a particularly jolly mood, he has included me in their flow, turning out the special plates while sneaking me sips of a special sake brought in by a friend from Japan that day, or if I’m really lucky (and it’s really late), his stash of brandy. I’ve eaten some of the strangest things in my life while sitting before him, wanting to be polite and not wanting to know what it is, but enjoying it all the same because of it. I’ve never really felt deserving, though, for some reason, until one night when I came in after an especially long day wrapping up a script I had wrestled with for a while. It wasn’t time for culinary awe right then — it was just time for dinner. I was working, too, after all, and I was ready to tip one back.

Geido-CustomersSam’s buddies sat down and ordered things that weren’t on the menu, and with all of our broken English and pointing and smiling we shot the breeze as best we could. The bottomless sake warmed our bellies and we laughed at everything, watching the glinting knives and the colorful plates passing endlessly from hand to hand. I remember a few seconds leaning back against the wall, wishing I hadn’t eaten that last bite, taking it all in — the day was done and all of us were absolutely in the right place.

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