Located about three blocks from NJPAC and Rutgers Law School, Nizi-Sushi is a hybrid—a Japanese restaurant that serves some Korean dishes and a local watering hole that stays open into the wee hours. In 2012, when it moved from Rutherford, taking over what had been Nick’s Bar and Restaurant on Central Avenue, it converted the first part of the long liquor bar up front to a sushi bar. Over the bar hang flat-screen TVs showing sports. This makes for an interesting contextual mash-up: the placidity of the sushi bar and athletes diving for loose balls.
Past the bar there’s a small dining room with polished wood floors, and past that another door leads to a walled-in patio where food and drink are served in warm weather. Nizi, which means “rainbow” in Japanese, aims to please. On one visit we received a complimentary saucer of steamed mussels when we sat down; on another, a saucer of hot rice porridge with chicken and bits of spinach. Midway through a meal we ate at the sushi bar, one of the sushi chefs handed me a tortilla chip shaped like an oversized bottle cap, laden with imitation crabmeat in spicy mayo. I quite enjoyed it, especially at the price. A full order of six pieces is $5.
Chef and co-owner Seho Lee, 56, was born and raised in Korea and came to the United States in 1989. He owned a sushi restaurant in Lyndhurst before opening Nizi-Sushi in Rutherford in 2003.
“Japanese food,” he said in an e-mail after my visits, “is inherently milder than Korean food. It lets the fresh ingredients speak on their own. Korean cuisine, on the other hand, is bolder in seasoning and uses garlic, green onions and Korean chili paste. It’s generally heartier, meatier and spicier.”
His menu has a small but enticing Korean section. Each dish ($11-$13.50, including miso soup) comes in a piping-hot stone bowl filled with rice, meat and vegetables (or just vegetables) and topped with a fried egg, or filled with spicy soup and meat or seafood. When I ordered pork kop dol, one of the rice dishes, my young waitress smiled approvingly. “It’s one of our most popular items,” she said.
The black bowl arrived sizzling fiercely. It came with a long-handled metal spoon, making it easy to dig in without scorching the edge of my hand on the lip of the bowl. The rice touching the bottom of the bowl was crisp and brown, as in a paella. Altogether, a delicious and satisfying one-dish meal.
My dining companions on another visit had spent three years in Tokyo, where they had immersed themselves in the local food culture. They happily tore through sprightly shumai dumplings, earthy miso soup with slender enoki mushrooms, and crunchy wakame seaweed salad dressed with aromatic sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and a little sugar. But even these adepts struggled with Nizi’s sprawling sushi menu, with a hundred variations: assorted platters, dozens of à la carte choices, hand rolls, cut rolls and eight-piece special rolls.
The sushi rice in general should have been firmer, but Nizi’s fish and seafood were consistently fresh. I was won over by several of the special rolls I tasted in my visits, each composed of several kinds of fish: the Rainbow, House, Kamikaze, Banzai, Ruby, Samurai and Rutgers rolls.
Less successful were the spicy rolls, daubed with a surprisingly tame (for a Korean-led kitchen) hot mayo. The fusion rolls struck me as being just as silly and incongruous here as elsewhere—tricked up with Nobu-influenced novelties like jalapeño, mango, asparagus, mozzarella, cream cheese or apple. Much better were the traditional sushi assortments and chirashis—bowls of seasoned rice topped with raw fish.
Especially worthy are Lee’s three udon noodle soups. My Short Hills savants pronounced the udon perfectly textured and the dashi (broth) correctly seasoned, with a delicate fragrance and lush umami richness.Click here to leave a comment