In New York City, as with many places I've been to, value sushi usually means Chinese-made sushi and Chinese-owned sushi restaurants. Why has there been such a huge influx of Chinese sushi restaurants? The reason behind this influx is the general business environment of the the Chinese restaurant business. Chinese restaurants can be found in all corners of the United States and their number makes it a highly competitive business. Even Asian food markets have made inroads in formerly sleepy suburbs, which have indirectly cut into the profits of Chinese restaurant operators. Thus, Chinese-American owners and new Chinese immigrants have decided to diversify and have opened, Japanese, Thai, and even Mexican restaurants right here in Manhattan.
It is quite easy to see why the operation of Chinese restaurants is an expensive proposition. Customers have been conditioned through the years to expect huge portions of greasy food from these operators. More food equals fewer profits. As for Japanese food, small portions equals big profits.
Qualitatively, the entrance of Chinese operators into the Japanese restaurant market have created a dual, polarized choice among sushi consumers. For the Cheap Guy (that is me), I have found that cheapness dictates that I go more often to Chinese-run sushi establishments.
Let's see what I get for my money for going to a Chinese-run sushi restaurant:
- A soup and/or salad with an entree.
- Potentially a free appetizer, edamame or seaweed salad.
- Large maki rolls. (i.e. cut-up and hand rolls)
- Large sushi and sashimi pieces
- Large tempura
- American style rolls, such as California Rolls and Spicy Tuna, etc.
- Value prices, usually $2 to $3 less per roll, $5 to $10 less per entree.
- Impeccable quality in rice, preparation and presentation.
- A greater variety in fish, including imported Japanese varieties not on the menu.
- Greater interaction between the customer and sushi chef. Generally good service.
- Potentially hurried and rushed service because of a need to turn over tables quickly due to their lower margins than their Japanese-run counterparts.
- Less than fresh fish. Sourcing and storage practices may be questionable depending on a restaurant's experience and staff.
- Confusion in ordering. Diners may need to know terms like "omakase", "isakaya", etc.
- American diners may need to know that Japanese restaurants don't offer American-style maki rolls.
- Higher prices across the board. (But keep in mind that quality-mindedness reigns supreme at most Japanese-run restaurants.