Restaurant Review: Shion 69 Leonard
[M]any people who have cultivated an appreciation for the quality of sushi served at Shion will feel that they can’t afford to go there, and some seats at the counter will fall to customers who won’t think twice about the cost but won’t really know what they’re tasting. The city finally has sushi that aspires to stand with the greatest in the world, but eating it has become a rich person’s game.
Had Pete Wells written that because he suffered through what I had? Let me tell you about Jerry.2
Is “sushi bro” a thing?3 Jerry is a sushi bro. The central and loudest figure in a party of four at the other end of the sushi counter, Jerry likes to show off his Japanese fish vocabulary. “Do you have [some kind of fish]?” (Answer: no.) “How about [other kind of fish]?” (Also no.) “[Third kind of fish]?” (No, it’s seasonal and only available during the summer.) “But I love [third kind of fish]! What if we paid [senseless amount of money]?” (Come back in the summer.)
Jerry is name-dropping everyone in his corner of the financial industry. He complains about a “piece of doo-doo” trader at PIMCO who gave a bad excuse for not trading with Jerry. As the meal goes on, I sympathize with the PIMCO trader. We should all cut off the toxic counterparties in our lives!
Jerry is either having a great quarter or down 30%—it’s not actually clear—but he’s looking for an Act 2. He brags about his connection to a minor foundation.
A piece of golden eye snapper (kinmedai) arrives. It’s the first time I’ve had kinmedai nigiri that wasn’t blowtorched first. It’s very good.
Jerry loudly compliments the rice. “Chef! This is the best rice I’ve ever had! Do you make it here?” (Yes. Duh.) “If I gave you ten thousand dollars, would you show me how to make rice like this?” Chef Uino laughs politely, says “thank you,” and returns to preparing the next course.
Jerry talks to the chef. A lot. He mmms and aahhs and oishiis about how extraordinary each piece is. He’s apt to high-five his friends after downing a piece of sushi. Later, he jokes to Uino that one of his dining companions “only eats nori from [specific place in Japan].” (That’s where 69 Leonard’s nori was from. It’s Jerry’s way of bragging that he already knew that.) Jerry’s acting as if he and Uino are old buddies, although they’ve never met before tonight.
Jerry pushes boundaries with the other diners in the party, not just with the chef. Multiple times during the meal, he tried to invite himself over to their apartment. “So, am I going to go over to your place after this for a drink?” They demur. One pleads a business call at 9 PM, but Jerry presses on. “Why do you have a call at 9? Are these people in SF? Why can’t someone else handle the call? Get [other guy] to handle that shit.”
Jerry talks a lot about money and how much of it other people make. One tale is about an execution trader and his wife who had to look for colleges where their twin sons could get scholarships. “He makes $500,000 a year. She doesn’t work. These are not rich people.” My dining companion and I share a look. New York.
Thankfully, Jerry isn’t a fellow New Yorker. He lives in the Bay Area. “I pay four thousand dollars for my apartment in SF, but it’s actually worth like ten thousand.” He might be the first person I’ve ever met to brag about how little they pay in rent in the Bay Area.
Jerry tells the room4 about the net worth of his longtime girlfriend. “She was a few hundred thousand in the hole from law school when I met her,” he says, “but she’s now saved up about $600,000!” I get the sense that he’s taking credit for the success of his girlfriend, although it sounds like a standard BigLaw trajectory.
Before we finish, I should say more about the food. It’s excellent, yes. Pete Wells raves about the crab appetizer, served in its furry shell, but I thought it was just okay. If you’re fortunate enough to be completely price-insensitive, to not care how much you spend on a meal, then sure—go! But if you’ve only got the budget or time for a single five-hundred-dollar sushi meal, I’d pick Yoshino over this.
Now, back to Jerry.
The silent moments in this sushi bar are rare.
Jerry tells a story about a Bluecrest portfolio manager who made him rush to a Bloomberg terminal just to do a very small trade. I actually laugh out loud (Jerry doesn’t call me out on eavesdropping), savoring the thought of Jerry being mildly inconvenienced.
At the end of the dinner, as the tamago comes out, Jerry asks if Chef Uino would take an intern. “Just to wash some dishes, learn about how to use a knife.” The chef laughs, confused. This is not part of the omakase script. But unlike with the $10,000 rice lesson, Jerry doesn’t give up. “Don’t worry, you don’t need to pay him. Free! Two nights a week? Two weeks?” He means it. Uino calls the waiter over for help.
One of the solo diners simply can’t take it any longer. Turning to me and my friend, he begins his best impression of Jerry. “Two million? No?” His expression of mock shock asks how can there be something money can’t buy? “How about three?”
Our mimic sighs, shaking his head. “New York.”
Meanwhile, the real Jerry is still trying his best to cajole Chef Uino into offering the internship to his friend. “Don’t worry! He won’t even touch the fish!”
Jerry expanded my understanding of rudeness. Loudly complaining about the fishiness of the mackerel? That would be rude. Asking for soy sauce to dip your sushi in? Rude, albeit borne of ignorance. But can positivity be rude? Friendliness? Incessant compliments? When they verge on presumptuousness, yes. The chef is on one side of the sushi bar. Stay on the other.
Not his real name. ↩
Yes! Ryan Sutton used the term in his review of Noda and Sushi Noz, titled “NYC’s Buzziest New Sushi Parlors Are Transcendent, If You Can Handle the Bros”. ↩
Well, he tells the three other diners in his party, but his booming voice projects a few seats further down the bar. ↩