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Perfect unification of seemingly completely opposite concepts - take-out and omakase

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By Aya Ota

“Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group” has developed 20 restaurants nationwide so far, mainly in New York, plus LA, Las Vegas, Miami, etc. Since they first opened a small French Brasserie in the SOHO district of Manhattan in 1992, they have been expanding business types and genres of cuisine one after another, which include bakeries, bars, bowling alleys, and take-out fried chicken stores, and has established a position which people regard as the “Empire of the restaurant industry”.

The sushi business department among all is the core of this group. Starting with the first “Blue Ribbon Sushi” which opened in the SOHO district in 1993, they kept adding, and so far established 7 sushi restaurants including “Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya”, in which the izakaya style serving is combined, and “Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill”, in which the grilling style cooking is brought in. All of those restaurants offer a casual and friendly ambiance, and stay open until late.

The “Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar” is an innovative type of business which the company’s sushi department has been specifically working on diligently in the recent years. In this business, two concepts, easy take-out sushi, donburi bowls and very authentic sushi served and eaten at the counter, which are seemingly totally opposite serving styles, have been splendidly unified. They opened the first Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar in the food court, Hudson Eats, in the Financial District’s business facility called Brookfield Place in 2014, and opened the second restaurant in the basement concourse of the Rockefeller Center on the confidence of the success with the first one.

“You can enjoy take-out sushi that is as good as restaurant-quality sushi reasonably,” says Kazutaka Iimori, who has been supervising Blue Ribbon Sushi restaurant chain including the original “Blue Ribbon Sushi” in SOHO, as the executive chef.

Mr. Iimori is a person with a unique career, who knows deeply not only about cooking, but also everything about the restaurant businesses which includes architecture of restaurants and customer service. In 1989, when he was 9 years old, he came to the US due to his father’s job transfer. His father was also a chef. He started to work in a Japanese restaurant at the age of 16 on the side, and experienced all types of restaurant jobs from dish-washing, serving, to food preparation. He studied architecture in college, and once thought about pursuing a career as an architect; however, he was strongly drawn to the dynamics of the restaurant business, and chose to become a chef. After working well for some notable restaurants such as “Nobu”, “Ushiwakamaru”, and “Shinbashi”, he started to work for “Blue Ribbon Group” in 2008, and has been demonstrating his powerful skills ever since.

Mr. Iimori’s sushi-making values tradition, and at the same time, is full of creativity. He must have inherited his talents in cooking from his chef father, and also benefitted from the exposure to the Japanese cuisine environment which he grew up in. Moreover, living in the US since the young age of 9 must have helped him understand American customers’ preferences in taste naturally. Their take-out menu containing sushi, donburi, bento, salads, etc., is varied and well-balanced, and has excellent selections. The poké bowl is now a popular standard menu item everywhere, but they were the first that started to serve it, and made it popular in New York. For the base, you choose either rice or noodles, and then 2 toppings of your choice out of 8 different kinds.
You can also add furikake. When they first started to serve the poké bowl, it was not that well received because seafood toppings turn to unfavorable colors after being marinated. However, it gained popularity gradually because of its good taste, and also the fun part in which you are allowed to choose and create your own bowl.

If you sit at the counter, you can enjoy various types of sushi, from modern types such as the avocado roll, to the more authentic edomae style sushi. Mr. Iimori recommends that at each of their restaurants, the best thing is to sit at the counter, and order omakase from the chef in front of you across the counter. He gets a lot of omakase requests as well. He said, “I don’t stay at one place, and am usually running around among those multiple restaurants all the time, but if you see me, please don’t hesitate to say hello!”

Another unique characteristic of this restaurant is that they sell some products at the restaurant that are carefully selected by themselves. They sell cup noodles, bags of snacks, soy sauce bottles, wasabi oil, one cup sake, etc. Their privately-labeled soy sauce, and originally-developed wasabi honey sauce are very popular.

“Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar” can accommodate all situations - take-out, retail, and restaurants, by combining various business types. I am sure that they will satisfy your needs every time you visit.


テイクアウトとおまかせ、一見真逆のコンセプトを見事に融合

ニューヨークを中心に、ロサンゼルス、ラスベガス、マイアミなどに約20店舗のレストランを展開する『ブルーリボン・レストラン・グループ』。1992年、マンハッタンのSOHO地区に、小さなフレンチ・ブラッセリーを開店して以来、ベーカリー、バー、ボーリング場、テイクアウトのフライド・チキンなど、業態や料理ジャンルを次々に拡大し、今では、“レストラン業界のエンパイア”とまで呼ばれる存在になっている。

中でも寿司は、同グループの中枢を担う存在で、1993年にSOHO地区に『ブルーリボン寿司』を開店以降、居酒屋スタイルを合わせた『ブルーリボン寿司居酒屋』、グリル料理を取り入れた『ブルーリボン寿司バー&グリル』など、寿司分野だけでも、さまざまな業態で7店舗を展開している。どの店も、カジュアルでフレンドリーな雰囲気にあふれ、夜遅くまで開店しているのが特徴だ。

『ブルーリボン寿司バー』は、同グループ寿司部門の中でも、近年力を入れて取りくんでいる革新的な業態だ。テイクアウトの寿司や丼と、カウンターに着席して食べる本格的な寿司という、一見、真逆のふたつのコンセプトを見事に融合させている。一店舗目に金融街の 商業施設『ブルックフィールド・プレイス』内のフードコート『ハドソン・イーツ』 に2014年開店、その成功を受け、2店舗目をロックフェラーセンターの地下コンコースに、約1年前に開店した。

「寿司レストランと変わらないクオリティを、テイクアウトでもリーズナブルに楽しめる」と語るのは、飯盛一貴氏。SOHO地区にある『ブルーリボン寿司』のオリジナル店から、ブルーリボン寿司全店舗の総料理長(Executive Chef)を務めている。

飯盛氏は、料理はもちろんのことだが、店舗設計から接客まで、レストランビジネスに存在するあらゆる業務に精通しているという、ユニークな経歴の持ち主だ。1989年、自身が9歳の時に、料理職人だった父親の転勤に伴い渡米。16歳のころに和食店でアルバイトを始めたことをきっかけに、皿洗い、サーバー、仕込みまで、あらゆる業務を経験した。大学では建築を専攻し、いったんは建築の道を志したものの、飲食業というダイナミックなビジネスに惹かれ、料理人の道を歩むことになる。その後、『Nobu』『牛若丸』『新橋』といった名店で活躍した後、2008年から『ブルーリボン・グループ』で腕を振るっている。

飯盛氏が作る寿司は、伝統を重んじつつも創意工夫に富んだ内容だ。料理職人だった父親譲りの才能や、幼い頃から和食に親しむ機会に恵まれていたことも影響したのだろう。9歳で渡米したこともあって、米国人客の嗜好も、皮膚感覚でよく理解しているのだろう。寿司や丼、弁当、サラダなど、バリエーション豊富かつバランスよく取りそろえたテイクアウト・メニューは秀逸だ。今ではすっかり定着したポケ丼も、ニューヨークで大々的に開始したのは、同店が初めてのことだったという。ベースにはご飯または麺類を選び、8種類用意された具材から2種類トッピングした後に、さらにはふりかけも選ぶことができる。ポケ丼を開始した当初は、魚介類をソースに漬け込むことで色が悪くなると、評判も芳しくなかったというが、美味しさや選ぶ楽しさもあって、徐々に人気が広がったそうだ。

カウンターで着席して食べる寿司は、アボカドロールのような現代的なものから、江戸前本格派まで楽しむことができる。飯盛氏のおすすめは、各店舗で板前の前に座って、おまかせを食べてもらうこと。飯盛氏の前でおまかせを食べたいという客も多いそう。「一店舗にとどまらず駆け回っているが、気さくに声をかけてほしい」と同氏は話す。

もうひとつ同店で特徴的なことは、カップ麺やスナック菓子、醤油やワサビオイル、カップ酒など、同店が厳選した商品を小売りしていること。同店プライベートレーベルの醤油や、オリジナル開発したワサビ蜂蜜ソースも人気がある。

テイクアウト、小売、レストラン…いくつもの業態を組み合わせて、ありとあらゆるシチュエーションに対応してくれる『ブルーリボン寿司バー』。いつ行っても満足させてくれるに違いない。



Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar
30 Rockefeller Plaza
Concourse Level
New York, NY 10112
Tel: 212-937-0204
https://www.blueribbonrestaurants.com/
#alljapannews #omakase #BlueRibbonSushiBar #NY

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