When you walk into the foyer of Hotel 3232 in New York City’s Midtown Manhattan and give the desk attendant your name, you will be handed a plastic key card.
Take the lift to the 10th floor, and it is not hard to find room 1001 – the 17-storey building has only three rooms per floor.
Wave the key card over the pad, and you have arrived at New York’s most innovative new sushi bar.
Sushi by Bou, which opens in January having started taking reservations this week, is set in a modest room.
It’s all of 150 square feet – tiny even by New York City standards.
Where there was once a queen bed, there is now a four-seat sushi counter, and behind the bar is David Bouhadana, co-creator of the quick-serve omakase counter.
The American-born, Japan-trained chef specialises in radical sushi experiences.
At his two other Sushi by Bou locations, including one in New York’s Jue Lan Club, the experience lasts 30 minutes and costs US$50.
Inside the hotel room on 32nd Street, the meal will take a relatively luxurious one hour and cost US$125 a person, inclusive of tax and gratuity but not drinks.
Customers prepay for the meal along with drink options after choosing one of six seatings per night, seven days a week.
“My business partner [Michael Sinensky] has a penchant for underutilised spaces,” says Bouhadana as he spoons marinated salmon roe on top of a mound of nori-wrapped rice. “I want to put sushi everywhere it’s never been.”
The middle of the room has a small sofa and doubles as a compact lounge.
“That’s where the work desk and the US$10 hotel water was,” Bouhadana points out.
While the cupboard is now labelled as a coatroom, the bathroom is unchanged aside from the black barriers covering the shower.
A safe remains intact, too, “in case anyone needs to lock up valuables. Or cellphones,” says Bouhadana.
There is a 25-seat balcony for those who want a rooftop vibe before or after their meal.
But the transformation was not as simple as moving furniture. It took seven months for the restaurant to be approved by the city.
He offers 15 to 17 pieces that might start with madai or red snapper brushed with house soy sauce and include glistening Alaskan spotted prawn.
There is also a thick slice of Hokkaido scallop, sprinkled with lightly smoky charcoal salt.
The Arctic char has a brush of green yuzu kosho sauce that delivers a slow burn.
Among the best dishes are monkfish liver in a red wine braise that tastes like a warmly spiced pâté, as well as toro that is torched briefly so the fatty tuna melts in your mouth.
At a time when an omakase sushi meal in New York routinely starts at US$200, Bouhadana’s parade of raw fish represents a good deal.
The counter is a little more than six feet long – enough space that you can move your stool without disrupting anyone down the line.
But it’s still tight quarters. Bouhadana breaks down the real estate.
“Sushi bars are designed like this. There are 18 to 22 inches per seat at a noodle bar – you’re not moving. A Michelin-star place gives diners 24 to 28 inches each. If you’ve got 30 inches at a counter, it’s superfine dining,” he says.
Another unconventional feature is a sake-dispensing machine from Wine Emotion that features six bottles.
Customers can prepay US$30 onto their key card for a tasting, or pay at the restaurant.
There is also a US$50 drink pairing designed by the restaurant’s sake sommelier, Rick Zouad, that could include bottles such as Born Gold – the round, smooth sake served to President Barack Obama when he dined at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo.
Also part of the tasting are Japanese accents on classic cocktails, like a powerful “Umegroni” that riffs on a Negroni with bitter melon-infused sake in place of Campari.
Sushi by Bou is not the only new space coming to Hotel 3232 in January.
The cocktail makers at Death & Co. will open a 30-seat bar, Lost Gaijin, and there will be an additional 10-seat counter called Handies by Bou, where Bouhadana will offer an array of hand rolls including Wagyu and uni.
Bouhadana has a penchant for controversy after he was forced out of the acclaimed Sushi Dojo for not wearing gloves.
Last year, a Sushi by Bou counter closed at Gansevoort Market in New York not long after it was reported that Bouhadana sometimes used a fake Asian accent during service.
He calls the allegations “misinformed”, but he is optimistic about his future as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Sukiyabashi Jiro owner, Jiro Ono.
“I’m 32 years old,” he says. “Jiro is 86. He didn’t get his three Michelin stars until he was in his 70s.”