Starting this May, Long Island City will be home to New York’s only pop-up restaurant serving sustainable and local sushi.
Mayanoki was started in 2012 by friends David Torchiano, an Astoria resident, and Josh Arak, who wanted to provide their favorite sushi chef with an outlet to serve. They met Chef Albert at Zutto, a restaurant in Tribeca. When the restaurant came under new management and Albert left, Torchiano and Arak tracked him down.
The duo began hosting pop-ups with the chef once the second restaurant he worked for closed.
“I introduced Josh to Albert and we kind of got to thinking,” Torchiano said. “Albert’s really good and he should really have his own place.”
At first, Mayanoki served more traditional fish such as salmon and tuna in family-style portions. But once the partners began to do more research and discovered the negative impact the sushi industry has on the environment― overfishing has caused lasting damage to the bluefin tuna and using unsustainable fish promotes harmful farming practices ― they decided to switch courses and meticulously serve only the most sustainable and local fish.
“The current rate at which we’re consuming unsustainable sushi is just kind of frightening and it needs to stop because there won’t be any fish left in the ocean,” Torchiano said.
They began their first pop-up restaurant two years ago at Brooklyn Oenology, a winery in Williamsburg and are now moving to Resobox, a Japanese art gallery in Long Island City. The first event will be hosted on May 22.
You will not find farm-raised tuna or salmon at Mayanoki, but you will find arctic char, stripped bass, amberjack, oysters, squid and uni. Torchiano buys the fish from purveyors such as Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. and The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market.
They are also the first sustainable sushi restaurant in New York City recognized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. The organization helps consumers identify seafood that is caught or farmed in sustainable ways.
Reservations are made in advance and a $75 ticket includes 12 or 13 courses served nigiri-style and a glass of wine or saki. The pop-up follows an omakase format, which means customers will not choose from a menu but rather be served selections by Chef Mitsuru.
“If you don’t tell someone what they’re eating, they’re quite open,” Torchiano said.
When the duo used to hand out menus, most customers avoided the arctic char. But now, the fish is a favorite among patrons, he said.
The reservations are capped at 10 people and so far, 900 people have signed up for the mailing list.
Torchiano and Arak hope to open a brick-and-mortar establishment in Long Island City after establishing a relationship with neighborhood customers this year. Though Torchiano encourages everyone to dine at Mayanoki, he also urges sushi eaters to ask their waiter or chef where their fish comes from and to do some research.
“With a little bit of reading you can find out a whole lot about what is sustainable and what’s not,” Torchiano said. “Even if it’s just one piece or one roll that they’re changing once a week, it will make a difference.”
The story was first reported by WeHeartAstoria.