Loop, a Solid Neighborhood Sushi Spot in Gramercy
Loop, which opened back in 2009, occupies a space that at one time housed the beloved neighborhood "Asian tapas" restaurant Chino. The latter was a wonderful little gem that sold some memorable dishes such as a fantastic pork bun, fiery lobster chow fun noodles, and some tasty braised ribs. When Chino suddenly closed and was quickly replaced by Loop I remember thinking that we really didn't need another middling sushi restaurant since there are already quite a few on this particular stretch of Third Avenue.
Fortunately Loop turned out to be a good deal better than just middling, and in fact it exists in a harmonious nexus between price and quality. Certainly it isn't going to compete with the likes of 15 East or Kanoyama (my favorite money-no-object neighborhood spots) in terms of raw product, service, or inventiveness, but it is significantly cheaper than either. The fish at Loop, while lacking in ultimate pedigree of its far more costly competitors, is, by and large just as fresh. It is actually the rice that distinguishes the pricier options, which is why I prefer the sashimi at Loop over everything else.
Loop emphasizes their specialty rolls ($12 to $15)—they occupy a significant portion of the menu and there are nightly blackboard specials as well. They try to be topical with the names, often using current movie titles, which tend to lose some relevance by the time the films make it Netflix. You will still find the Shrek Roll (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado, snow crab, shrimp and masago, wrapped with green soysheet and topped with miso sauce) and the Expandable Roll (yellowtail, avocado and eel, wrapped around spicy crab, scallion, tobiko and spinach crunch) on the menu, but some like the Hunger Games and Dark Knight rolls have been retired.
I have to say that I find most of the specialty rolls rather laborious and over complicated, especially those with mayo which tend towards the overly goopy. Fortunately, the regular rolls, which are simpler in construction, are also far more harmonious on the palate. The spicy tuna roll, for example is solid, and costs a reasonable $6.
Most entrees and sushi plates come with the familiar carrot ginger dressing topped green salad, which is well executed here.
While there is a broad kitchen menu at Loop I prefer the offerings from the sushi counter. The main courses—teriyaki and katsu-style cutlets tend to be fairly uninspired, the tempura often a little stale tasting. Stick with the sushi and I think you will be happier. That said, the Bento Box at least provides a good value at between $19 to $22, and will possibly assuage non-sushi-eating fellow diners.
But at the end of day it is the sashimi ($2.75 to $5 per 2 pieces) that plays to the restaurant's strengths. The fresh, simply prepared fish needs little adornment, although I should caution you that the restaurant puts out low sodium soy sauce by default.
A word about the service: It is just about efficient enough, which is to say you sort of get what you pay for. Also, because of cultural and linguistic barriers—the staff are all Japanese—customer complaints might be dismissed in a way that might offend those of us used to more effusive service. That said, in over 20 visits I have had but a single complaint that was ultimately resolved satisfactorily.
Loop is a solid neighborhood option. I recommend you stick with the simplest of preparations—the basic rolls and the sashimi—which are the surest bets. The specialty rolls and especially the hot food is more hit and miss.
About the author: Nick Solares is a NYC-based food writer and photographer. He has published Beef Aficionado since 2007, with the stated purpose of exploring American exceptionalism through the consumption of hamburgers and steak. He has written over 350 restaurant reviews for Serious Eats since 2008 and served as the creative director for the award-winning iPad app Pat LaFrieda's Big App for Meat. You can follow him on Instagram (@nicksolares) and Twitter (@beefaficionado).