Rumors of Natori's demise are greatly exaggerated. This beloved East Village hole-in-the-wall Japanese spot that was reportedly closing last year seems to not only still be open but also looks a little spruced up. But not too much, thankfully—the place is still rooted in the East Village's DIY aesthetic. You can most assuredly find brighter and glitzier spots for sushi and Japanese comfort foods in the neighborhood, especially if you want to spend a lot more money. But Natori has far more character, history and soul than all of them combined.
Not that things have remained completely unchanged. The menu has been diluted somewhat—alligator is no longer available for example, and some of the names of the dishes have been Anglicized.
But in a neighborhood that has seen skyrocketing prices on all fronts, Natori remains eminently affordable. Take the sushi and sashimi combo (picture at top); it costs only $19.50 and comes generously stocked with high quality fish and rolls. I am not sure where the tacky illuminations and other accouterments that appeared on the plate along with the sushi came from, they are a new addition, along with the fresh coat of paint. But as much as these are eyesores on the plate, they don't take away from the flavor of the fish.
The Avo-Tuna has been renamed simply as Tuna Avocado Salad but it is still delicious and a steal at $6.25. The tender slivers of tuna are doused in a tangy carrot ginger dressing, the creamy avocado provides balance to the acidity of the rest of the dish.
But I have always gravitated towards the hot items from Natori's kitchen. Their miso soup is especially rich, especially compared to the watery variant that is given away at other area sushi restaurants. The Okonomi Yaki ($7.25) are all easy recommendations, but I especially like the pork and egg pancake, which adds a robust porkiness balanced by the creamy egg.
The deep fried chicken wings are excellent and also a bargain at $4.25. Perfectly battered and fried, they need nothing save a squeeze of lemon.
I am sure there will be those that are turned off by the low-brow decor and be suspect of the low prices. But this isn't bargain basement sushi—it's just that Natori is part of the old East Village that valued quality as much as a bargain. Natori continues to offer both.