New York is near an ocean with plenty of free fish just asking to be caught, so theoretically, we should have an abundance of affordable seafood. Unfortunately, that isn’t how life works, and great, not-crazy-expensive neighborhood sushi can feel like some kind of mythical beast. But unlike centaurs, hippogriffs, or any other creature invented by the horse-obsessed people of ancient times, this type of sushi does in fact exist. If you want proof, go to U-Gu.
U-Gu is a Japanese restaurant in the bottom of a glass-and-steel building in Clinton Hill, and from the outside it looks like something you’d find in a strip mall next to a Cinnabon and a Lady Foot Locker. But it’s actually a charming little space where you’ll want to hang out, drink sake, and eat some high-quality seafood without having to bring a bribe-sized bag of cash.
You come here to eat either sushi or sashimi, and there are a few basic combos like a six-piece sushi set (for $18) and a $26 sashimi plate that comes with enough fish to feed a small porpoise. The pieces are large and taste like the fish equivalent of USDA Prime meat, the rice is warm and well-seasoned, and the selections aren’t limited to your basic tuna and yellowtail - you’ll get things like striped bass with shiso, a thick piece of salmon garnished with roasted red pepper, and unagi topped with a tiny fried quail egg. In addition to sushi, there are options like tuna tartare and salmon tataki, as well as some rice bowls and ramen - but you don’t really need to order those, because the sushi is better. If you do want to mix things up a bit, go for the $40 omakase, which comes with sushi, sashimi, and a few little dishes like diced toro in wasabi soy sauce.
It’s an impressive meal, especially considering the fact that you could walk into U-Gu wearing pajama bottoms and a Henrik Lundqvist jersey and feel only slightly underdressed. This is a great place for a weeknight dinner with a couple of friends, and with its hardwood floors and abundance of old-timey light fixtures (over 30 by our count), it feels like a nice, vaguely-steampunk antique store. It’s also full of signs with phrases like “Be a warrior not a worrier” and “Dance like no one’s watching” - and if you pretend you’ve never heard these things before, you might even find them inspirational.
You probably won’t, but that shouldn’t change your opinion of this place. Because even on a Saturday night, you can walk into U-Gu, get seated immediately, and have dinner for roughly the same price as a new hardcover book. In a city where seafood tends to be priced like it was shipped from Tokyo in the back of a gold-plated taxi with the meter running, that might seem improbable. But it’s true. The next time you’re in the area, take advantage.
The pieces of sushi here come garnished with little things like shiso and red pepper, and the 9-piece combo is essentially a mini omakase. This is our go-to order, although we might get the 6-piece if we’re not as hungry.
U-Gu serves reliably good fish, and the large sashimi platter here comes with 15 pieces of things like salmon, tuna, ocean trout, and striped bass. It’s a lot of food, and it’ll make you feel like some kind of pampered and domesticated seal.
If you need to eat your sushi in roll form, we aren’t going to fight you over it. The rolls here are pretty good - although they tend to have a lot going on. This one, for example, is stuffed with spicy salmon and topped with crunchy tobiko, and it’s actually pretty filling.
This might just look like a giant mound of avocado, but it comes filled with either salmon or spicy tuna. It’s fun to eat, and they use quality fish that isn’t too finely chopped. If you want an appetizer, start with this - just know your that money is better spent on sushi.
There are a few different rice bowls at U-Gu, and we especially like this one with salmon, tuna, and yellowtail. It works well for a quick lunch when you just want to be able to eat a bowl of something and get back to whatever work you’re currently not doing.
Unless you suffer from some kind of salad deficiency or you just watched The Land Before Time and are currently craving leaves, there’s no reason to order a salad here.
For $40, you can do something called a “Surprise Me.” It’s an omakase meal involving sushi, sashimi, and a couple of small plates, and it’s a pretty good value for what it is. If you had an especially good or bad day and want to have a special dinner that doesn’t cost more than a new pair of Converse, go for it.