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New York Dispatch: After 9/11, from Sushi to the Streets

Ground Zero. Photo by taxiberlin.blogspot.com

Unless you visit Ground Zero, it’s almost impossible to spot the after-effects of 9/11. Almost ten years after the disaster, New York has done a remarkable job of erasing the bulk of the physical damage from that day.

Wall Street hums. Battery Park City glimmers. The World Trade Center subway stop – and all the other downtown stations that shut down when the Twin Towers collapsed – re-opened on September 15, 2002.

For those of us who didn’t lose someone we knew that day, the intangible effects of 9/11 aren’t always apparent in the midst of all this frenetic re-construction. But they’re here. You feel them when you talk to taxi drivers like Sumon Sumon, who grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh and worked as a sushi chef in Greenwich Village until September 11.

“After 9/11, they had to sell the restaurant,” he said, “I worked as chef in another Japanese place 5-6 months after that. Then I start to drive the taxi.”

Though driving a taxi is rough – “The bathroom is a big problem.” – Sumon doesn’t miss having a boss in the kitchen.

“When my first baby was born, I couldn’t take a day off,” the cabbie said.

Now the only sushi he makes is for himself and his wife and two kids on his day off. (He buys tuna and salmon at Pacific Supermarket, a Chinese grocery store on 75th St. and Broadway in Jackson Heights.)

And though the restaurant where he learned to make sushi no longer exists, Hamachi – the last place Sumon worked as a chef before he became a cab driver – does.

The dining room was totally empty when I stopped by Hamachi for lunch yesterday. The phone rang once during the hour I was there. Despite being “Top Rated by NBC’s ‘First Look’,” I had the sinking sense that I was eating in a dying restaurant, especially when Sting started singing “Fields of Gold.”

I could smell fish, so I skipped the assorted sashimi lunch special ($14.95) and chose two house special rolls: green tea ($11, tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado wrapped in green tea soy paper) and hamachinut ($13.95, chopped yellowtail and peanuts with salmon and shitake mushroom outside).

Like most sushi rolls, they looked beautiful. And I was pretty excited about the green tea soy wrapper – barely sweet, it held the fish together with a subtlety that seaweed could never match. But this roll was bland – the fish was fresh enough, but I wondered if seaweed might have amped up the flavor somehow.

Marinated shitake mushrooms were the highlight of the hamachinut roll. But next to the peanuts, I could barely taste the chopped up yellowtail or the salmon. I put peanuts next to cream cheese on my list of things that should never go near a sushi roll.

And I wondered how Sumon’s defunct sushi restaurant might have compared to Hamachi. Passing by a soon to be opened artisan cheese factory/shop next door, I also wondered how long this little restaurant will hold out in a neighborhood where the quality of the food seems to be climbing higher by the second.

34 East 20th St. (between Park Ave South & Broadway) – Flatiron
Tel. 212-420-8608
Open: Mon-Thurs 11.30-3pm, 5p-10:30p; Fri 11.30a-3pm, 5p-11p; Sat 4p-10:30p; Sun 3-9:30p
Credit Cards accepted

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