Even though it’s the most diverse section of the most diverse neighborhood in the United States the area surrounding the Jackson Heights—Roosevelt Avenue/74 Street Subway is better known for Thai, Mexican, and Tibetan cuisine than for Japanese. There are few sushi places—mostly middling takeout and a Tibetan restaurant masquerading as a Japanese spot—and until January 2020 no omakase whatsoever. That’s when Chef Atip “Palm” Tangjantuk opened Sushi On Me, in a space that used to house a Thai bar. Chef Palm was born in Thailand and until he decided to take a job in a sushi restaurant 10 years ago in Chicago to help pay tuition for an M.B.A. at DePaul University, he never gave much thought to kitchen work.
If anything Chef Palm first started making sushi because it had a cool vibe and was a physically cool environment as opposed to a hot kitchen. Fast forward 11 years, including a stint working with sushi wunderkind David Bouhadana at Sushi by Bou, and Chef Palm has become a cool sushi chef in his own right. Like his mentor, Chef Palm presents his sushi as a speakeasy experience. There’s no sign, unless you count the one for East 21, an unaffiliated Japanese takeout located above his hip sushi den, and the sountrack runs to upbeat mellow jazz. Despite the omakase speakeasy vibe, there’s nothing pretentious or gimmicky about his 15-course omakase.
On the night I visited his eight-seat counter the meal began with shimmery hotaru—tiny Japanese firefly squid with shiro miso—and its less exotic cousin, strips of ika squid in ponzu. This was followed by two lovely pieces of yellowtail sashimi. Many of the nigiri were quite Japanese in presentation, including creamy hotate, or scallop from Hokkaido, and silvery kohada, gizzard shad with with ginger and chive, but some were clear examples of Chef Palm’s artistry, like zippy seared white tuna with crunchy Japanese garlic and king salmon, or sake, which Chef Palm infused with rosemary smoke moments before garnishing it with ikura (salmon roe) and tamarind sauce. The latter is inspired by the Thai dish miang kum.
Even the most over the top course— a morsel of A3 wagyu beef topped with creamy toro and briny Maine uni—was perfectly situated in the flow of the meal, less of a flex and more of a crescendo. This isn’t surprising, since Chef Palm is a musician and used to perform in the very space where he now improvises works of a different nature. Just as a jazz musician changes things up, Sushi On Me’s omakase is ever evolving, but grounded in the fundamentals of artistry and top-notch ingredients. “It depends on my feeling at that time,” Chef Palm says. “Sometimes I prepare the menu already, but at the last minute I change.”
At $89 for 15 courses Sushi On Me’s omakase is quite reasonable, and frankly among the best I’ve had outside of Japan. In case you’re wondering, Chef Palm never did get that degree. His parents wanted him to become a university professor. These days he’s a teacher of a different sort. The last time I stopped by to say hello he was teaching two apprentices how to turn cucumber into paper thin ribbons.
Sushi On Me, 71-26 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, (929) 268-5691