It was a few years ago, in I can't remember which book (I think it was a novel), and one of the characters is riffing on how inadequate the English language is because it lacks the ability to convey many complex emotions with a single, specific word. For example, he says, the feeling you get when you walk by an empty restaurant during dinnertime... there should be a word for that! I knew exactly what he meant: that swirling mixture of pity (poor bastards...), admiration (must have taken a lot of hard work...), guilt (maybe I should try this place...), and completely unearned feelings of superiority (what were they THINKING?!?).
Anyway, if a word did exist for that feeling, I would have used it every time I passed Ariyoshi over the past four or five months. Opened last fall on a sparsely-traveled stretch of lower Broadway—right where 11th Street doesn't go through to the east side, next to the Halloween store—this tastefully (and, I would guess, quite expensively) renovated, high-ceilinged sushi place/izikaya is seemingly always, absolutely, completely, utterly empty. Maybe it's the block, or the ugly exterior (really, though, it is pretty inside), or the non-existent PR, but the place appears to be stone cold dead every night.
Finally Debbie broke the ice a month ago to check out their new lunch specials... and was impressed. Two more visits (one good, one less so) confirmed that Ariyoshi was definitely a viable neighborhood option. So then I went, and totally agree. First it was lunch, Fred's treat, and we both enjoyed a large and tasty bowl of udon noodle soup, a serviceable green salad, and a nice-sized serving of don, which was four bright and melty slices of fish (I had the tuna; Fred the yellowtail) draped over vinegared rice. All of this was included in the lunch special, for an extremely reasonable $10.95.
Then Debbie and I returned another night for dinner, and I couldn't believe how good it was, starting with a truly first-rate seaweed salad—four different kinds of sea-veggies, no lettuce filler, briny and clean-tasting, understated sesame dressing—through to the sashimi appetizer and sushi deluxe (nine pieces, plus a roll, only $23!). All the fish was fresh and tender and richly-flavored... which, if nothing else, represents a remarkable achievement in food inventory management, considering there were only two others tables taken in the entire place that night. Don't get me wrong: this is no Blue Ribbon, or Ushi Wakamaru, or Japonica. But to get this kind of quality fish for these prices makes Ariyoshi well worth rooting for.
Total coincidence department: After reading nothing about this place for months, TimeOut NY singled it out in yesterday's issue for its yakitori, especially the chicken meatballs, fatty chicken skin, and chicken hearts. I was definitely planning on going back anyway, but now I'll be sure to try the izikaya side of the menu.