Still, I preferred less showy ingredients: takana, pickled mustard greens with a faint, grounding bitterness; umeboshi, salty-sour pickled plum whose residual sweetness fights through; mentaiko (pollock roe), briny and close to cream.
Jako, dark-eyed glassine baby sardines, bodies ossified, taste like shattered deep-sea bacon. They’re threaded through a rice ball framed by shiso leaves, lending a green scent and hint of menthol.
A shrimp locked in tempura batter flares its tail, the nori draped around the rice like a tuxedo vest. The idea is smartly reprised with a fried oyster, another innovation for the American audience. Spam, a nod to the Hawaiian version of omusubi, is slapped over tamago, omelet laced with sugar and mirin: the classic death match — and love match — of salty and sweet.
Also on offer are miniature buckets ($ 3.50 each) of karaage, fried chicken in boneless pieces, all dark thigh, the meat rich from a bath in soy sauce. The crust softens a little as it sits, but still has fervor, its nubbly coat infiltrated by ginger, garlic and seasonings that the manager very kindly, very firmly refused to name.
Omusubi Gonbei is stationed right inside the entrance to Katagiri, which opened in 1907 as one of the first Japanese markets in the United States. (The original shop still stands on East 59th Street.) Venture deeper, and the missed opportunities multiply: bento boxes, sushi, steam rising from bowls of ramen.
No regrets. Just a promise to come back. NYT > Food