As the world attempts to return to normal and the Haru basho rolls towards its dramatic conclusion, we’ve received word from New York City that famed sumo hotspot Azasu (the bathroom of which is pictured above) has pivoted amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. We previously covered the location – a mecca for fans of Sumo in American’s northeast – on these pages, and are very sad to learn of its demise.
According to the restaurant itself, “we struggled with the impact of the pandemic, and we determined the need to reinvent ourselves and to adapt to a new environment.” Sadly, we have been informed by Tachiai reader Lydia that all of the sumo paraphernalia and decor has already been removed amidst the rebranding as Azasu now merges with sister shop Yopparai.
Azasu was previously a rare location in the States for sumo fans to not only enjoy food but also watch televised sumo. Hopefully, some of the staple food offerings will at least remain. While we wish the restauranteurs every success in their attempts to thrive in this unparalleled environment, we also hope that another sumo themed location will rise to provide fans outside Japan with an opportunity to enjoy the sport on a night out. As Japan remains closed to visitors and those of us outside its borders do not have the opportunity to visit Chanko Ho or Kirishima’s spot, fans need all the options we can get.
The growth of sumo in the western world has led me to a few interesting and exciting spots over the years. Here at Tachiai we have covered the Sumo Stew event that has dotted various parts of America – so when a friend asked if I’d like to check out the sumo-themed izakaya Azasu on a recent trip to New York, I jumped at the chance.
Azasu is located on Clinton Street in NYC’s Lower East Side, and is the sister restaurant to New York sake bar Yopparai. A fairly unassuming locale from the outside, one step inside vaults you into a world of ozumo-related goodness. The walls are covered in tegata from famous rikishi past and present – including famed Yokozuna such as the great Takanohana – and the front of the store boasts a merchandise store that practically doubles as a sumo shrine.
The restaurant presents ample opportunity for novice banzuke-readers to practise locating the names of favourite rikishi. An old banzuke from a Nagoya basho past hung framed in the front of the venue, which provided a nostalgic moment to see retired Yokozuna Haramafuji’s shikona on the rankings list once again. But even the toilets at Azasu provide this unorthodox type of reading material: indeed, the bathroom walls are lined with old banzuke!
I’ve been told that Azasu also doubles as a venue for viewing live sumo. Unlike the Sumo Stew events which sometimes display replays (owing to the hour of the event), Azasu apparently has a commitment to live sumo for patrons. During my visit, the restaurant happened to show highlights from the latest Nagoya basho – which was a great time to discuss the physics of Enho and Chiyomaru with fellow diners.
As for the menu staples, I have to say I walked away impressed. While I swerved on the chankonabe options, this izakaya offers a number of hot pot selections to cater to punters with various dietary needs and restrictions, and the nabe comes recommended for parties of 3 or more.
My dining companions and I opted for a kushikatsu-forward selection and were not disappointed by the perfectly grilled and fried skewers which came accompanied by a heavy miso-dipping sauce which reminded me of the famous Osaka chain Daruma. We topped it off with the restaurant’s “chanko salad” – a very liberal interpretation on the “everything but the kitchen sink” concept that was notable more for its sumo size, and the intriguingly named “kinboshi tofu,” a wonderful tofu dish topped with an egg yolk and copious piles of bonito shavings.
Visitors who enjoy engaging in alcoholic delights will also be keen to note the izakaya’s extensive library of whiskey, shochu and sake.
All in all, as somewhat of a washoku connoisseur and a committed sumo fan, I have to say I walked away impressed and fulfilled by the visit. If I’m ever in New York during a basho I plan to make Azasu a staple of my trip – and our readers would be remiss not to do the same!
Azasu is located at 49 Clinton Street in New York City.Hat tip to Tachiai reader Lydia for the recommendation!
The amazing culinary wizards with Sumo Stew are at it again. This Friday they are at The Brooklyn Kitchen, 100 Frost Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211, serving a seasonal vegetarian chankonabe by Chef Andrew Gerson. There is also a special Rakugo performance. I am going to take a wild guess who that is, and now I am pissed I am not in New York this weekend.