Chef Mark Gar­cia, an un­ex­pected mas­tery of the Fine Art of Sushi found in As­to­ria | CULI­NARY

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For starters, a top-rated omakase restau­rant is cer­tainly not the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of the As­to­ria sec­tion of Queens, New York. This area is best known for its cel­e­brated Greek com­mu­nity and has evolved into the most di­verse pop­u­la­tion any­where on the planet.

Upon en­ter­ing Gai­jin, you are greeted by a mod­ern warmth that is wel­com­ing from the get go. Fea­tur­ing a sushi bar up front where Chef Gar­cia spins out jew­els of sushi like a Ja­panese wiz­ard, you are wel­comed by a knowl­edge­able and friendly staff. To­wards the back of this 30seat eatery, you will find a bustling team in an open kitchen pre­par­ing a dif­fer­ent as­sort­ment of ap­pe­tiz­ers and hot plates to most as­suredly tan­ta­lize your taste buds. Dishes like the On­sen Ta­m­ago (soft cooked egg, uni and ikura) and the Negima (chicken thigh, shio koji marinade and scal­lion) are sure to quicken your heart­beat, but for me, this night was all about the sushi. A Chicago na­tive, co-owner and Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Mark Gar­cia fell in love with Ja­panese cui­sine while work­ing at the famed Sushi Samba un­der Chef Kaze, a vet­eran Chicago sushi chef with a 30-year his­tory of open­ing in­no­va­tive and wildly suc­cess­ful sushi restau­rants in­clud­ing Heat, Mi­rai and Macku Sushi. Ap­proach­ing Chef Kaze to for­mally train and men­tor him proved to be suc­cess­ful and a decade-long re­la­tion­ship dur­ing which Chef Gar­cia him­self rose to the top of the Chicago restau­rant scene.

Most re­cently, Gar­cia col­lab­o­rated with both Chef Kaze and Miche­lin-starred Chef Jeff Ram­sey (renowned culi­nary en­gi­neer of BABE), to de­velop the menu and de­sign the sushi bar for the open­ing of Mo­mo­taro, a multi-di­men­sional sushi spot that quickly be­came one of the hottest new restau­rants in the area. Fol­low­ing his suc­cess in Chicago, Chef Gar­cia felt it was time to bring his culi­nary in­spi­ra­tion to New York and Gai­jin is hit­ting the mark in a rather mean­in­ful way.

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