It started out as a health food store. Maybe you never went inside, but it was easy to spot for its eye-catching sidewalk signs touting Bladder Control Tea.
Then a tiny lunch counter appeared, displacing a few of the shop’s bright-green racks piled high with vitamins. The menu: sushi, smoothies and noodle soup. UN staffers, ever eager to find a new place to eat lunch, began lining up for its sushi rolls, made with an unusual nutty-tasting whole-grain red rice. The staff at the restaurant was friendly; people came back. But if you didn’t hear about it from a regular, you might not know it existed. That was not such a bad thing as the counter has only 10 seats.
Now, however, the place is emerging from the shadows as its lunch area gobbles up the remaining vitamin racks and transforms the entire space into a combination juice bar, yogurt station, sushi restaurant and fresh produce market with a decent-sized seating area. You should check it out while you can still get a foot in the door.
The key to this small gem’s growing popularity is the gracious couple who run it, Eugene Lee and his wife, Jung Hee. They seem to know most of their customers by sight, greeting them with a smile and a little bow and asking if they’ll be having their usual. While this type of Asian fare is generally made to order in restaurants, here it seems more homemade — and tasty.
Note some oddball touches: although the restaurant has pushed out the vitamins and other health food products, Mr. Lee said he had no plans to change its name to reflect its altered status.
The sign above the door says it’s Health Harvest, but its Facebook page suggests its real name is You and Sushi. To change the sign would cost money, he explained. Better to spend money on good ingredients. Ditto for printing menus and accepting credit cards; that would just drive up prices, he said.
You’ll also notice that compared to most sushi shops, this one has just a few kinds of fish available: salmon, tuna, yellowtail and surimi (a seafood paste molded to look like crab legs that is a standard component of California rolls). If you are lucky, monkfish liver will also be in stock, giving you a chance to try a slice of a mock foie gras that Mr. Lee makes from the liver in your chirashi sashimi bowl ($12.95), the establishment’s standout dish.
The bowl also features a ball of spicy tuna and generous slices of raw salmon and tuna, laid out on a base of spinach leaves, chunks of avocado and shredded veggies. A generous serving of fat, short-grained white rice or the house special red rice comes on the side. The dish is thrilling as well as filling with its blend of familiar and exotic flavors.
The house sushi box, which includes one roll and four individual pieces of sushi, goes for $9.95, while individual rolls are $4.95 to $5.95. The sushi can be made with either white or red rice. A side seaweed salad or plates of shrimp or veggie dumplings — four to an order — are $2.95. Try the lovely seaweed salad, which is a bit crunchy and a bit tangy with a touch of sweetness.
There is not much of a kitchen in sight, but it still offers several hot entrees, including teriyaki (chicken, salmon or tofu, $8.95 to $11.95); clear vegetable, chicken or beef soup with a choice of udon (white wheat) or soba (buckwheat) noodles ($6.95 to $8.95), and a deeply satisfying bulgogi (marinated beef) box ($8.95).
The chicken teriyaki consisted of several thick slices of roasted breast, tidbits of broccoli and bean curd cubes in a sweetish sauce, and a small green salad with a sharp dressing. The bulgogi plate, featuring a generous serving of thin slices of beef, was otherwise similar to the teriyaki. Both dishes came with plenty of red or white rice on the side.
While noodles often dominate Asian soups, the soup with buckwheat noodles I ordered on a recent visit was loaded with shredded meat, barely cooked fresh spinach, shredded carrot and broccoli pieces, all densely packed into a dark broth.
The house also offers a variety of vegetable juices and smoothies ($5.50 to $6). Soon, coffee will be sold; a yogurt bar with fresh fruit toppings is in the works, too.
If there were one thing I could change at this restaurant, I would ask Mr. Lee to switch to china bowls and plates for in-house eating and more environmentally friendly takeout packaging in place of white styrofoam. New York City has, in any case, banned single-use styrofoam products beginning July 1.
Health Harvest is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is located at 820 Second Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets. (212) 922-9423
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.