The Secret Sushi Bar on the 10th Floor

By Helene Stapinski

David Bouhadana works behind his four-seat sushi counter.CreditCreditCaitlin Ochs for The New York Times

They come two by two, sometimes solo, or in fours, key card in hand, to the small room on the 10th floor of Hotel 3232. Some know what to expect, but others are in for a surprise.

One couple came on their anniversary, a gift from husband to wife, and riding up in the elevator she wondered if he was taking her to a sex party. She was relieved to find that where the bed would normally be was a sushi bar — and behind it the exuberant, wisecracking chef David Bouhadana.

Sushi by Bou Suite 1001 — Mr. Bouhadana’s latest project and part of his growing line of dining experiences — opened in December. It is a speakeasy like no other. New Yorkers love a hideaway or secret place and this one in NoMad has never quite been done before.

Mr. Bouhadana, with the help of investors Michael Sinensky and Erika London, has partnered with the 32nd Street hotel to install a four-person sushi counter in one of its rooms. He is there every night, making his creations, from 5 p.m. to midnight, bouncing to disco music and encouraging diners to drink deeply from the Mr. Sake machine. Each 17-course meal lasts 60 minutes and costs $125 (not including sake), reasonably cheap by New York omakase standards.

His constant physical motion, jokes and lessons on fresh fish and its preparation come in rapid-fire delivery, some words in Japanese, but most in English. There’s the lesson on Tokyo Bay and what lives there, the talk on how to prepare salmon roe properly and the riff on giant clams, smacking one with his knife and making it dance ever so slightly for his small audience.

Each 17-course meal lasts 60 minutes and costs $125.CreditPhotographs by Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

“In New York, the best sushi chefs generally don’t speak much or don’t speak English,” said one visitor. “You can’t talk to them. So this is a different experience. He doesn’t stop talking.”

Because of his big mouth, Mr. Bouhadana has met with some controversy over the last few years. He openly boasted to the Department of Health that he doesn’t wear gloves. Even though most sushi chefs don’t, they generally do not advertise it. His restaurant at the time, Dojo, was shuttered and he was fired, even though the Times review gave it two stars.

His next venture was Sushi on Jones, where he served a 30-minute, 12-piece omakase menu in an al fresco box which drew long lines and serious buzz. Then two years ago, Eater — previously a big fan of his — criticized him for talking in a fake Japanese accent while serving diners at the Gansevoort Market. The piece went viral. Followups called him a racist. Death threats were made. His Jewish background was attacked. His mother got very upset.

Mr. Bouhadana says he sometimes uses Japanese inflection when placing the sushi on the plate, just as he was taught by his Japanese teachers. “If I did offend somebody, I absolutely do owe them an apology,” he says, speaking publicly about it for the first time since it happened. “Maybe somebody walked by and was offended. But I want that person to sit down and eat with me.”

That person will be lucky to get a seat at the sushi bar. Suite 1001 is booked through early February. “The controversy is the reason I know the name,” said a recent diner who remained anonymous for fear of being pulled into the conflict. “But his reputation is good sushi. That’s really why I’m here.”

Sushi by Bou has three locations and is opening two more next month, one in the lobby of Hotel 3232 and one in Miami at the Versace mansion. In March, another will open on Union Square.

Sake is available. It costs extra.CreditCaitlin Ochs for The New York Times

As a Jewish sushi chef, he is the odd man out, but at the same time, stands out from the crowd. He constantly refers to his “sensei,” Andy Matsuda, the chef and teacher who sent Mr. Bouhadana to live with the Matsuda family in Japan for six weeks. He stayed for three years. And the results can be seen in his creations.

Silky sea scallops with charcoal salt, hamachi belly lightly charred with a blow torch and his egg custard, which one woman compared to flan, both beautiful and delicious, are a few of the courses he serves five times a night, seven nights a week.

All the while, the chatter and jokes keep coming. He congratulates a woman for buying her first apartment in Alphabet City — the neighborhood where he lives. They discuss the L train. He talks about his background growing up with a Moroccan dad and a French mom in Florida — “the sushi capital of America,” he jokes. “Every hour, same joke. Different customers.” They all laugh.

Diners who arrive early or who want to hang out after dinner and hear Mr. Bouhadana riff can sit in a small lounge next to the sushi bar on two chairs and a leather couch. Outside is a 20-seat patio, since this was originally conceived as a party room when the hotel opened five years ago. But the weather has been too cold recently for the patio.

Mr. Bouhadana swiftly moves back and forth between the bar and a small hotel closet which contains tableware instead of terry cloth robes. He twists to keep his body loose, his hands in constant motion, clapping every now and then to remove excess water as he prepares each piece and places it on a bright red square plate. Three times a week he gets a massage in nearby Koreatown to relieve the physical tension and strain from standing and bouncing behind the bar for over eight hours a night.

Behind him is a framed painting of a large black and white fish that the Japanese street artist Pesu created. The fish is beautiful, swimming in gold, but is ripped up, with bite marks in its flesh. “It’s me,” says Mr. Bouhadana, glancing at the image, which serves as his logo. “One of a kind in a school of fish I don’t belong in.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page MB8 of the New York edition with the headline: A Hotel Room With a Sushi Bar Instead of a Bed. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe