Author: Alexandra Wilson, Forbes Staff
David Foulquier, 28, made a name for himself cooking French-Persian cuisine. His Miami restaurant, Fooq’s, was inspired by his parents, who emigrated from France and Tehran, and serves the aromatic foods of his childhood. Now, he’s offering a new kind of eatery. In March, Foulquier opened Sushi Noz, an eight-seat, edomae-style sushi restaurant serving $300 omakase. And while the concept might seem like an abrupt departure from the nostalgic cuisine at Fooq’s, it’s a dream that has been many years in the making.
In 2013, Foulquier was fresh out of college and determined to open a restaurant. Searching for inspiration, he set out on a journey to Barcelona and found his way to Tokyo, where it finally felt like the “stars aligned.” He and his brother, Josh, were dining at a tiny, three-star Michelin restaurant there when the chef introduced them to former Sushiden chef Abe Nozomu (nicknamed “Noz”). Wowed by the delicate cuisine and intimate eating experience, the brothers swore they would bring an authentic, Tokyo-style restaurant home someday.
“For $300, you can take a trip to Japan. Everything from your interaction the second you walk in the door until the second you leave, you forget that you’re just in a little place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.”
Over the next five years, they worked with Noz to slowly and meticulously design Sushi Noz, their handcrafted restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In the following conversation, edited and condensed for clarity, Foulquier shares how he found the inspiration for his dream restaurant.
Alexandra Wilson: Tell me about your upbringing.
David Foulquier: I grew up in New York, which I think is really the capital of the world in a sense. So from a really young age I was exposed to really nice restaurants, fine dining, bistros, different kinds of energies and different kinds of cultural groups. When you’re growing up in a place like Manhattan, you go out and you’d try new places. I remember being a little kid ordering sushi, delivered to the house, when I was 9 years old.
Wilson: So what inspired your first restaurant, Fooq’s, in Miami?
Foulquier: When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to open a restaurant, but I didn’t know what kind. I had traveled and seen so much in a short period of time that I had all these great ideas, but I couldn’t really figure out what felt right.
My mom came to the states in the late 70s, early 80s and brought a big Persian contingency with her. From a young age, we had these big dinner parties with copious amounts of food and colorful rices and really aromatic stews. That kind of motivated me to want to recreate that experience as much as I could because Persian food—that spice-driven aromatic, beautiful food—had yet to be explored in the United States. I realized that I could bring the experience I had as a kid to my restaurant in Miami.
Wilson: And how’d you find yourself in Tokyo?
Foulquier: I went after college…I remember I went out and I bought these really nice Japanese knives, and I got all excited. I started learning how to butcher fish and butcher chickens and meats and just how to work on a line. I had always had an affinity toward Japanese cuisine and Japanese culture just because of its stark difference from what I was used to growing up.
I found this really cool sushi school. It’s called Tokyo Sushi Academy. It was an eight-week program that teaches you the proper philosophies of edomae-style sushi. It teaches you a little bit of the diligence and what takes to be able to deliver sushi at such a high level. Obviously my skills are nowhere near close to even being serviceable at this point, but it was really cool.
Wilson: Was there a moment when you knew you needed to open a Japanese restaurant?
Foulquier: The day that our stars aligned, I guess, my brother was visiting me. I had had maybe one or two high-end sushi experiences in Tokyo. They’re prohibitively expensive. We got a couple reservations, and one of them was for a restaurant that ended up being a three Michelin-starred sushi restaurant that was, at the time, probably the single most impressive fine dining experience in my life.
What set this one apart was the feeling of walking into this little mom-and-pop shop and seeing a husband and a wife running a restaurant with very little support. I think that what impressed me the most was seeing this guy just put out the most impressive knife work I had ever seen in my life. He was cutting squid with one hand, filleting squid with the other, while looking at you in the eyes. To watch him put out food that was so unique and different, while still representing what edomae-style sushi is, was, at the time, life-changing. We left the restaurant jaw-dropped. We were in complete shock and then we looked at each other like, “We’re going to open a sushi restaurant. We’re going to open a sushi restaurant one day.This is something that we need to bring back to America.”
Wilson: You clearly named your restaurant after Chef Noz. What exactly makes him so unique?
Foulquier: The chef that night introduced us to Noz in New York. He’s the biggest legend. What separates Noz from the rest is his ability to put out dishes that are very much three Michelin star quality dishes, on par with a fish dish that you’d have at Le Bernardin or Daniel. He’s thought about every single detail that you experience in this restaurant—every smell, every angle, everything that you could think of that is involved in this experience.
He puts a lot of thought into the theatrics of the whole experience because, when you’re dining in such an intimate setting, with no music, you are really engaged by what’s going on behind the counter, so he’s made sure to really make it a very engaging experience. So, whether it be him seasoning his sushi rice in front of you or bringing out the charcoal grill to grill the sea eel, there’s always a level of theater to what he does, and I think, like all great chefs, you have to be an actor to a certain extent. Food is art just as much as acting, painting, anything, and Noz does a really, really good job of bringing an artist’s touch to an otherwise sterile experience.
Wilson: How did you go about transporting that feeling you had in Tokyo around the world to New York?
Foulquier: That was probably one of the hardest parts of getting Sushi Noz open. Obviously sushi’s not revolutionary in America. There’s been sushi here for almost 40 years. But there was no experience that even came close to what I had experienced that day in that room. As a restaurant operator, restaurateur, somebody trying to create something unique, cool and different, you’re looking for things that are not yet oversaturated. For Fooq’s, it was Middle Eastern cuisine. For Sushi Noz, it was this really traditionally Japanese edomae-style concept. There was really nothing in New York I felt that could even come close to what we were experiencing that day, and we made a commitment to bring that experience to the United States and nothing short of it.
That’s what you have here at Sushi Noz. You have a truly transportational experience. For $300, you can take a trip to Japan. Everything from your interaction the second you walk in the door until the second you leave, you forget that you’re just in a little place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Header image credit: Nick Graham