Our waitress at Sushi Roxx has just arrived to take our appetizer order when she abruptly but apologetically excuses herself.
Next we see her, she’s donned red-fringed arm covers as the restaurant lights up like the bonus round of a pinball machine, with flashing lights, psychedelic visuals on the electronic pillars and the waitstaff transforming into a singing, dancing revue to Beyonce's "End of Time."
When the number ends, the decor returns to its subdued hum of colorful motifs featuring Godzilla, a pensive sumo wrestler and stacks of Lucky Cats waving at you in unison from behind the sushi bar. Our waitress comes back, slightly out of breath but smiling hugely. Where else are the staff having as much fun as you are?
Owner Jason Apfelbaum describes the club-meets-theater-meets-restaurant concept as his idea of a good time. “I’m in the feeling business, not in the restaurant business,” he says.
Sushi Roxx, which opens today, is a passion project created with the help of his showbiz friends from Los Angeles. A former Pussycat Doll choreographed the booty-heavy numbers, modern pin-up fashion icon Betsey Johnson designed the costumes, and pop architect DeVinn Bruce turned the interior into an all-senses-on-deck experience even between shows. As Apfelbaum sums up, “I’m living my own dream!”
For a restaurant that could’ve relied on excitement and genuinely quality cocktails ($15) to carry it, the Japanese-by-way-of-California menu is generally delicious and occasionally creative. The mixed seaweed appetizer ($8) is a smartly seasoned burst of crunchy umami without the salt, while tempura-fried avocado ($13) is sure to be a favorite. The filet mignon ($42), though sliced a bit more like sashimi than steak, was cooked well with a subdued teriyaki-style glaze that didn’t try, or need, to hide anything. There’s also, as the restaurant promises, a sushi menu of premium rolls.
The show starts over about every two hours (there’s a new routine every 15 minutes or so). It would be impractical, as primarily a restaurant rather than dinner theater, for the numbers to have a theme, but we would’ve liked at least less clashing. As good as the lone waitress belting out No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” was, it didn’t mesh with the Latin dance party for “Let’s Get Loud,” so the evening can feel a bit uneven. But once this place gets on the radar, the energy of the crowd will fill in the gaps.
Skip: The signature Roxx Box ($18) is a messy and unappetizing square of rice with fish and “crunch” on top. Our tuna was minced as if it had come from a can (which it had not). Fresh fish deserves better.
Must: As my companion put it after visiting the bathroom, “It took me 30 seconds to recover enough to actually go.” We won’t spoil what happens in there, but Sushi Roxx has outdone every other bathroom experience you’ve had.
Tuscany Hotel, 120 E. 39th St.
Tuesday-Wednesday 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Thursday-Saturday 5 p.m.-4 a.m.