Hakubai

Located in the basement of the Kitano Hotel in Midtown East, Hakubai is an absolute must for special occasions. Hakubai is only few restaurants that offer ‘Kaiseki’. Kaiseki is a distinctive and delicate cuisine with origins in Zen Buddhism and traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. In Hakubai you can enjoy a multi-course dinner served on an exquisite array of porcelain, pottery and lacquer dishware at carefully timed intervals. Prices for a full Kaiseki dinner starts from $100 per person.

If this is a bit pricy I would alternatively suggest going for lunch. They offer a lunch version of Kaiseki for $85, as well as very nice Hakubai Bento Box for $60. Unlike normal bento, this is just as kaiseki course that begins with appetizer Sashimi and Chawanmushi – steamed egg custard. The Entrée includes tempura, grilled fish, and vinegar vegetables, spicy seasoned cod roe, Japanese pickles, steamed rice, and miso soup. All foods are simple but yet complex and elegant at the same time. At the end of the courses a dessert of the day will be served. When I went it was a delicious green tea ice cream.

If you would prefer something not part of a set menu, an a la carte menu featuring, Kobe beef, sushi, sashimi and tempura is also available.

The service, quality of the food, and the beautiful arrangement of it are equated to a 5 star rating. Prices are a little higher than most but you definitely get what you pay for. If you want to experience Japan in the middle of NYC – this is definitely the place for you!!!

http://www.kitano.com/Dining/Hakubai

Price: $60 Hakubai Bento Box (plus tax and tip)

Neighborhood: Midtown East

Dress code: Business Casual and above

Occasion: Business meeting, special occasion

Happy New Year 2017!

Happy New Year 2017! Hope everyone had a great holiday season. I have good new years news — I have started to share my photos of Japanese food via Instagram. Since starting my first few posts were only viewed by several people, but recently I have gained increased attention from viewers all across the globe. I will continue to upload nice photos — mostly from Japanese restaurants in NYC (and may be a few surprises, too!) — so you can visit them when you virtually stop by.

Instagram: ninjaeatsnyc

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Three years after starting this blog, there are still new Japanese restaurants opening in various places in NYC, and I am very exited to visit as many as possible and share here in my blog. Hope you enjoy the entries this year!!

Matsui

Tempura is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep-fried. Even though it is one of many popular Japanese dishes, it is very hard to find a Japanese restaurant that serves exceptional Tempura. I believe it is because Tempura requires skills to prepare – not just an ability to use a deep fryer! Matsui opened its door in the summer of 2015, and it is the first authentic Tempura restaurant in New York. Recently they started a lunch service on weekdays, and I was excited to try their lunch specials with two of my Japanese friends. Matsui has become one of the most popular and high-profile restaurants in NYC and recently entered the Michelin star club.

The interior of the restaurant is perfectly designed and seemed as if we were in a high-end restaurant in Tokyo. The lunch course included a bowl of noodles, a chawanmushi, and tenju (Tempura over rice) and dessert. The tenju is a dish with an assortment of seafood and vegetable tempura on a bed of rice. I could really taste the freshness of the ingredients, and I particularly liked the shrimp Tempura – crispy outer coating with a juicy, flavorful taste inside. The other courses were memorable, too. The starters were a cup of chawanmushi and a cold buckwheat noodle cup with a hint of yuzu, tempura flakes, grated radish, scallion, and dried bonito on top. The dessert was small plate of Tempura Ice cream and soy milk pudding.

 

I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to eat authentic tempura!

http://www.tempuramatsui.com

Price: Lunch $40; Dinner, three different levels of omakase $140-$230

Neighborhood: Murray Hill

Dress code: Business casual

Dinning alone: Yes, counter in front of chefs and separated bar area

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Udon West

Last holiday season I introduced Izakaya Riki at Midtown as a great option for a holiday party, and I received some feedback from readers that they could not get reservations. I was not surprised, though, because the holiday gathering at an izakaya restaurant has become one of the popular options for New Yorkers over the last few years. I would like to introduce another great, authentic izakaya in the area as a choice for this winter season: Udon West. As you can imagine from the name, Udon West is a Japanese noodle restaurant and located just few minutes from Grand Central Station. My observation is that most of the patrons are Japanese locals and expats – something that is typically a good indicator of the authenticity.

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Udon noodles are the main signature dish here, and they offer over 15 different styles of udon; you can add toppings from various selections that are equally numerous. I love their shrimp tempura udon that tastes like what I used to eat in Japan. I would suggest ordering several small dishes from the menu (note: some are posted on the wall). If you are not sure where to start, as your server for recommendations – with over 100 different options available, there should be something available for just about anyone’s palate.

I went to Udon West with colleagues after work and all were first-timers for izakaya and one person surprisingly had never eaten at a Japanese restaurant. Each of us picked our own choices for appetizers and shared them. I ordered minced-katsu which is a breaded and deep-fried ground beef cutlet, or basically a savory and crispy meat cake. We ordered several more of these as the group discovered how delicious they were! For my entrée I ordered a curry dish with a “topping” of fried chicken pieces, or karaage. I have to say that while there are several Japanese curry restaurants in NYC, this particular curry was the best I’ve ever eaten in the city. Highly recommended!!

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http://udonwest.com

Price: $40 per person for this gathering

Neighborhood: Midtown West

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, but maybe good place for a group gathering

Basta Pasta

I recently made friends with an Italian man from Rome and discovered that he loves Japanese food. This reminded me of Basta Pasta – Japanese-style Italian food. I was curious how he perceived Italian and Japanese fusion, so I invited him and another food lover for dinner. We arrived after 10:00 pm to find the restaurant extremely busy – even on a weekday evening.

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Whenever I go to a Japanese restaurant with non-Japanese friends, I usually end up choosing an appetizer. However, I took advantage of being with an Italian person and asked him to pick a starter to share. Out of over 15 available choices, he first selected Polpo, or roasted/braised octopus, but after learning it was sold out for the evening he opted for Calamari alla Griglla. It was grilled calamari instead of the traditional fried version, and it came with sausage stuffed with curry risotto. The squid was so fresh and delicious! The second appetizer was Gnocchi di Patata, which was sweet potato gnocchi with sage cream sauce and lighter than I anticipated. For our main courses all of us ordered pasta dishes. We noticed that a number of other guests ordered Spaghetti con prosciutto e parmigiano, perhaps because they were intrigued by the fact that the pasta is tossed in a parmigiano wheel. I ordered Fettuccini alla Bolognese, and fettuccini was homemade and the meat sauce was deliciously matched with the noodle.

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We ordered two desserts – Tiramisu and flan. Both were very good (the flan reminded me of Japanese desserts that are not overly sweetened)!

http://www.bastapastanyc.com

Price: Entrees $22-28

Neighborhood: Flatiron District

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, but maybe good place for group gathering

Dieci

Two of my favorite restaurants have closed within the last few weeks. Teshigotoya, an izakaya favorite in the East Village that I introduced in this blog last year, closed its doors on October 10.   Dieci is the second one that actually closed last month. I have known about Dieci’s existence for two years, and I regrettably only recently had the chance to visit again – I made it a point to do so when I heard the news that they were closing.  Dieci has been in business in the Lower East Side for over ten years and has developed quite a favorable reputation for its Italian-fusion Japanese menu.  According to their general manager, Takashi Yamada, the reason for closure is because of rent costs.

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Takashi, now actually one of my friends, is excellent at pairing sake with food.  During this recent visit four other sake-loving friends just asked him to select whatever he felt was a good match for our food. I ordered a Filet Mignon Steak that I honestly believe was the best I have had in several years. It had a delicious mushroom sauce along with truffle soy reduction that matched perfectly with my Nigori Dassai sake.  One friend ordered black cod, or widely known as Gindara Saikyo, a popular line up in Japanese restaurants in NYC.  Unlike just plain grilled cod, the one here is like a rice bowl with truffled mushroom risotto and poached egg. This is somewhat of a unique method of preparation, which had me wondering about the taste.  I learned that natural juices of the fish blended into the rice risotto that created a delicious mild, savory soy flavor.

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It is disappointing that I can no longer dine at such great places and/or introduce these two to fellow New Yorkers.  Unfortunately this is a sad trend in NYC (and frankly, probably true in a number of U.S. cities) where small business owners cannot afford sustaining their business because of rent increases.  But good news – Dieci is looking for a new location!  Stay tuned to this blog, as I will announce their new location and information as soon as it becomes available.

Price: Entrees $22-28

Neighborhood: East Village

Dress code: Casual

Private Party and Group Dinner: They accommodate private parties of up to 40 people for standing room and 23 people for seated dinner.

http://www.dieciny.com

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Rabbit House

Rabbit House is a new and cozy wine and sake bar located in the Lower East Side. I heard about the restaurant and owner, chef Yoshiko Sakuma, in a Japanese newspaper, and I visited one Friday evening with another Japanese food lover. There are a lot of touted hidden gems in NYC, but I think this is a real one. Behind the counter/open kitchen, we could see Yoshiko cooking and it was visible that most of dishes were made from scratch. She is also a sake sommelier, so definitely take advantage of recommended sake pairings is she is not too busy! Chef Yoshiko used to work in various high profile restaurants such as Bouley, Del Posto, and Jewel Bako, and she brings delicious and interesting foods to the warm, comfortable atmosphere of the restaurant. Her dishes are her original creations, and they taste as delicious as they are beautiful in their presentation.

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We had Tako-Taco (tako is octopus in Japanese) with a seaweed sauce and Tuna Tartare with dragon fruit for starters. Her attention to detail is amazing – a very organic, homemade style with hints of Japan. We wanted to try the spare ribs, but those were all gone due to their popular demand. Instead we opted for a chicken dish and a quinoa pilaf for entrees – both exceptional in their preparation and taste – and both works of art.

The Rabbit House is a true hidden gem that won’t stay hidden for long. I highly suggest giving it a try sometime soon!

 

Price: $80 total including few drinks each

Neighborhood: Lower East Side

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, nice counter is available

Lunch: A Bento Box $14

http://www.rabbithouse.nyc

Azasu

Azasu is the restaurant I have wanted to visit for the last two years. I have seen multiple media articles giving all positive reviews as a real Japanese street-food eatery. Thanks to Timothy Sullivan, the founder of UrbanSake.com, finally I managed an opportunity to go there. Tim and his friends arranged a private sake-tasting event and I was graciously invited to join. I arrived early to do some research and was amazed at the restaurant’s décor. It almost seemed as if I were in a neighborhood eatery in downtown Tokyo. There have been a lot of izakaya restaurants that have opened in NYC over the last few years, however, I have not visited any that seem as authentic Japanese as does Azasu.

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Azasu has a comprehensive menu that ranges from popular Japanese dishes such as karaage, gyoza, and takoyaki to unique choices found in NYC like kushiage. Kushiage, also known as kushikatsu, basically is some type of deep-fried meat and vegetables served on a skewer. In Japanese “age” or “katsu” are deep-fried cutlets of meat and “kushi” is the skewer. These types of dishes are my favorite appetizers, the ones I ordered at Azasu are the best of have ever eaten outside of Japan. Because kushikatsu can be made with chicken, pork, seafood, and various seasonal vegetables, it is an opportunity for this type of restaurant to show its creativity in the selection and pairings. I would have to say that Azasu is as creative as peer restaurants in Japan.

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The selection of ‘cup sake’ is another uniqueness of Azasu. In Japan it is very common to find sake, especially in vending machines and train stations, in little six-ounce glass cups (equivalent to a tiny glass jar in the US). At Azasu there are almost 20 varieties of this cup sake that range from basic to high-quality (what we would call daiginjo and junmai daiginjo).

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Visit Azasu during happy hour before it gests crowded – you definitely will enjoy the decorations of Japanese cartoon culture!

Price: Private Sake Tasting $40

Neighborhood: Lower East Side

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, but maybe good place for group gathering

 

http://www.azasunyc.com

NOBU NEXT DOOR – NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2016

 

Nobu Next Door opened in 1998 as an extension of the original Nobu, has now taken on a life of its own. Its menu mirrors the original Nobu and offers Nobu To Go. Nobu Next Door is a regular participant in NYC Restaurant Week in the last few seasons. As you can imagine, it was hard to book a table during the weeks. I finally managed to get a table for 2 in the very last day of the Restaurant Week.

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Overall the original Nobu and its next door share same menu for the Restaurant Week this time. For starter, they offer choice of: Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing, Black Cod Miso on Limestone Lettuce and Fluke Sashimi with Dried Miso. At Nobu last week, I ended up choosing Sashimi Salad for my starter, so this time I picked Black Cod Miso, the signature dish. It was so good and tender, I was very much wanting to have few more pieces! For main, there are 3 Choices of: Rock Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Creamy Sauce, Beef Tenderloin with Anticucho or Teriyaki Sauce and Assorted Sushi. I did beef Anticucho and my friend took shrimp then we shared. The beef tasted a bit spicy and this is the Nobu’s Peruvian influence. We really enjoyed both. You can pick a dessert either “Rhubarb Jasmine Tartlette” White Chocolate Jasmine Tea Cream with Rhubarb Raspberry Compote On Sucree Tart or “Caramel Miso Tartlette” Dry Miso Caramel Cream with Apricot Lime Compote On Chocolate Tart.

 

 

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http://www.noburestaurants.com/next-door/experience/

Price: three-course prix fixe dining deals for lunch ($29) and dinner ($42).

Neighborhood: Chelsea

Dress code: Smart Casual

Dining alone: Yes, there is a nice sushi counter

To go: Yes

NOBU – NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2016

I am exited to hear Nobu participating NYC Restaurant Week this summer both for lunch (M-F) and dinner (Sunday). Probably Nobu is one of the most famous Japanese restaurants in the world. Nobu New York, the flagship restaurant of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is collaboration between Nobu, actor Robert De Niro, producer Meir Teper and restaurateur Drew Nieporent. Nobu started his career at Japanese restaurants in Tokyo and his life around the world to create a new trend in Japanese cuisine at his first restaurant. The dishes make Nobu an innovator of new style Japanese food. The design of the restaurant evokes the beauty of the Japanese countryside with its natural textures, birch trees, wood floors and a wall made of river stones.

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One of the weekdays I asked 3 office mates to join me to have a long lunch break at Nobu. It was a somewhat hard to book a table for 4 as most all lunchtime availability had been taken. I could see how much New Yorkers are exited to take advantage of dining in Nobu during the annual Restaurant Week.

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For starter, they offer choice of: Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing, Black Cod Miso on Limestone Lettuce and Fluke Sashimi with Dried Miso. Black Cod Miso is a signature dish, so I wanted my friends to try, but Sashimi Salad looked so good so all of ended up. For main, there are 3 Choices of: Umami Charr with Heirloom Tomato Salad, Chicken with Anticucho or Teriyaki Sauce and Assorted Sushi. You can pick a dessert either “Rhubarb Jasmine Tartlette” White Chocolate Jasmine Tea Cream with Rhubarb Raspberry Compote On Sucree Tart or “Caramel Miso Tartlette” Dry Miso Caramel Cream with Apricot Lime Compote On Chocolate Tart.

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I have dined at several Nobu restaurants both inside the US and overseas. I am amazed by every aspect that the restaurants offer. For the 3 colleagues, this is their first experience dining at Nobu and they definitely enjoyed it.

http://noburestaurants.com/new-york/experience-3/

Price: three-course prix fixe dining deals for lunch ($29) and dinner ($42).

Neighborhood: Chelsea

Dress code: Smart Casual

Dining alone: Yes, there is a nice sushi counter

Great to special occasions