Author Archives: ninjanyc

Morimoto – NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2016

Morimoto NYC is a restaurant owned by famous “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto. He is best known as an Iron Chef on the TV cooking shows Iron Chef America. He received practical training in traditional Japanese cuisine in his hometown Hiroshima. Influenced by Western cooking styles, he started his global career in Japanese Fusion. He is also known for his unique style of presenting food.

I have a colleague who love the TV show Iron Chef and we were looking for a chance to have lunch at a restaurant by the Japanese Iron Chef. How lucky that Morimoto NYC is participating in the Restaurant Week.


There are 7 choices for entrée and each comes with miso soup, green salad, pickles and white rice. For deserts, 2 items are offered which are not on their regular menu. I ordered the Braised Black Cod for entrée and the Pot de Crème for dessert. My colleague got the Hamachi Poke(yellowtail) and the chocolate fondant. We shared to taste all, and everything was amazing. My cod is perfectly braised as if it melts in the mouth and beautifully decorated using some very small piece of vegetables. She joked that this is part of Japanese advanced technologies. I often order black cod whenever I see on the menu at Japanese restaurant. I would say this is the best I have ever tasted both for taste and presentation.


Overall, this place provides a great mix of American and Japanese cuisine with top-notch service, comfortable seating, beautiful interior design (even the bathroom); I will definitely be back to Morimoto to try more of their fantastic options!

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

Neighborhood: Chelsea

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, there is a nice sushi counter

Great to special occasions

Hatsuhana – NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2016

Every summer and winter, NYC Restaurant Week returns with a long list of restaurants in NYC. NYC Restaurant Week is promotional event where almost 400 restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe dining deals for lunch ($29) and dinner ($42). The summer started from Monday, July 25, 2016 and runs to Friday, August 19, 2016. 20 Japanese restaurants are participating this summer. I have already introduced Natsumi in winter 2016, this time I would love to introduce participating Japanese restaurants and their course as many as possible.


Just 2 days after NYC Restaurant Week started, I went to Hatsuhana with friends. Hatsuhana is one of the oldest sushi restaurants that have been a sushi specialty restaurant for 40 years since 1976. Even though usual menu is available, all of us ordered the Restaurant Week course menu.


The meal is supposed to be a three-course deal, but actually it was a five-course with Miso Soup, Salad, Sashimi Appetizer, Large Bento Box and Dessert. This was a great surprise. Sashimi appetizer was marinated tuna with avocado and seaweed. It was wrapped in soy paper. The fried leek added crispy taste. The highlight is a huge Bento box that includes salmon sashimi, fluke sashimi, sesame tofu and 5 kinds of nigiri sushi. I like the salmon sashimi that tasted with creamy scallion sauce. Not only does it ensure the freshest fish possible, but it also carves up the bounty expertly. In addition, you can choose one roll sushi from 12 popular choices. This set is a great deal for seafood lover. We were almost full, but couldn’t resist a little green tea parfait.


I have dined various places during NYC Restaurant Week, but Hatsuhana is one of the best and truly I can recommend all sushi lovers.

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

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dining alone: Yes, there is a nice sushi counter

Delivery: yes

Tako Grill (Bethesda, MD)

I have previously introduced several restaurants in Washington, DC area, and Tako Grill is another one on the list. This restaurant used to be my favorite place when I visited DC at its previous location on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, Maryland. I recently had a chance to visit their new location on Hampden Lane for the first time. It is tucked in a small shopping area adjacent to Bethesda Row and while the space is smaller it appears more open and bright. I personally like the open grill concept so I can watch the food being prepared. The food is the same quality as before and the service is very good, too.


I took local friends and we ordered lots of different dishes to share. The izakaya menu has a great selection of home-style Japanese foods, and I know that whatever I order the taste and quality will be consistent. We ordered Nasu Itame (stir-fried eggplant and pork with a miso paste), Ohitashi (quick boiled spinach in soy sauce), and gyoza. Each dish tasted homemade and prepared with the freshest of ingredients. Tako Grill is a great place to try if you happen to be in the Washington, DC metro area. It is a short walk from the Bethesda Metro station (Red Line) and parking is also available for a charge out front.


Price: $40 per person for this evening

Neighborhood: Bethesda

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, nice sushi counter is available

Takeout/Delivery: Yes

Annual Sake Lecture & Tasting at Japan Society

Japan Society’s annual sake tasting event returned for another year with sake expert John Gauntner speaking on regionality of sake on June 8, 2016. It was co-organized by Japan Sake Export Association.


From Hiroshima’s soft, sweet brews to the clean, dry sake of snowy Niigata, regional characteristics often play a role in the flavor profile of sake.  John examined how factors such as raw materials, climate, and regional cuisine can affect the taste of sake from different parts of Japan.

The lecture was followed by a tasting reception with more than 30 kinds of premium sake, including two new brewers.


Japan Society is Japan Society is the leading U.S. organization committed to deepening mutual understanding between the United States and Japan in a global context. Now in its second century, the Society serves audiences across the United States and abroad through innovative programs in arts and culture, public policy, business, language and education.




Fatty Fish

Fatty Fish is a Michelin rated Asian-inspired American restaurant located on the Upper East Side. I have dined here in the past, and I very much like their menu creativity which is slightly unusual in pure, traditional Japanese restaurants. I was recently introduced to Chef Roy and decided to visit again shortly thereafter. After two years living in NYC I feel that I have covered most of the high profile Japanese restaurants; generally speaking most menus are somewhat similar to their peers in my opinion, and I am always seeking to try something new.


When I was speaking with Roy he mentioned that he has been consistently refreshing the menu so that he can offer something innovative or perhaps a new style of cuisine. I love the concept of “East meets West” where Western culinary techniques are used to prepare oriental ingredients – something that has been trendy in the U.S. for a while now. In my eyes a majority of the fusion menus tend to have somewhat of a Japanese influence.

One weekday evening Timothy Sullivan, the Sake Samurai, and I visited Fatty Fish. Roy welcomed us and gave a quick tour of the space. I was amazed by the outdoor seating area which can accommodate 40 guests – all inside a temperature-controlled beautiful garden perfect for a special event or gathering.


We started off with a Hakkaisan bottle of sake with pan-seared edamame sprinkled with kosher salt and seasame seeds. Normally I pair sake with sashimi, however, this combination was equally as nice. We then ordered several small plates and absolutely loved the “Plumtori” chicken basket. The chicken was buttermilk-marinated and fried to a crispy golden brown and then tossed in a special house-blend dried plum seasoning. It was juicy and tender and while it looked like traditional Japanese karaage, it had a different but delightful taste. Afterwards we ordered and shared a pork bun. Pork buns are becoming popular in Asian restaurants in NYC and I haven’t really found any that are memorable and make me want to order more – until now. The ones here are not the steamed doughy kind with flavored pork stuffed in the center. The pork and the bun are served individually, and the mouth-watering meat melted in my mouth. The seasoning complemented the natural flavors of the pork, and I think I could have eaten these all evening!


I ordered curry jumbo shrimp and vegetables for my main course. This dish was Thai-inspired and my first experience of pairing sake with a coconut milk curry – something I won’t find in any traditional Japanese restaurant.   Unlike normal Thai seasoning the shrimp was mild and harmonized with the broccoli, bamboo, and greens.

Roy mentioned the he just started ramen and the “Captain’s Wild Catch” is the signature order. I am already excited to come back to try it!!

Another outstanding thing about this restaurant is the warm and friendly service. I was not surprised about that after meeting Roy, and it is very apparent that his personality reflects the attitude of the entire staff. I highly recommend Fatty Fish for a delicious meal or special occasion.

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, counter is available

Outdoor space: Amazing outdoor garden seating available

Other: BYOB


Mocu-Mocu (Closed)

Mocu-Mocu is a cozy and casual Japanese café specializing in what I like to call “street food”. Their signature menu item is Okonomiyaki which is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked”. At this point I would assume the readers of this blog must already be familiar with the word “Yaki” from Yakitori, Yakiniku or Yakisoba. Okonomiyaki is known mainly as originating from the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan. I try to eat Okonomiyaki every time I visit that region of Japan. Nowadays is has become popular and is widely available throughout the country.



Compared with sushi or ramen, Okonomiyaki is still relatively new to the US, and I would guess that some Americans are a bit suspicious how a savory pancake may taste. This time when I went to Mocu-Mocu I went with a Taiwanese friend who was very familiar with Japanese cuisine. We ordered Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki with several side dishes. The ingredients we chose for our Okonomiyaki were cabbage, pork, and optional items such as squid, and octopus. The unique feature of the Hiroshima style is that noodles are used as a topping along with a fried egg and a generous amount of Okonomiyaki sauce, which has a teriyaki flavor.


Even though we loved the Okonomiyaki and were tempted to order one more, we decided to save space in our stomachs for traditional Japanese sweets for dessert. We selected Obanyaki, Japanese sweet pancakes with various fillings. I had MATCHA DE BOSCO which had matcha cream and berry fillings – a perfect combination to satisfy my sweet tooth. My friend ordered UJIKINTOKI, a pancake filled with mocha, matcha cream, and Azuki red beans. He loved both the okonomiyaki and obanaki so much that he went back to the restaurant again just few days after our visit!

Price: Okonomiyaki starting at $14

Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, counter is available

Takeout/Delivery: Yes


I found Hinata unexpectedly when my friend and I were walking toward Hide-chan or Totto for ramen. It is a tiny place with a cafe sort of feel, so at first we could not tell if this was a ramen place or somewhere to get a boost of caffeine. But we soon noticed that this was an authentic ramen restaurant managed by Japanese. According to their website, Hinata uses organic chicken for their broth and optional add-ins/toppings, and the sliced Berkshire pork, or Kurobuta, is accompanied with bean sprouts. MSG is not found in any of the dishes. For the noodles, one can select them as thick and wavy, thin straight ones, wavy vegan, or made from rice.


There were other interesting selections on the menu other than ramen. My friend ordered a Pork Don which is shredded pork on rice; he liked it so much that he mentioned that he would return just to get the pork dish again. We both felt like Hinata was more like an izakaya restaurant instead of a ramen bar.


Price: Ramen starting $12.5-

Neighbourhood:Midtown East

Cash Only, There is an ATM machine inside the restaurant

Dining alone: Yes


I often go to the West Village to watch movies at small theaters around the neighborhood. When I watch a 7:00 or 8:00 film, it is a bit of a challenge to find a place to eat dinner afterwards, especially if I am looking for a nice Japanese restaurant. A recent Thrillist article entitled “The 8 Best Under-The-Radar Ramen Spots in NYC” introduced me to a very cozy ramen shop just around the corner of West 4th Street.


I immediately sensed that the owner must be Japanese when I first observed the restaurant décor and then the menu. I went during the ‘Japan Authentic Craft Week’, which highlighted traditional craft items from Tochigi, Japan — an area relatively close to Nikko and the well-known temples — and ate ramen from a beautiful hand-made bowl from Mashiko. Mashiko is a famous little town that has many shops with beautiful, artful, and locally made pottery. I highly recommend their annual pottery festival if you are lucky enough to visit during the festival.


Each time I visit Ramen-Ya I feel as if I am entering a cozy ramen shop back in Japan. I have eaten there more than five times prior to publishing this entry, and each time I think about what to order when I visit next. Usually my dinner course starts with their homemade gyoza, often called pot stickers in the U.S., which are pan fried dumplings stuffed with minced pork, cabbage, and chives – a flavorful blend of the outside crispiness with the juiciness of the meat and vegetables. Gyozas can be filled with many different ingredients but the pork ones are my favorite as they remind me of the tastes that I love in Japan.


On the ramen menu there are two choices of soup: Musashi, a pork tonkotsu broth, and Kojiro, a paitan chicken broth. Then as it is standard in most ramen shops one can then choose shio (salt), miso, or soy tastes. Normally I order my favorite miso/tonkotsu but during my third visit I tried the Kojiro/shio. It was very flavorful and lighter than typical broths made from meat and equally delicious as the others. The tastes are rivals to those found in ramen restaurants in Tokyo, and one especially important item to note is the melt-in-your-mouth Char Siu pork that included with the noodles. That alone is worth a visit. The service is outstanding, too, as one might expect from a Japanese restaurant.

One thing I have to mention here is that the owner, Tyson Kobayashi, is from Utsunomiya, my hometown in Japan. We actually grew up a few miles apart, were born the same year, and went to neighboring schools, and then both left to attend college in Tokyo. I first met him at Ramen-Ya a few weeks ago and confirmed that it is indeed a very small world after all. How ironic to meet someone in a foreign country and find out you basically grew up as neighbors!! Kobayashi still resides in Utsunomiya and frequently visits NYC. He is a kind man with strong passions for both his business and commitment to provide authentic Japanese food and culture.


Price: Most ramen dishes are $12 with a variety of choices/toppings from $1

Neighborhood: West Village

Takeout/Delivery: Yes

Dine alone: Definitely

Vegetarian: available

Cash only

Open until 3:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays so you can catch a midnight show at IFC Theater around the corner.


I received an e-mail from a reader of my blog and she said that recently I seemed to focus only on authentic choices for the past couple of months. And when I stopped to think about her message I came to the realization that she was right. When I started the blog I intended to write about Japanese-fusion restaurants also.


The 2016 winter NYC Restaurant Week was a good opportunity to talk about something new, and it gave me a chance to find out why Natsumi is so cool. According to their website, Natsumi specializes in Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine. Barbara Matsumura and Chef Haru Konagaya, formerly of Haru Restaurants, teamed up to create a strikingly original new destination in the heart of the Theater District.


At Natsumi there are various choices on the 3-course menu. Several options are available for each appetizer, main entrée, and dessert. Since my theme was fusion, I ordered sashimi taco (Salmon and Tuna sashimi on taco) for my appetizer, filet mignon with shiitake sauce for my entrée, and Cheese Cake Tempura for dessert. The quality exceeded my expectations in a big way; my friends who were along felt the same way about their choices. The liquor list has a number of international selections to include red, white, and sparkling wines and champagne by the glass and/or bottle. They also have available a large bottle of sake (isshobin) which is very unique outside of Japan.


Overall we were all impressed and decided that Natsumi would be a good choice outside of restaurant week and will definitely be back!!

Price: $38 for a pre-fix dinner menu during NYC Restaurant Week

Neighborhood: Times Square

Dress code: Smart casual

Private Party Venue: Lively lounge and recommended for gathering with friends


The Birth of Sake

I urgently want to share that a great movie is currently available this week in NYC.

The Birth of Sake is a documentary film that explores how sake is handcrafted at a family-owned Japanese brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture. The movie is having a special screening till March 24, 2015 at the IFC Center in Manhattan, NY. This is a must to see movie for anyone interested in sake, Japanese food and its culture.


In a world where most mass produced goods are heavily automated, a small group of artisans must brave unusual working conditions to preserve a 2000-year-old tradition that we have come to know as saké. THE BIRTH OF SAKÉ is a cinematic documentary that reveals the story of passionate saké-makers and what it takes to make world-class saké at Yoshida Brewery, a 144-year-old family-owned small brewery in northern Japan. The workers at Yoshida Brewery are an eclectic cast of characters, ranging from 20 to 70 years old. As a vital part of this cast that must live and work for a six-month period through the brutal winter, charismatic veteran brewmaster Yamamoto (65) and the brewery’s sixth-generation heir, Yasuyuki Yoshida (27), are keepers of this tradition, and are the main characters who bring the narrative forward. Currently, stiff competition and the eventual retirement of experienced workers intensify the pressure of preserving quality of taste, tradition and brand reputation for Yoshida Brewery. As craftsmen who must dedicate their whole lives to the making of this world-class saké, their private sacrifices are often sizable and unseen.

94 Minutes, In Japanese with English subtitles, USA

Tribeca Film Festival: Special Jury Mention, Best New Documentary Director

Palm Springs International Film Festival: John Schlesinger Award for Debut Documentary


Here is the review of NY Times.

Mr. Shirai nicely shuffles in the back stories of several workers, and his shots of sky, sea and early morning landscapes could fit amid Hokusaiwoodcuts. At 94 minutes, the film’s pacing drags at times. But as Mr. Yamamoto might say, it takes what it takes. You can’t rush the process.