Category Archives: Authentic Japanese

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

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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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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

http://www.hatsuhana.com

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.

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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.

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http://www.takogrill.com/hp/

Price: $40 per person for this evening

Neighborhood: Bethesda

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes, nice sushi counter is available

Takeout/Delivery: Yes

Yakitori Totto

I always keep a few restaurants on my “to try” list but often find it difficult to either find the time or pull myself away from my usual favorites. Yakitori Totto is one of those restaurants that has been on my list for quite a while. Yakitori means grilled (yaki) chicken (tori) in Japanese, and by definition the chicken should be served on skewers. However, recently I’ve noticed that the word yakitori is often used for other types of skewered items (whether it is a protein or vegetables) when eating in a traditional “yakitori” establishment.

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Yakitori Totto only takes reservations at 5:30 pm which is a little too early for me to eat dinner. But an opportunity arose when I had friends visiting from Texas and we were seeing an 8:00 performance at nearby Lincoln Center. Surprisingly, a line of about 20 people deep was already formed when I arrived at 5:15 – but we managed to get the last available table. Otherwise it would have been quite a wait. As soon as we got settled and had a chance to review the expansive menu, I ordered a few yakitori options to get started. Momo (pieces of chicken thigh), Nume (chicken breast), Tebasaki (wing) and Tsukune (chicken meatballs) would be what I consider to be the “standard” for a yakitori selection.

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Needless to say all yakitori selections exceeded our expectations, and the Tsukune was my personal favorite – very tender and juicy compared to traditional meatballs. One difference is that normally in Japan we would dip the meatball in a beaten raw egg. But here we had a delicious teriyaki-style sauce (tare) which we all loved . . . so much so that we each ordered a second portion! We then ordered several side dishes from a nice izakaya menu. We chose Agedashi tofu (a simple Japanese way to serve hot tofu), edamame, Buta Kakuni (tender simmered pork), and some pickles to share.

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Everything was so oishii! We wanted to order more but had to leave for the show. When we left the restaurant around 7:15 or so, the line to get in was even longer that when we arrived!

http://tottonyc.com

Price: $50 per person including tip, several beers and a medium bottle of sake

Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen

Dress code: Smart casual

Noise level: Lively as it is an open grill concept

Azusa of Japan

I was looking for Japanese restaurants other than Sakagura and Soba Totto in Midtown for a new lunch option as every time I go these midtown Japanese restaurants, I usually see either colleagues or someone I know from the expatriate Japanese community.  Also given that Sakagura and Soba Totto are widely recognized among midtown lunch seekers (and generally crowded), I wanted to find a hidden place with more of a quiet environment.  Azusa was just that ― a hidden gem that perfectly fits my need ― and is located just two blocks from Grand Central Terminal.

The entrance and the bar area remind me of a Japanese ryotei in downtown in Tokyo. A ryotei is a type of luxurious traditional Japanese restaurant, and they are typically a place where high-level business or political meetings may occur discreetly. In fact, Azusa is the perfect example of a ryotei; it is not too large in size compared to other Japanese restaurants in the area ― which is perfect for a quiet setting ― and there is even a tatami room in the back where you can enjoy a completely private setting if needed.

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Azusa has an amazing selection of seasonal sushi and offers a ’specials’ menu all of the time.  I visited during the noon rush hour and had the daily special: bento box with rolls, salmon teriyaki, tori karaage (fried chicken), green salad, miso soup, pickles, and a small fruit cup for $17.  Very reasonable price considering the both the quality and quantity of food I received.  The meal arrived very quickly and the service was equally impressive.  The friendly server continually refilled my hot green tea and water unprompted.  Definitely a place I will visit again for lunch and perhaps dinner next time.

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Price: $14-17 for lunch special

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Smart casual

Noise level: Quiet

Dining alone: Yes, a nice bar/counter is available

https://www.facebook.com/azusajapaneserestaurantnyc/

 

Douzo – Boston

I previously introduced several Japanese restaurants in Washington, DC, as the city is one of the most visited destinations by business travellers from NYC. This time, I would like to introduce a Japanese restaurant in another popular city –Boston. Interestingly enough, when I order sushi and sashimi in Japanese restaurants in NYC I often notice that the fish comes from Boston. I had been looking forward to visiting Boston so I could try Japanese food there. Fortunately a recent business trip afforded me the opportunity to do so, and after a little research I picked Douzo for my dinner destination.

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According to my research prior to the trip, I felt Douzo should definitely be one of the higher-end and higher quality sushi restaurants in Boston. A lot of the reviews suggested making a reservation in advance – even on weekdays. But if you plan to go solo, I would suggest finding a cozy seat at the bar where you can still order a full menu.

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For starters I opted for grilled sweet corn, which was flavored with soy, chili powder, and butter. After that I selected salmon tartar. I was expecting the salmon to be prepared ‘Quebec’ style, which is typically minced, however, here it was cubed and equally delicious. For my main entrée I ordered sashimi and was amazed at how large their cuts of fish were – nearly two or three times thicker that comparable restaurants in New York City. Each piece was very juicy and perfectly fatty, and the standouts for me were salmon, fatty tuna, and yellow tail.

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http://douzosushi.com

 

Price: $60 for all of my selections + one beer and tip

Neighborhood: Boston Back Bay

Dress code: Smart casual

Dining alone: Yes, a nice bar/counter is available

Take Out: Yes

Riki

As holiday season is upon us I believe some of you may be searching for a party venue to spend a moment or two with your friends. If you are the organizer it can be stressful to find a great place where there is great food and an atmosphere that allows the guests to interact conversationally.

My choice for such a restaurant for a holiday event would be an izakaya restaurant, and Riki is one of my go-to favorites when I am thinking of a place to dine with close friends. Here most of the patrons are Japanese expats (or locals), which is always a good indicator of the authenticity. And I must mention that they have been in business for over two decades.

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Riki has an extensive menu and daily specials that are all very fresh and sell out quickly. I found everything to be reasonably priced for the quality, and this is one of the restaurants in the area with a no tipping policy. It is also great because Riki is open very late, which makes it a perfect choice for an after-concert/show meeting place.

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This Winter I discovered that they were offering a special ‘winter holiday’ tasting menu for $50 – Fuyu No Enkai Course. This selection includes a total of ten various dishes and all-you-can-drink beer (or soft drinks) with a 2.5 hour time limit. According to the restaurant, the most popular dishes ordered from over 150 available choices are chicken karaage, Okonomiyaki, and ramen salads.

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Personally I like the ramen here. While very popular in NYC with countless varieties available, the ramen at Riki is a very standard meat-based broth with sliced pork, bamboo shoots, seaweed, and scallions. So traditional that it reminded me of my grandmother’s homemade version that I ate as a child.

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141 E 45th Street, New York 10017 (Between Lexington & 3rd Avenue)

(212) 986-1109

Price: Winter Tasting Course $50 (including tip)

Neighborhood: Midtown East

Dress code: Smart casual

Dining alone: Yes, nice counter is available

Take Out: Yes

 

 

Donburiya

After watching a Broadway show one Saturday evening with three friends, we collectively decided we were hungry but didn’t want a heavy meal at nearly 11:00 pm. We decided on izakaya because of the variety of tapas dishes as well as drink menu. Donburiya is located at West 55th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenues, and it is convenient from both Broadway theaters as well as Lincoln Center.

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We started with a pitcher of Sapporo for $18 which is quite reasonable considering the price of a single bottle, and then each of us ordered our favorites to share. I ordered menchi-katsu (a breaded and deep-fried ground/minced meat cutlet) and hokke shioyaki (salt grilled Atka mackerel). The others ordered ham katsu, assorted sashimi, and Negitoro (minced raw tuna). The taste of this reminded me of a ‘mom and pop’ izakaya restaurant often found in small neighborhoods in all over Japan. Another dish popular with the group was potato salad. It generally has cucumbers, carrots, and onions mixed in. The crunch of the fresh vegetables combined with the creaminess of the mashed potato was absolutely perfect. I think I could have ordered several more servings, but I decided to save that indulgence for my next visit! Donburiya definitely serves home made, quality dishes. As our shime, or last meal order, we each selected a rice ball. I selected tarako which is salmon roe, and the other options were grilled/salted salmon and ume, or pickled plum. While there are many places in NYC where one can buy Japanese rice balls, the ones at Donburiya are the closest to those I normally ordered back in Japan.

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The restaurant has a bar/counter, a separate high table/chair area, and regular, low table seating as well. And located only a few blocks both from Broad Way and from Columbus Circle, it is a great venue even if you did not see a great performance beforehand.

http://www.donburiyany.com

Price: $140 including tip and several beverages for the four of us (After theater meal!)

Neighborhood: Central Park South and Columbus Circle

Dress code: Smart casual

Dine Alone: Absolutely comfortable

Takeout: Yes