Category Archives: Authentic Japanese

Rockmeisha

After one year of living in NYC I have discovered favorite Japanese restaurants in almost each of the major neighborhoods, however, I had yet to find any in the West Village. I watch movies in this area often and knew that I was not looking in the right places. One regular dinner friend introduced me to Rockmeisha, a cozy and down-to-Earth Japanese izakaya restaurant. The interior design is quite unique in that it replicates a style in Japan from the early 1900s to around 1926 – Taisho style. The era is considered the time of a liberal movement known as the “Taisho democracy”. You can read more about that time period here. Interestingly enough, there is a jukebox playing tunes that was used almost 70 years ago!

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Rockmeisha offers a wide range of dishes as most izakaya restaurants typically do, and here they range from traditional Japanese to modern Asian fusion. I ordered one of my favorite things – potato salad – and it was so tasty that I ordered another. While this dish is a popular item in Asian restaurants these days, the style at Rockmeisha has an ingredient called mentaiko, which gives a nice, somewhat spicy taste that was a perfect complement to my beer. I then had buta kimchi (pork and kimchi stir-fry) as my main entrée. Like the mentaiko, the kimchi was a perfect accompaniment to the pork. Combined together this dish was impossible not to like!

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http://rockmeisha.com

Price: $200 including tip for 3 of us

Neighborhood: West Village

Dress code: Smart casual

 

Ootoya

Just like in the US, there are many restaurant chains in Japan – and I often miss some of them. Thanks to this blog I have discovered many Japanese restaurants in New York, but I still had difficulty finding a good place to dine by myself after work, usually late in the evening. Ootoya was my old standby when I lived in Japan and Singapore, and I was excited when I heard they were opening restaurants in NYC earlier this year.

Ootoya specializes in teishoku, or set meals that come with rice and soup. They have been making a name through the Japan and South East Asia food scene for serving simple, relatively affordable Japanese food. What makes Ootoya different from other Japanese restaurants is the wide selection of grilled meat and fish. When it comes to fish/seafood in terms of Japanese cuisine, sushi and sashimi are still popular amongst New Yorkers, however, I would say that grilled fish dishes are equally delicious Japanese food options.

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When I visited Ootoya in Times Square for dinner after work one evening, an autumn limited menu grilled fresh sanma (Pacific Saury) / matsutake mushroom soup set was an option, and I could not resist ordering this combo. And this combination of seasonal choices is hard to find in NYC. Sanma is definitely best when it is grilled over a charcoal fire and lightly seasoned with a bit of salt or a light mixture of soy sauce and grated daikon, and this exactly the way Ootoya prepared it! A couple seated next to me ordered the same, but the waitress informed them they were already sold out for the day. So my timing was perfect. Or maybe I was just lucky and got the last one!

http://ootoya.us

 

Price: $21 for grilled fresh sanma (Pacific Saury) Teishoku set

Neighborhood: Times Square

Dress code: Smart casual

They don’t take reservations, so be there early before the lunch/dinner peak crowd. There are plenty of counter seats available so dining alone is easy.

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Sakamai

Since I met Shochu Master Stephen Lyman of Kampai US, who poured selected shochu for New York’s first Shochu Happy Hour here, I have wanted to dine at Sakami. And it was important to wait for the right time with the right people in order to fully appreciate the ‘Sakamai’ experience. On a Friday evening at the end of summer I decided to go with two gentlemen I recently got to know – one is an American lawyer and the other is a Japanese banker. Both have lived all over the world and understand what real Japanese food is and tastes like. (And they have no food restriction, this is important to fully enjoy true Japanese food.)

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We started with Sui Gyoza (boiled pork dumpling with ponzu sauce and hot sesame oil) and Kakuni Sliders (braised pork belly, mustard, and tomato on brioche buns). Even though I often see pork buns in various Asian restaurants in the city, I would say these are one of the best I have ever had. They use Mugifuji pork and it seemed to melt in my mouth. Next was yakisaba sushi from the seafood menu, which is grilled mackerel on sushi rice with a spicy sesame-soy taste. One friend really loved it and was tempted to order seconds. But instead he decided to save room for chicken namban. This is actually a popular food in Miyazaki Japan where Sakami’s Chef Akiyama came from. It is fried chicken with tartar sauce. Every time I visit Miyazaki, I try the dish in various restaurants as each has chef has his/her own style. Here the tartar sauce was seasoned with red paprika. As a “shime”, or last course, we opted for the Cha Soba Salad which is basically a green tea soba salad. The noodles were flavorful and delicious and a pleasant surprise to my taste buds!

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While we were having our food we ordered variety of sake and shochu. What makes Sakamai different from other Japanese restaurants is the high quality of service combined with their knowledge of paring beverages and dishes together (not that other Japanese restaurants can’t do this – it just seems Sakamai is a step above the rest and they can do in native English, not in Janglish (Japanese English). Seriously, this is very important for non-Japanese speakers if they really want to understand about sake. This time we could pair the perfect sake and shochu with our food selection, thanks to Jamie Graves, the General Manager at SakaMai. He attended the World Sake Sommelier competition in Tokyo as one of ten finalists; he was also one of finalists for a Judge’s Selection Award in 2014.

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http://sakamai.com

Price: $200 including tip for 3 of us

Neighborhood: East Village

Dress code: Smart casual

Catering and Private Parties are available

Teshigotoya(Closed)

The opening of Teshigotoya has been announced for a while and my Japanese friends in NYC were very much exited about it. I finally had an opportunity to dine there on a weekday night. Teshigotoya means “hand-made place” and the restaurant is literally preparing their food in that fashion in an open kitchen visible from every table. According to Chopsticks NY magazine, Keita Rosenfield, the chef of this amazing cozy place, is big on seasonal ingredients. When I visited with a long time Japanese friend, there was a long list of autumn menu choices showcasing harvest delicacies. Even though we were tempted to try some of these options, we decided to choose from the regular menu dishes as there were an equal number of items we wanted to try.

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We started with ‘Potato Salad Cake’, which upon arrival seemed more like a beautiful dessert than a dish of potatoes and vegetables mixed in. It had several red layers that I believe were thinly sliced beets with authentic Japanese potato salad in between. The taste confirmed that it was homemade and seemingly from the freshest ingredients. Next was corn tempura. This is only the second time I have found this dish in the US. Teshigotoya’s version is definitely a handcrafted appetizer because the corn kernels were still intact, deep fried, and served in small rectangular bites. I could taste the sweetness of the corn even after the frying, and it was beautifully served against a squared section of the cob. We were about to order another “Okawari” which is refill.

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For the main entree, it was a tough decision as there were many attractive items on the menu – both meat and seafood. Since both of us had eaten sushi the day before, we opted for a couple of meat dishes to share. I order a grilled pork steak with a demi glace sauce. The pork was tender and perfectly grilled with the sauce being nice and thick. The price was only $15 and I was very surprised given the size and quality. The second dish was garlic-fried rice with a ribeye steak. According to the menu, the dish was categorized as “shime” or “last dish”. In Japanese dining culture, rice and noodle are often served in the last course. I was expecting something like traditional fried rice with small cubes of steak tossed in. Instead, however, it was more like a regular ribeye steak (with very little fat and had the texture/tenderness of filet mignon) served over a generous portion of fried rice. My friend and I really liked this choice, and both of us agreed to come back here sometime soon again – just to order this dish again.

There were also several varieties of Sake, Shochu and Japanese beers available to pair with delicious dishes. The very knowledgeable staff will guide you which beverage suites best to your choice of tapas.

http://teshigotoyanyc.wix.com/teshigotoya

Price: $120 including tip and several beverages for the two of us

Neighborhood: East Village

Dress code: Smart casual

Nice for date, small group, relatively quiet

Takeout: Yes

Yuzu – Washington DC

As mentioned before, I try to dine at local Japanese restaurants when I visit other U.S. cities. I have introduced Nagomi and Tamari in Washington, and a blog reader suggested Yuzu in the close-in suburb of Bethesda across the street from the Bethesda Station on the Metro’s Red Line/one station North of the Washington city limits.   According to their website, Yuzu is an authentic Japanese restaurant dedicated to serving fresh, seasonal and traditional Japanese dishes. The chef is Yoshi Ota and has created a menu that would likely please any taste.

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My guest and I ordered more than five appetizer dishes (the corn tempura is an absolute must!) and were impressed with the flavor and quality of each. For the main entrée I ordered “Chef’s Chirashi” — traditional chirashi deconstructed with a small chirashi of mixed toppings on bed of sushi rice alongside a plate of premium sashimi. I could not believe this was available for $35 given both the quality and quantity! My friend ordered the beef yakiniku and was equally impressed with the meat’s flavor and tenderness.

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In my opinion Yuzu is a gem located a few minutes outside of DC that is well worth a cab or train ride (nearby parking is also available). In my experience with other Japanese restaurants around the world, Yuzu offers an outstanding experience at very reasonable prices. And I will definitely include this restaurant in my list of favorites in the nation’s capital.

http://yuzubethesda.com

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Price: $100 for our selection including tip and drinks

Neighborhood: Bethesda, Washington DC area

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Yes – bar and counters are available

Takeout: Yes

EN Japanese Brasserie

One of my best friends from Japan came to visit me in NYC. He currently lives in Kyoto, and he wanted me to take him to a Japanese restaurant offering Obansai. Obansai is a traditional style of Japanese cuisine native to Kyoto. The cooking/dishes are mainly comprised of vegetables and seafood – and are prepared very simply. I thought it was a challenging request when compared to the availability of sushi, ramen, and bento – Obansai is a quite a new concept for Americans and not so sure if it is fully accepted as most people would confuse this style with traditional bento.

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After some research I discovered that En Japanese Brasserie offered a surprisingly impressive variety of Obansai. I heard from other local Japanese friends that En is always busy on the weekends so I booked a reservation in advance. The seating area is spacious and contemporary, and the environment replicated a feeling of being in Japan but on a much larger scale. Upscale restaurants in Japan have similar designs but are generally confined to a much smaller footprint.

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We ordered an Obansai plate with three choices: Hijiki (hijiki seaweed, snow peas, green beans, shirataki, and soybeans simmered in soy), Nasu & Zucchini Agebitashi (fried Japanese eggplant and zucchini, chilled and marinated in dashi, with katsuobushi), Buta Bara to Renkon Kimpira (soy-braised thinly sliced pork belly and lotus root). We both were fully satisfied with the taste and then ordered the Stone Grilled Beef and a selection of sushi for entrees. Since this is a food blog I think I need to describe the food with detail vs. of only saying you liked it. But, we really did not recall anything other that we liked all of them. I think because this is we enjoyed the whole package as a great Japanese experience.

En is pricier than other Japanese restaurants but the quality of the food and elegant, cozy atmosphere are well worth it. I highly recommend this restaurant for entertaining out of town guests or for special occasions.

http://www.enjb.com

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Price: $160 for our selection including tip and drinks

Neighborhood: West Village

Dress code: High-end casual

Dining alone: Yes — bar and counters are available, however, I recommend enjoying this beautiful restaurant with others

Takeout: Yes

Nishida Sho-Ten – 1st Anniversary Specials

I happened to find Nishida Sho-Ten when I was walking in Midtown last winter. The design of the shop reminded me of a local noodle house in the neighbourhood where I grown up.

The shop’s website says “once you step inside Nishida Shoten, it feels like you’ve traveled in time to a whole different era! Bringing back a lot of memories for Japanese people, our retro ramen shop has been modeled in the style of a ramen shop from the Japanese Showa period, 50 years ago. Ramen was born in Japan, and furthermore, so was the Showa era.” Now in Japan, things from Showa era are popular, from food to fashion. In a sense, Nishida Sho-Ten is the most cutting-edge Japanese restaurant in NY.

Few month after, I finally made it. As I do in other ramen restaurant, I had a Miso ramen, but this time I had to debate as there were plenty different noodles that I had missed for a while. I will come back here to have a Hiyashi Chuka!

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With the retro looking, I thought the restaurant had been doing business here for a while, but it has just started last year and they are currently offering 1 year Anniversassy Special until July 26. They offer their signature ramen Kuro Kakuni and Shiro Kakuni with only $8!

http://nishidasho-ten.com

Price: Most ramen dishes are priced less than $15, toppings an additional $1-2, and appetizers less than $10

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: No probrem

 

 

Hakata Tonton

Another tip-free Japanese restaurant I found is Hakata Tonton. Tonton basically means pork dishes in a cute sounding way, and Hakata is one of the biggest cities in Japan located in Kyusyu Island. Hakata is also famous for Tonkotsu soup ramen.

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I originally thought this was a ramen restaurant, however, I learned that Hakata Tonton specializes in Japanese hotpots with pork broth. Upon entering I noticed that every table ordered the hotpot – something that seemed very unique to me outside of Japan.

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I dined alone and explored the different options available on the menu. I ordered potato salad with spicy caviar that was absolutely delicious. I love traditional Japanese potato salad, but this combination with caviar was unquestionably enjoyable. But in keeping with my original motivation to try this restaurant, I ordered Hakata-style stir-fried ramen noodles served on a bed of teppan, something that I have not found elsewhere in NYC. The dish was equally delightful!

Another unique point: like other well-known restaurants such as Ippudo and Hide Chan which originated in Kyushu, Hakata Tonton is promoting this type of Hakata style as a “Southwest Japanese” variety. I am glad to see this as New Yorkers and others are able to learn that Japan has a vast array of regional specialties.

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http://www.tontonnyc.com

Price: $29.4 for my selection, no tip required

Neighborhood: West Village

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Counter available, but I would suggest coming with others to try the hotpot

Takeout: yes, even for hotpot dishes

 

Sushi Yasuda

A follower recently asked why I have not yet introduced any sushi restaurants in my blog. To be honest I have not sought out sushi restaurants in NYC – I may order sushi as part of a meal in other restaurants — but I have not looked to find pure, sushi-only venues here in the city. And that is mainly because I lived near Tsukiji in Japan (for those of you unfamiliar, read more about it here) and I am confident that I cannot find any restaurant that can replicate the level of quality and/or experience of Tsukiji. When living in Tokyo I would stop by the market and have fresh sushi for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at one of small sushi bars located around the market. I look forward to visiting Tsukiji every time I return home for my fix of the world’s best sushi.

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With that being said, Sushi Yasuda is my first premium-category sushi restaurant to try in NYC. Everyone says they serve the best quality of sushi and sashimi in the U.S., however, in this entry I wanted to focus on the way they uphold and preserve the true Japanese sushi bar culture. The ‘normal’ expectation in a typical sushi bar is to simply enjoy the food – nothing more – basically eat and leave. No long after-chats with friends or endlessly surfing the web on a smartphone. This style could come as a shock to those high-maintenance New Yorkers who expect to linger after a meal. And I must also mention that Sushi Yasuda follows the tradition of not expecting customers to pay tips when settling the bill.

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And even though I said I wanted to focus on the culture, I would be remiss if I did not state that the lunch combo set (with miso soup and choice of nigiri and maki) is very reasonably priced and equally as good as Tsukiji.

http://www.sushiyasuda.com

Price: $30 for my selection, and remember, no tip required

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Casual/Business casual; suggest avoiding shorts/sandals for dinner

Dining alone: Comfortable. Great counter serviced by a sushi chef

Aburiya Kinnosuke

I used to often go to robata restaurants when I lived in Tokyo — especially in wintertime. “Robata-yaki” translates literally in to “fireside cooking” where food items on metal skewers are slow grilled over hot charcoals. Aburiya Kinnosuke is one restaurant that offers the traditional robata style in NYC Traditionally the food consists of a variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables.

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Robatayaki is the perfect option for cold, winter New York nights. I attempted for three consecutive weekends to book a dinner reservation without success – all available times were grabbed by others who had the same idea. Now summer is approaching! Instead I had success by going for lunch.  The menu for lunch was surprisingly great. They offered a variety of Japanese traditional cuisine, which also included miso soup, rice, and dessert. I picked the “Chef’s Choice Lunch Special” whereby only 10 sets are available daily. I considered myself lucky to have teishoku of Buri-Daikon, which is simmered yellowtail. Cooked with daikon radishes in a ginger soy sauce. I also added three kinds of sashimi, just cost less than $10. I would say that you may not find any other Japanese restaurant to offer this type of quality food in NYC for lunch – especially with this price range. I will keep looking for an opportunity to book for dinner!

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http://aburiyakinnosuke.com

Price: Most lunch sets are priced less than $20

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Casual, although most clients are business professional (at lunch time)

Dining alone: Possible, but recommended for group dinners if you would like to experience an authentic Tokyo style with private nooks