Having a friend in Manhattan on a chilly Friday evening, I wanted to have a warm and cozy place to catch up. We ended up at Columbus Circle and found several nice restaurants in Time Warner Center complex. We opted for BarMasa where there was immediate seating (8:30 on a Friday night!) and were escorted to a small row of tables located behind translucent fabric draping. The simple, elegant atmosphere was very similar to that found throughout Japan.
The menu contained a number of appetizer and entrée options without being overly extensive (although somewhat geared to those who like seafood). We started with steamed chicken dumplings (gyoza) that were perfectly prepared followed by average, somewhat expensive sushi and rolls. Nabeyaki udon with shrimp tempura and fried garlic-beef rice were the main courses. The fried rice contained a reasonable portion of tender beef and fresh vegetables, and the noodles served in a traditional pot were perfect for a rainy evening. The portion size was perfect in that we both felt satisfied without being overly full. We did, however, opt out of dessert and settled for less expensive Brooklyn-baked options from the downstairs Whole Foods.
Overall BarMasa is a great place for a quiet, comfortable atmosphere where one can catch up with friends or experience a first date. The interior mall location provides protection from the elements as well as an opportunity to window shop or stroll after eating a nice meal. This setting is appealing in NY’s typical cold and windy winter weather.
Price: $300 for our selection (two adults)
Dinning alone: Slightly uncomfortable, but counter is available
Dress code: High-end casual
Neighborhood: Columbus Circle
During lunchtime in Murray Hill, I sometimes experience difficulty with finding a quiet place (perhaps slightly semi-formal) for lunch with colleagues or guests. A Japanese coworker who has lived in NYC more than 10 years took me to Kokage – described by her as one of her hidden pleasures. And it was immediately apparent why. The service was impeccable – polite and efficient – an exact replica of that found in a first-class restaurant in Tokyo.
The meal service is traditional Japanese in style, with one customer even dressed in kimono. The restaurant serves authentic Japanese food with finest seasonal ingredients from Japan as well as local fresh market. There are some don choices (Wagyu Beef Donburi, Tuna Donburi for example), sushi choices, and noodle choices. The food is both simple and complex at the same time. I ordered the Wagyu Beef Udon and the soup broth amazed me. It had a rich, subtle taste that was incredible (and not too salty like many other establishments tend to do). Inari sushi and Japanese style vegetable dishes came with the meal. It looks the menu changes every few months. I am looking forward to coming back to try various seasonal taste.
For dessert, we were offered choices ranging from matcha pudding to chocolate cake. I selected the matcha pudding, which was as tasty as I normally have in a high-end restaurant in Tokyo. The pudding came topped with berries that provided a nice flavor contrast. Highly recommended! I would choose this restaurant for business lunch and dinner.
Price: $20 per person for lunch
Dress code: Smart casual to business
Neighborhood: Murray Hill
Dining Alone: May not comfortable as there is no counter
Also worth mentioning:
Kajitsu, a vegetarian-focused sister restaurant is available both for lunch and dinner upstairs.
I wanted to have Ramen so I stopped by Naruto at 3rd Avenue. It was super crowded with people even waiting outside on the street. My stomach was not in the mood to wait, so I gave up and explored other options (although I will be returning Naruto in the very near future). Just after crossing the corner of 86th and 3rd, I found Kobeyaki, a newly opened restaurant in the Upper East Side after Midtown and Chelsea. Their mission is to provide Japanese food in a causal setting, and I have often thought that NYC could offer something like that with a Tokyo feel. I was right.
While I was expecting a variation of a typical Japanese restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised when I found a hamburger selection on the menu. And while the kobe beef burger nearly tempted my taste buds, I eventually picked the teriyaki grilled beef bowl with vegetables instead. The beef, according to Kobeyaki’s website, is naturally raised without any growth hormones or antibiotics. It was juicy and tender and melted in my mouth. Definitely a delicious alternative to my original quest for Ramen.
I also must admit that at first I thought the restaurant appeared to pre-make food like a number of other fast-casual dining chains, like Chipotle. Not the case. I noticed that each selection was made to order in the small kitchen – just like in Tokyo. Kobeyaki exceeded my expectations in its quality, price, and menu. I will definitely return and am already reconsidering that kobe beef burger with French fries. And for those who love Japanese beer, be sure to order a 60oz pitcher of cold Asahi to appease your thirst.
Price range: $8-$20
Dress code: Very casual
Dining alone: Very comfortable
Take out: Yes
Have you ever heard of a rice burger? It looks a hamburger with compressed rice cakes substituted for the buns. The MOS Burger fast food restaurant chain introduced the concept in 1987, and it has become a popular in Japan and East Asia. I really missed that particular taste and looked for an actual MOS Burger location or a similar alternative one weekend. My Swedish colleague suggested that I visit Little Tokyo within the East Village, mainly because that neighborhood attracts new concepts of Japanese food. Luckily I was able to find exactly what I was looking for at Yonekichi. Normally I am not a big eater and one regular hamburger is the perfect amount, but I could not just pick one during this visit! I settled for two choices — Tsukune, a chicken meatball patty, and Mugifuji Pork, a pork BBQ. Both tasted like heaven combined with flashback memories from my high school days when I had something similar as afternoon snacks!
Price: $8-$15 per person
Neighborhood: Little Tokyo, East Village
Dining option: Take out window with small chairs available out front