While next-door Sakagura identifies itself as a Tokyo style space, Soba Totto offers a Kyoto style experience. As you can assume from the name, they serve mainly delicious homemade soba noodles and yakitori selection. Yakitori is grilled skewered chicken, but sometime refers to skewered food in general. Totto means chicken in casual Japanese. I have dined here few times for dinner with Japanese friends, and the experience equals that of yakitori bars in Japan.
I personally like to visit here for lunch. In fact, it is popular place among business people with seats filling very quickly. Soba Totto operates very efficiently without the staff being too rude or too slow. The restaurant serves varieties of lunch sets that comes with wafu (Japanese) salad and a choice of warm or cold soba in tasty dashi soup. Each time I dine here for lunch, I select one of the ‘don’ combos. The menu attracts all types of eaters unless you have restrictions (Halal needs, vegetarian, etc.), and thus far I have tried: Sashimi Tuna Don (soy marinated tuna, grated yam and egg over rice), Salmon Oyako Don (grilled salmon flake, salmon roe and shredded egg over rice), Gindara Miso (miso cured black cod fish). There are xxx number of other choices, and my goal is to complete the list in the near future!
Price range: $20-$35 for lunch
Dress code: Business / Casual
Dining alone: Counter is available
Sakagura means “sake warehouse” in Japanese and this restaurant serves more than 200 different varieties of sake. It is probably one of the most popular Japanese restaurants in Midtown at this time. When I moved to NYC, most people I know, both Japanese and American, referred and suggested this restaurant to me. I visited several times and quickly understood why: great location just a few minutes from Grand Central, nice atmosphere, and a wonderful selection of sake and cuisine. And many Japanese businesses are located in the area which means this restaurant has to meet the expectations of their salary men and women and their visiting colleagues. But this location is favored by more than just Japanese clientele — scanning the crowd on a busy weekend night revealed many non-Japanese — and a full house.
When I had a guest visiting from out of town, my first choice was to dine at Sakagura for the above reasons. My friend worked in Tokyo for several years as an Expatriate and loves Japanese food, however, he does not eat any type of seafood. Sakagura is a great choice for this type of customer. We ordered several grilled dishes such as fried chunks of chicken marinated in sake and ginger and infused soy sauce (Tori Karaage), beef steak (self cooked on a hot stone!) and stewed diced pork (Buta Kakuni) . But I couldn’t go without Sakagura’s tuna tartar (chopped tuna with flying fish roe and steeped in Yuzu and Caviar).
There is a common perception that Japanese food only equals sushi. For example, when I suggest Japanese for lunch with an officemate or dinner with friends, I often receive a “sorry, I don’t eat seafood” reply. This may be because many restaurants over-emphasize sushi and sashimi, or perhaps non-seafood items are hidden within their menu. Sakagura does an excellent job of setting the record straight — while there are indeed delicious sushi choices available, there are also many other traditional dishes worth ordering.
Price: $160 for our selection including two beers and tip
Dinning alone: Slightly uncomfortable especially on weekends, however counter space is available if you prefer to dine solo
Dress code: Smart casual; I would say Sakagura is higher end Izakaya
Happy New Year 2015
I have spent the winter holidays in Japan and visited many Japanese restaurants so far. Tsukiji district is the place I never try to miss while my trip home. There are various good restaurants – not only sushi – around the market. Tokyo city government announced that the fish market relocate to Toyosu area within few years. Before the relocation, I wanted to visit as many as restaurants around there. Some of them had already decided to close the business and won’t move to new location.
Being back in Japan always gives me great opportunity to follow the latest trends of Japanese cuisine and actually experience it. This makes available for me to compare with Japanese restaurants in NYC. In 2015, I am looking forward to introducing more restaurants here in NYC to share readers.