Omotenashi is a word in Japanese to describe warm hospitality. I believe people feel omotenashi in restaurants when employees anticipate guest’s needs and deliver outstanding service that seems natural — like that of a family. This type of experience or feeling is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and is often difficult to replicate and find outside of Japan. Naka Naka exemplifies omotenashi right here in NYC.
I was welcomed into the cozy wooden interior at Naka Naka by friendly staff wearing kimono. The counter area was designed to look like an old, traditional Japanese house which created an ‘at home’ atmosphere for me right away. The Japanese waitress explained the daily specials in our native tongue, and she used a dry-erase board as her guide while politely commenting about each dish. She repeated this process for other guests as well — and in doing so created an enjoyable Q&A session to ensure patrons were well informed of their potential orders.
I ordered Nambanzuke (fried fish with a sweet & sour taste) as an appetizer followed by a bento box of various traditional Japanese dishes for dinner. All selections were complicated and well executed (think of a garden in Kyoto that seems simple on the surface but contains perfected details throughout) — and delicious. I left feeling like I had just eaten dinner at my grandmother’s house (with a few extra foreign guests) and thinking I found a new favorite place.
Price: $75 for my selections including two beers, two small bottles of sake, and tip
Neighborhood: High Line
Dress code: Casual
Dining alone: Small counter available but probably better to be with a friend.
Japan Comes To Grand Central Terminal!
Japan Week is a promotional event encouraging travel to Japan. It is a cooperative effort between the Japan Tourism Agency, Japan National Tourism Organization, and diverse businesses in both US and Japan. Japan Week provides traveler information, introduces various foods and culture on destinations across Japan.
This year, Introduction of Depachika is a highlight. Depachika is food markets typically in the basements or lower floors of department stores in Japan, sell snacks, sweets, bentos and all kinds of street foods.
February 18 –20, 2015
February 18: 11AM to 8PM
February 19: 10AM to 8PM
February 20: 10AM to 7PM
One weekday evening I had dinner with an American friend who has lived in NYC for over 10 years. He had just returned from a 6-month assignment in Tokyo, and I was curious as to what type of food he had in mind. We ended up meeting at Union Square where he suggested Village Yokocho, an Izakaya style restaurant in the Little Tokyo section of the East Village.
This was my first visit to Izakaya in the United States. An Izakaya is typically a casual place where office colleagues and college students gather after work/school to drink sake or beer and munch on a variety of Japanese snacks. When I was studying and working in Tokyo, I generally went to izakaya at least twice weekly. These places are great, because competition helps to keep the prices down and the quality of food/service up. And I was curious what the experience would be in NYC as compared to back home.
In my opinion the atmosphere in Village Yokocho seemed very much like Izakaya in Japan except that it is non smoking — which is an extremely good thing for me. The choices of sake and food were very similar to that in Japan, and the same was true for the portion size. One cool thing I saw here was young couples on dates — which is a huge contrast to Japan where Izakaya is probably the last place couples would choose to meet for romantic evening. But an interesting international experience nonetheless!!
Price: $8-$15 per item with several pages of choices
Neighborhood: Little Tokyo, East Village
Dress code: Casual
Dining alone: No concerns, very comfortable
I once believed that only college students lived on ramen noodles. For me it was a way to keep a full stomach on a limited budget while achieving some sort of warm nourishment. Now it seems that ramen has become popular to many others outside of the dorm room. And I am not talking about the dried noodles that sleep in styrofoam cups until boiling water brings them to life. I’m talking about ramen venues outside of traditional Japanese restaurants that have been designed to appeal to the masses — and these types of shops have blossomed in NYC.
Hide-Chan Ramen is located at East 52nd between 2nd & 3rd Avenues. In Tokyo I had visited a Hide-Chan Ramen shop in Akasaka and had the best pork-based noodles ever, and I wondered if this NYC location would live up to those expectations. Simple answer: absolutely. And just like in Japan, there are various toppings one can add to his/her ramen for a few extra bucks.
I ordered Scallion Ramen which are ramen noodles in tonkotsu broth with fried scallions. The aromatic flavor of the scallions is not easily replicated within other restaurants in NYC, and I added a seasoned boiled egg as my optional topping. The ramen can be as soft or firm as you like — very firm, firm, medium, soft (not being specific will get you medium), and options for the broth are rich (Hakata style) or medium (NY style). If you prefer a less fatty option, I would suggest choosing the NY style.
Price range: $10-$15
Dress code: Casual
Dining alone: Even better to dine alone in a seat at counter to enjoy a drawing on the wall.
Take Out: Yes, but I suggest dining in to experience the rich, mouth-watering smell of fried scallions!