The Other Japanese

Autre Kyo Ya

You can’t leave this restaurant and not feel like you’ve just arrived home from a delightful trip far far away. . This post is about a lovely late spring dinner but every season is supremely celebrated here.

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It’s an intricate balance of French and Japanese influenced cooking with timely ingredients found locally and in Japan that are then applied to more traditional French techniques. West meets east then congas through shifting seasonality to create something else entirely. Chefs Shuji and Takashi both worked at Kyo-Ya and also come from backgrounds that include French training for Shuji as well as Takashi’s experience from Kajitsu, the lovely Japanese focused vegetarian restaurant in midtown.

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They took over a restaurant called The Barrel but the decor is very fitting for them. Elegant but comfortable. Warm and glowing.

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They have sake, wine, beer plus an interesting cocktail list, lighter and Japanese focused with elements like yuzu citrus jam and edible flowers. Plus there’s a cocktail hour from 530pm – 7pm with $1 oysters. So no excuses for not going.

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The menu is less extravagant than the mothership of Kyo-Ya, their mainly kaiseki restaurant on East ninth street. And while that restaurant, near and dear to my heart and tastebuds is remarkably unique, the thinking here too is intriguing and creative.

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Hand made plates.

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Goma-Tofu Cocktail with house-made sesame tofu, bonito-kombu broth & hanaho flower.

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A chilled and layered broth in a martini glass with excellent house-made sesame tofu that has just enough texture to keep it lively. Beautifully leveled tastes that incorporate hojiso, the sprigs of the shiso plant studded with tiny cupped flowers with seeds and miyoga, the young tender buds of the Japanese ginger plant. Executed masterfully and very inventive.

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Hokkaido Sea Urchin Consomme Gelee with onset-style egg. Delicate uni topped with edible flowers, an utterly opulent slow poached egg ever so gently cooked, in a gelée crossed with the very present sweetness of parsnip puree. The chilled broth melts on your tongue, the citrus aromatics really brighten and balance the richness of the egg. It’s smooth, viscous, ethereal. A fabulous dish.

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Gindara Tsubu-Miso, Miso marinated black cod with roasted shallots & pickled kohlrabi, you might think ubiquitous but you’d be wrong.

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Next are several dishes involving mushrooms, oysters,  seafood tempura, daikon and custard. All distinctive and gratifying.

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From the spring seasonal menu, White Asparagus and Seared Scallop with scallop dashi sauce, candy beet & watermelon radish. A playful combination of creamy, crispy, sweet and mild.

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Sakura Ebi Kamadaki Rice, the claypot rice dish of the evening, assembled and served at the table.

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Kakiage, mitsuba greens, myoga, ponzu, yuzu-kosho. Toothsome kernels of rice flavored by fish and smoke. It’s a refined but deep layering of tastes.

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They serve sake with true panache.

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Between Kyo-Ya, the ultra serene cocktail bar Angel’s Share and Sunrise Mart, one of the better places for Japanese food shopping in the city and just next door, the owners have created a mini empire in the East Village. And at Autre they also pay attention to execution and beautiful presentation. And they succeed. Autre, opened less than a year ago is a bit more casual, more affordable than its counterpart and less exotic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not stellar and its own experience. Because it is and it is.

 

Autre Kyo Ya

10 Stuyvesant Street between Second/Third Avenue

212.598.0454

Open:

Tues-Wed 5:30pm–11pm (last call 10:30pm)

Thurs-Fri 5:30pm-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sat 11am-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sun 11am-10pm (last call 9:30pm)

DINNER & WEEKEND BRUNCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh My Omakase at Jado Sushi

Jado   (sadly…CLOSED)

Omakase in NYC is akin to the Holy Grail. Some seem to think that its special virtues will reward the connoisseur with lifelong happiness and at least a few super powers. And the conversations (um…arguments?) about where is best and who is best can drive anyone to forego the experience and just get a slice of pizza. Ha. Oh no no no. That particular debate will take your last shred of patience and land you on the sofa with some variation of take-away. So, pizza and best this or that aside, let’s talk about an outstanding omakase and let’s talk about Harlem.

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Upon entering, you could be anywhere. Pleasant, non-descript restaurant. Tables filled with diners doing the local sushi pub kind of thing. Fine but apparently not the food Jado is being exalted for. That, my friends is in the back at the L- shaped sushi bar.

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There’s an abundance of hipper than thou downtown sushi spots on the hot grid right now and they get all the whoop whoops and hollering. Many deservedly so. But here on the cult circuit is Chef Nakajima. He arrived at Jado last December having been a long cherished figure at Sushiden, Shinbashi and Sushi of Gari.

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This is legitimate Edomae sushi. Classic Tokyo nigiri style and Nakajima-san is a third generation sushi chef from Tokyo. Here’s the skinny. No farmed fish, mostly everything is flown in from Japan. But not just the bounty that every top place in the United States shares in from Tsukiji Market. His family has their own shop in Tokyo and their personal vendors send him the good stuff, varieties that few are privy to. Chef goes to Fulton Fish Market daily as well as trekking to New England for prime product. He likes to source locally as much as possible and has said that a phone call will not suffice, he must see the fish in person. He’s exacting and ultra conscientious. The private stock is kept in his personal refrigerator for the tasting menu. And his anago? Signature and spectacular. He only serves eight people a night so a reservation is a good idea.

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Thoughtful details enhance a chill neighborhood vibe. No scene. Epic experience.

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We had a fantastic meal. The rice (shari) was perfect. Temperature and chew matched the fish beautifully. Diver scallops from Boston, fried shrimp heads from Japan, various mackerel, makogarei from Kagoshima, abalone from Seattle steamed in saké, nodoguro from Maizuru, Kyoto, maguro no shuto – tuna belly aged for two years was a delight. And there was more…

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This dinner was in May so we were graced with a little amuse of fiddlehead ferns and celery. Superb.

Just a few pics of the service. Better to just go and enjoy it in person.

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Ahi from Chiba, Madai from Fukuoka, Japan…

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Very seasonal. Nicely marinated. Fabulous.

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Wild big-eyed tuna from Ecuador. Meltingly glorious.

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Sayori from Yokosuka, Kanagawa Japan.

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Bafun uni

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Smelt tempura.

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The chef sliced off a bit for us lucky diners and sent it back to the personal fridge with an associate.

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It became this.

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Sushi chefs preparing food for the dining room.

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Chef Nakajima grates his own wasabi and pickles his extraordinary ginger using a secret family recipe he will never disclose, and serves it chunked. Truly the best ginger I’ve ever had. I loved it so much, he fed me as much as I wanted and then sent me home with a little package of my own serving.

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They have a lovely saké selection. We had two bottles and then this icing on the saké cake. Sadly, I don’t recollect what we had. But there was a nice selection. That much I know!

Omakase starts at $85 per person but easily gets up to $150 and points north if you just can’t say no. The level here is at the top of the food chain but because of the uptown location, you get more for your dialing dollar. Chef Nakajima is adorable, generous and beyond talented with a piece of fish. All this and it found its place in the ‘hood.

Maybe it’s true about the Grail. This meal might have given me eternal youth. Certainly made me happy. I’m a fan.

Jado Sushi
2118 Frederick Douglass Blvd between 114/115th Street
212.866.2118
Tuesday-Sunday starting at 5pm

Bar Goto A Go To Bar To Go To…

Bar Goto

Through a glass darkly could be the theme here in this glowy, seductive cocktail izakaya. With the surfeit of lovely places to drink around town, from speakeasies to any raucous downtown scene – you’d think there wouldn’t be need for more. But there’s always room for one more isn’t there? And Bar Goto is more than just another hip bar. It’s a pretty fabulous, intimate, innovative, interesting bar by treasured alum Kenta Goto from Pegu Club fame.

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A warm summer evening and the windows are open to a quiet part of Eldridge Street. The wooden door swings wide, there’s Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack, smoldering lighting, congenial, casually sophisticated crowd and a warm welcome. I’m in.

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You can grab a seat at the lovely walnut bar or stake out a table. It’s a small architecturally creative space and can easily get crowded but it’s generally very comfortable. If there’s a wait, it’s actually a civil wait. Respect and graciousness rule the roost.

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That’s the mise-en-scene, but the stars here are the Japanese tapas-esque plates ready for sharing and of course the signature cocktails that demand to be tasted one by one. Each one sounds fantastic. $15 per drink and you can go through several quite handily. No worries if you want something to be made for you from a favorite assemblage, or you prefer straight sake, wine, beer or your spirit of choice. But the signature cocktails are off the charts. They are exquisite, not meant to send you under the table but to settle on the palate, caress the taste buds, satisfy the soul.

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One of the much talked about cocktails. And for good reason. The Sakura Martini comprised of sake, gin, heightened by a maraschino musk and adorned with a beautiful dried cherry blossom. It’s delightfully velvety and the second one is even better than the first.

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Another favorite for me is The Far East Side (from early Pegu fame), a heady little combo of sake, tequila, shiso, elderflower, lemon and yuzu bitters. Oh, it may not get better than this. It’s not too much of any one thing, perfectly blended…nectar, heaven, divine – the holy trinity of cocktail description. But for real. And with a generously sized muddled shiso leaf.

Kenta along with great longtime bartender (and former cohort) Mat Resler, stand behind the bar liquifying magic. On a second visit sans camera, drank the Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler with gin, watermelon, cucumber, lime, lemon and wasabi salt tasting sublimely better then you’d imagine if the mix was in lesser hands. Summer at its best. The Matcha Milk Punch with matcha, sencha, vodka and half & half. I love that Goto described this drink as a concept bringing together tea ceremonies with the classic milk punch. It allows for the delicate green tea flavor to have prime focus. A relaxed finish to any deliciously alcohol infused evening here.

No perfect bar (or izakaya) could actually be such without food that complements intricately designed drinks…or maybe even dishes that hold their own. As it happens, Mr Goto, who clearly has taken great care and pride with every last facet of his lounge, also has the esteemed Chef Kiyo Shinoki (from semi-secret Bohemian fame) in the kitchen.

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Something as simple as celery becomes profound. The Kobu Celery is fresh celery with salted kobu seaweed, roasted sesame, sesame oil and red shiso flakes. Brilliant. Don’t smirk. This is celery at it’s absolute best. Would eat it every day.

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New York City loves a food phenomenon and currently the top banana, or top pancake is the Okonomi-Yaki, savory cabbage pancakes served with okonomi-sauce, drizzled kewpie mayo plus dried bonito flakes and picked red ginger on the side. That’s just the base. Served in cast iron pans, there are five choices on the menu and I’ve tried two so far. The Fisherman’s version with octopus, rock shrimp, and calamari and the Herbivore with shitake & shimeji mushrooms, nira-leek, carrot and scallions. Loved them both. There’s also a pork belly, seafood, cheese variation, an all grilled cheese with sun dried tomatoes kind, and the Carnivore with pork belly, chicken and bacon. Everybody can be happy.

Love the Pickle bar snack, vegetables done in house are great but it’s that yuzu pepper paste that will drag you back. Gobo French Fries – fried Japanese burdock roots, with shichimi-pepper & sea salt, another snap-them-up-while-you-imbibe-delicacies kind of treat.

Miso Chicken Wings have become a mini legend. Split in two so you nibble off one bone, getting more crunch and popping the flavor. The wings with roasted black sesame, scallions and a miso buffalo hot sauce are knocking socks off all the way around.

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Bar Goto is a cool customer. Chic but beautifully bound in the heritage of its owner. Kenta Goto was a favored bartender for seven years at Pegu. Now a charming and gracious host, his culture and ancestry are clearly ingrained in the man and the place. As a master in calligraphy, he’s included his last name in the bar logo as an homage to his family. His food remarks on a similar restaurant that his mother runs just outside of Tokyo and his grandmother’s 100 year old kimono has become part of the wall art.

In an early interview, Goto essentially said that his plan was to offer a new and evolving perspective about Asian themed cocktails, modernizing the classics and feature Japanese staples like yuzu, miso and shiso. In this smoky, sexy, chill spot – he’s doing just that. I am forever grateful.

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Bar Goto
245 Eldridge Street between Stanton & East Houston
212.475.4411
Tuesday-Thursday 5pm to midnight, Friday-Saturday until 2am, Sunday until midnight

Lebanese, Armenian & Fun…Oh My

Al Mayass

Scene: Somewhere in the middle east. Hotel dining room for homesick ex pats and per diem’d journalists. Bright pastel clad service staff charge about trying to keep up. Accents abound, though very few are from the region.

But now, live from New York is this same luxe version of Lebanese/Armenian food hailing from its established roots in Beirut and Kuwait. Al Mayass NYC is finally here! Still feels like a pretty but carefully constructed hotel dining room. And when I consider last night’s dinner, I think of a neutral background with blasts of intense color. That goes for the decor and the food. Dishes seem simple, unadorned and then a pop of color, of taste, of za za zing clues you in to the layers of thought and preparation.

It’s rather lovely even if not quite ready for primetime. A few more served meals will benefit all. The night we were there involved a variety of kitchen mishaps and an eager staff with all ultimately solved by an incredibly generous manager in the true spirit of customer consideration and hospitality. A rarely seen combination.

The menu is extensive and I look forward to trying every hot and cold mezze eventually. It’s like a sacred book when presented to you at the table. Enticing.

We shared a few bottles of an Alsatian Pinot Gris, any gaffes were softened and then forgotten. What’s divinely memorable are 85% of the dishes. A zillion variations of hummus so we took the waiter’s recommend of the house version – hummus a la almayass. Absolutely fabulous and given my chickpea snobbery, that praise doesn’t come lightly. Spicy but as not to overwhelm, just to titillate.

A generic bread basket sits atop a colorful Persian crown and is filled with the lightest, fluffiest pita as well as crisps that were devoured before chosen accompaniments arrived – the peppery olive oil made an excellent foil.

Fatoush salad was incredibly fresh, tangy and textured with those favored crisps now appearing as a velvety crunch among the greens and tomatoes.

Mantee Spinach was pleasant enough, surprising texture provided by baked, boat shaped ravioli filled with seasoned spinach. They’re bathed in a creamy garlic yogurt sauce topped with red pepper. We mistakenly received the lamb version first and our table strongly preferred the spinach version.

It’s a middle eastern meatopia here. You can have it on a kebab, as kefti, grilled, shredded, and sided with one of several rosy looking spicy or sweet dips. Perfectly charbroiled lamb made up for lackluster seafood. Those were better for the condiments that came with. Samkah Harra, an appetizer of red snapper filet served with a sesame paste, cilantro, garlic sauce was a bit dry sans paste. The grilled prawns were on the chewy side but I requested a little Muhammara on the side and used it as a prawn condiment. That was superb. The brightness of crushed walnuts, red pepper paste and pomegranate molasses could perk up any lesser plate.

Persian desserts are enchanting. Honey, sesame, pistachio and rose combined become exotic. Complex, beguiling – no homey chocolate or vanilla here. We had a sampler of rice puddings – with rosewater, with cinnamon, with cream upon cream, a piece of turkish delight that was fine but didn’t hold a candle to the fantastically light and rich halvah.

The ashta custard was good, served with the above honey and rose syrup, but the outstanding jewel in this crown was something that a dining companion referred to as fairy food. And indeed – that is one apt description. I think it’s called Osmalich Almayass. It’s “golden crisp sweet vermicelli filled with ashta, topped with traditional floss halva” and strands of white cotton candy. Gossamer wings melting in your mouth.

There’s a sister lounge two doors down from the restaurant, a perfect place to partake in drinks and small plates if a full dinner isn’t the thing.

Rounding out the gastronomic pops of taste and color are scattered vessels filled with brightly hued hard candy balls. Maybe it’s a Persian grandma thing! In any case, it’s a sweet thought, a little unusual and rather compelling. Much like the whole experience.

Al Mayass
24 East 21st Street between Broadway/Park Avenue
212.473.3100

Naka Naka Who’s There?

Naka Naka

I’m such a rabid seeker of new adventures that sometimes I forget to return to calmer waters. Old favorites. Not just for comfort though that’s a perfectly good reason for choosing a restaurant but because there is some fabulous food out there offered in an arresting ambiance and like a good potato chip – no reason to eat just once.

This chelsea Japanese is such a place. But Japan in another century. Pry open the oyster to find a luminescent pearl and you have arrived in Naka Naka. About 18 seats, some of which surround an elevated platform, rice paper screens and a kimono clad staff who quietly explain the evening’s menu brought to you on a chalkboard. Your chopsticks are resting on a beautiful origami crane, the music ranges from twenties Paris to edgy alternative but only as a zen backdrop and one cup of unfiltered sake later, paradise on a plate is not far behind.

The uni is briny and sweet and the portion generous. I’m a sucker for lotus root in any form but their sauteed version in a light shitake sauce rivals my favorite chinese classic. The sweet and salty oshinko works beautifully as a companion with the brilliantly fresh sushi and I do love a tasty hamachi collar. Their rice is seasoned well, toothsome and never vinegary. Then there’s the course that rounds out the meal..zaru udon or zaru soba served as you like, hot or cold. Combined with their signature duck, tempura vegetables or just a minimal spray of scallions makes a very satisfying dinner all the more delightful. The udon is plump, the soba a buckwheat dream and though not in need of anything more, I can’t leave a drop of the broth.

So now sated with food and outrageously good sake we all push the envelope just a tidge more because…well, because there’s mochi! I can’t love a dessert more and the Naka Naka mochi is everything one wants pounded sticky rice coated with a dusting of white (the sweet kind!) and wrapped around a ball of sweet ice cream to be – in case that was a goal for you. Talk about score.

And if a more private affair is required, there’s a charming enclosed area that seats up to six shoeless people on tatami mats, though there is a ten dollar per guest room surcharge.

Naka Naka
458 West 17th Street btwn Ninth/Tenth Avenue
212.929.8544
open Tuesday through Saturday 6pm-midnight