Category Archives: Japanese

Soba Noodle Azuma

THIS IS MY 500th RESTAURANT REVIEW!

Not really a big deal, but I figured I would mention that just for the fuck of it.

My wife and I noticed this joint while walking around the ‘hood, and since we are always interested in trying new noodle joints, we figured we would give it a shot.

We started with an order of fried octopus balls – not ‘pus testicles, but, rather, fried spheres with a creamy octopus-based filling.

These were excellent. Super tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. Hot though, so careful when you pop these balls into your mouth.

I’ve been on a Japanese fried chicken kick lately, so the next thing we tried was their fried chicken appetizer. For just $6.50 this was a great deal. Lots of good, juicy, tender thigh meat with an excellent golden crisp batter on the outside.

The way to go here is ordering their combination platters. My wife got this combo deal that came with soba noodles, sashimi, tempura and some other nice bits.

You can choose hot or cold soba (she picked hot), and small, medium or large orders are all the same price (S=100g; M=200g; and L=300g). Pictured above is a large.

I ordered a combo that came with soba noodles and a chicken and egg rice dish.

I, too, ordered large and hot.

I think, though, the noodles weren’t the star of the show here, as odd as that seems. All the stuff AROUND the noodles was better. Maybe because we picked hot/soup style? Perhaps the best way to go is cold noodles or tsukemen style (you dip the noodles into concentrated and flavored broth/sauce).

One last pair of things to mention: the desserts. My wife’s combo came with a scoop of ice cream. They were out of black sesame so she picked green tea. It was good but not quite sweet enough for my tastes. I generally dislike all things green tea, so take that assessment with a grain of salt.

That said, I was intrigued by the idea of a green tea tira misu, so I had to order it.

It was amazing. The green tea wasn’t bitter – it was sweet. And when we combined the tira misu with the whipped cream and sweet red beans in one bite, the flavors were outstanding. I highly recommend this for dessert.

SOBA NOODLE AZUMA
251 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019

Yakitori Totto

My wife and I stopped in here for a quick meal since we are both big fans of yakitori. We tried a bunch of shit.

First was the “soft bone,” which is essentially the cartilage found near the breast meat of the chicken. I thought there would be more of this, since it is generally abundant on the animal and a throw-away item in so many cultures. It was tasty though, I must admit.

Next was chicken skin. Since this is grilled, it doesn’t quite develop the crunchy texture you might expect from something that’s broiled, baked or roasted for a long period of time. It wasn’t rubbery or fatty though, so I liked it.

Next up, knee bone. This was probably my least favorite of the skewers, but I know my wife likes the weird crunchy bits, so I’m pretty sure she liked this.

These skewers are chicken oysters, tender lumps of meat found beneath the thigh of the chicken, near the ass. They’re so soft and juicy. One of the best skewers (we ordered two).

Our last skewer was the chicken thigh. These were my favorite. Nice and tender, as expected. Good fat content, lots of flavor.

We also tried both of their fried chicken apps. At $9 these were a little pricey (just four drumettes per order).

This is the regular order – just fried and lightly seasoned, served with lemon wedges.

And this is the flavored version, with a sweet sauce, a grilled shishito pepper and sesame seeds. We both liked this dish better.

Last, we had an order of ikuri: rice with roe. It also comes with a blob of fresh wasabi, shredded nori, shredded scallions, a nice seaweed broth and Korean/Japanese style pickles. Not bad for $13.

We really liked this place. The skewers range from like $3 to $10 (for special meats). Ours were all $3 or $3.50. It all came to $50-something bucks, which I thought was cheaper (and better) than other yakitori joints in the area.

YAKITORI TOTTO
251 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019

Sushi By Bou

The concept of a quick and high quality meal is something in which all NYC denizens are interested. Sushi By Bou executes that concept in spades with its 30 minute omakase.

Some of you might already be familiar with the kiosk location of this joint down in Gansevoort Market. Same idea, but this is a dedicated space in a really fun location beneath the Sanctuary Hotel near Times Square.

There’s only room for about 7-10 people inside, but with fast 12 or 13 piece nigiri offerings, you won’t have to wait very long if they’re already full. Enjoy one of the awesome cocktails while you wait.

There’s some great showmanship too. Chef David is an outgoing guy, funny, and enjoys chatting it up with the diners. And in such a small setting, you may as well get to know the people you’re eating with for the next 30 minutes. The scenery is nice too. I enjoyed watching David torch some of the pieces of nigiri.

Here’s some video of him making the wagyuni (uni on top of seared wagyu):

There’s really no point in me reciting what each piece was and giving a review of them one by one. They were all fantastic. Don’t murder me if I mislabel any of these, but I think I did a pretty good job of identifying them all.

Hamachi

Tuna

Shrimp

Golden Snapper

Scallop

Wagyu

Uni

Salmon

Tuna Belly

Flipjack

Wagyuni

Roe

Eel

My favorites, obviously, involved wagyu, uni and roe, but I was also impressed with the scallop and skipjack pieces as well. I highly recommend checking this place out. You won’t be disappointed

SUSHI BY BOU
The Sanctuary Hotel
132 W 47th St
New York, NY 10036

Shabu Tatsu

Shabu Tatsu is a Japanese shabu shabu (hot pot) and yakiniku (grilling) restaurant in the East Village. They offer up a variety of really great thinly sliced meats to sear up on the butter-basted skillet, or dip into their kombu and vegetable broth for a quick cook.

Some friends of mine brought me along on their dinner where they were meant to feature Kirin beer with the food, in hopes to promote Japanese cuisine and tourism with an Instagram contest. Here’s what we had:

YAKINIKU

Their mixed platter of meats for grilling contained beef tongue, liver, short rib, and rib eye, as well as pork.

The beef tongue was probably my favorite. These babies cook up quick since they’re thin, so you just want to get a good sear on them for color and flavor.

We also grilled off some wagyu rib eye. This stuff was so highly marbled and decadent.

SHABU SHABU

For the hot pot portion of the meal, we had some nice thinly sliced beef rib eye and pork loin.

I still prefer Chinese hot pot over this style, because the broth flavors are more robust and powerful. This broth was mainly water with a small kombu leaf in it, and then you load up some veggies in there as well. It’s still really good, just a preference for me.

The best part of the meal, however, was the starter course! We tried three apps: grilled squid, braised pork belly and dumplings.

The pork belly was incredible. It was cooked in a thick citrus sauce and had a great kick from the spicy mustard on top. I highly recommend that dish.

SHABU TATSU
216 E 10th St #St1
New York, NY 10003

The Crimson Sparrow

I first became acquainted with The Crimson Sparrow when I hung out with chef-owner John McCarthy at a mutual friend’s party.

We traded social media info and kept up with each others’ food exploits online. I always thought his dishes looked so beautiful and sounded so delicious, but I wasn’t sure when I’d ever get to try them – John being up in Hudson, NY and me being NYC-based.

Well, it turns out that I was scheduled to go on a farm tour in Ghent, NY the weekend before the 4th of July. Upon checking out the map of where Ghent was, and planning how I was going to get there, I realized I would be passing through Hudson. I decided to make a small weekend trip out of this farm tour, and to bring my wife along.

It was a no-brainer, at that point, that I’d be visiting John at The Crimson Sparrow. We first went in for the tasting menu, late in the evening after we finished up that farm tour in Ghent.

I have to say… Chef John is doing some really amazing things here. He’s clearly inspired by Japanese cuisine; its preparation, its focus, its simplicity, its artistry. And while he does highlight a lot of Japanese ingredients, he’s also drawing inspiration from his local environs in the Hudson valley as well, and even dropping some overt hints of French technique and Korean flavors as well.

John has been all over the globe honing his cuisine. He used to be an attorney, but then ditched that for the culinary arts. He’s French trained, but he spent a significant amount of time in Japan absorbing all he could. He even did a 5-year stint with Wiley DuFresne at WD-50 in NYC before deciding it was time to press out on his own.

The Crimson Sparrow offers an a la carte menu, but the big draw for me was this multi-course tasting menu, priced at just $95.

I was eager to dig in when we arrived, just like how I’m eager to write about the meal now. I hope your mouth doesn’t water too much, because after I finish describing the tasting menu, you’ll have to stay tuned and read on for the incredible restaurant tour and daytime snack bites that I experienced the following day.

Course 1: Maitake Mushroom

This was crispy yet meaty, and had great flavors from the black truffle and lemon. The only thing I was hoping for here was maybe a flake of sea salt as a finishing item – maybe some nori smoke on that salt too.

Course 2: Yukon Potato

This Yukon Gold potato was shredded and fried to a crisp, topped with smoked egg yolk, cheddar and sea salt. This was essentially a creamy, smokey nest of potato chips. Awesome!

Course 3: Cucumber Crab

This dish reminded me of a really fucking delicious version of something like tuna salad, or crab salad, if you will. Really light and refreshing. I found myself wishing this was offered as a lunch sandwich on some nice, lightly toasted white bread with shiso leaf. I could eat that every day.

Course 4: Dashi with Purple Potato

The photo doesn’t do this dish justice. It was gorgeous. Purple potato, dashi broth, bonito flakes, and a nori aoli mix together to form a really refreshing cold soup. There were hints of miso and mustard flavors coming through as well. Nicely executed.

Course 5: Enoki Mushrooms

I love enoki mushrooms. These were treated simply and allowed to shine for what they are; cooked with binchotan (a kind of Japanese charcoal). They were dressed with soy and topped with shredded nori and sesame seeds. Perfect, really juicy, snappy like noodles, but textured and satiating like a meat protein.

Course 6: Soft Shell Crab

I had a bad experience with soft shell crab when I was younger. The crab I had was too far along after molting, and some parts of the shell were no longer soft. They were like shrimp shells, and it grossed me out. But lately I’ve been dabbling more into soft shell crabs, because I know they can be really good. Here at The Crimson Sparrow they are excellent. It’s lightly batter-fried and served with a mizuna corn kimchi sauce. There was a nice citrus and pepper-spice pop to this dish. Extremely soft shell, great fry batter.

Course 7: Abalone with Pine Nuts

This dish isn’t on the regular tasting menu. Chef John brought it out special for us. I’m so grateful that he did, because this fucking thing was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my entire life. I don’t say that lightly either.

Chef John first sous vides the abalone with pork belly and dashi. The pine nuts are pressure cooked with liquid from the bacon and abalone sous vide broth. Are you fucking kidding me? Then an abalone liver and squid ink emulsion is put on the bottom of the plate before serving (the black bits in the photo below).

This dish had such a nice buttery, savory, meaty flavor, and the pine nuts were like farro or barley in texture – like an “ancient grain” kind of starch, or beans. Truly amazing.

Course 8: Shrimp Dumplings

The broth/sauce here was killer: lemongrass, ginger and scallop. Really smooth and rich, and the dumplings were perfectly cooked, like excellent seafood ravioli.

Course 9: Hamachi

These slices of Hamachi exhibit simplicity and Chef John’s respect for the protein, while the cabbage, shiso, shiso oil, nori oil and yuzu broth demonstrates complexity of flavor and John’s extremely impressive skills as a chef. This dish represents exactly what he is doing here at The Crimson Sparrow: simplicity and complexity in the right balance.

Course 10: A5 Wagyu Picanha

Picanha is a Brazilian cut of beef, but it’s the same as “top sirloin cap” here in the states, only with the layer of fat left on that we Americans usually trim off.

This dish was not on the regular tasting menu either. The flavor was wild. It’s beef, but it tastes more like foie gras. It’s very rich in flavorful, oily fats. That large layer of fat can still be chewy, even on A5 Wagyu, but at times you can take it down because it gets so soft.

This beef hailed from the Miyazaki prefecture, which is known as one of the best in Japan for producing highly marbled beef. That little pile of magic dust on the side? Kalamata olive salt. So nice.

Course 11: Pork Belly Congee

This was really tasty. Congee is rice porridge. This one was made with porcini mushrooms and chili oil in the mix, aside from the delicious and tender pork belly. This is perfect “pick-me-up” comfort food right here.

Course 12: Aged Strip Loin

Obviously I loved this dish. It was served with ssamjang (Korean black bean sauce), dressed fresh soy beans and endive.

Here’s what the full plate looked like:

Palate Cleanser: Amazake

This amazake is a young sake made with fermented black and white rice and sweetened with ginger. It was creamy, sweet, slightly bubbly, and really delicious.

Dessert: “American Psycho” on a Plate (that’s my name for it)

This beautiful Jackson Pollock / Patrick Bateman mash-up of plating artistry is a sponge cake with blue- rasp- and mul- berries. There were notes of citrus or yuzu, and even avocado cream in the anglaise. Those beautiful red splatters were done with beet sauce.

Okay so that covers the tasting menu. The next day we came back when John was a little less busy to hang out with him a bit. He gave us a cool tour of the restaurant and kitchen.

Here’s the outside:

The bar is outfitted with some cool things that John salvaged from the property when he first purchased it. Part of the property used to be an old Packard auto shop, and another part was a bakery.

The main dining room is gorgeous. It’s outfitted with some antiques that John either found on the property (like the lamps), or items for which he bartered with local antique shop owners to obtain (like the wine cart).

This part of the property was actually a bakery at one point, and this room was the inside of the massive oven. The table was custom made to accommodate the 9 inch floor slope from one end of the room to the other.

A more private room for larger parties is also available to customers.

The kitchen is housed in the space where Packard used to wash and detail their cars. Those windows you see on the right are massive, and there’s a strip of cool bar stool seats where diners can sit and watch all the kitchen action.

John also showed me the Wagyu strip loin that he’s aging in the walk-in. I think this hunk of deliciousness has been going for over 100 days.

John has a rooftop herb garden as well.

That day we also tried some light snacks in the outdoor garden seating area – a gorgeous space.

This is a pork bun. Really nice flavors, and that pork was stewed to perfection.

These soy beans are similar to the beans on the tasting menu that came with the aged beef dish, but served on a giant shrimp chip.

Also, they serve crisp Orion beer for just $5. Great to sip while enjoying a sunny day on the patio.

 

I think that about does it. You guys need to check this place out if you’re ever in the area. I’m dead serious when I tell you that this was the best tasting menu omakase style meal I’ve ever had, and that abalone dish… Holy shit man. Ask for it when you go.

THE CRIMSON SPARROW
746 Warren St
Hudson, NY 12534

Aburiya Kinnosuke

I met my wife for a quick lunch near her office and we came here. I had the cold Korean style ramen noodles.

It was pretty good! Refreshing on a hot summer day.

My wife had this tuna saddle, which was massive and delicious.

They offer some nice lunch specials, but I recommend getting there just before noon, because the joint gets really packed out in the lunch rush.

ABURIYA KINNOSUKE
213 E 45th St
New York, NY 10017

Ichiban Nom Nom

I had the opportunity to head to Chef Joe Conti’s test kitchen prior to the open of his yet-to-be-named Japanese omakase restaurant downtown. The great thing about this meal is that I was able to taste a lot of different cuts of A5 Wagyu beef. The highest marbling score there is. Unreal. Since there were a bunch of courses, I’ll get right down to business.

Torched mackerel with pickled daikon.

Fried river fish, uni and river crab.

Giant shrimp/prawn carabineros. Simply seasoned with salt, but their insides cook into a naturally spicy and fatty butter-like substance that will provide you with wet food dreams for the rest of your life. It coats your tongue like a rich prosciutto almost. For real, this is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my whole fucking life. They get to about a third of a pound each in weight, too, so they’re substantial. Favorite part of the meal – even better than the beef!

Wagyu skirt steak (8/10) and pork skirt steak. Amazing. Here, the pork out shined the beef just because it was so unique to see this cut here in the states. I want more of it!

Wagyu sirloin (9/10), tenderloin (10/10) and rib cap (9/10). All amazing, but my favorite, oddly, was the tenderloin. It was so buttery soft and tender that it would be impossible to compare it to anything else that came across our plates.

Here’s the tenderloin up close:

Italian panko Parmesan breadcrumb “gyu katsu,” aka deep fried beef strip loin. Amazing. 8/10.

Eel with shiso.

Cold udon noodles.

Ice cream: chocolate, green tea with chocolate chips, and salted caramel. Still some refining to be done here, but over all a great closer plate.

I can’t wait until this spot officially opens. I think it’ll be in the West 4th Street and 8th Avenue area. Keep an eye out! They’re already booked solid for the first few months after they open.

Kizuna Nikkei

NOTE: This joint is now closed.

Kizuna Nikkei serves up some of the most stunningly beautiful and delicious dishes I’ve had in a while. Nikkei cuisine is a form of Japanese and Peruvian fusion that evolved in Peru due to Japanese cultural influence in the region. This was my first time indulging in this kind of food, and it certainly won’t be my last.

My wife and I were invited in for a complimentary tasting of some items on the menu, in hopes that we would help get the word out about this new joint. Owner/Manager Jacob recently changed the focus (and decor) of this restaurant from a steakhouse (Carnem) to Nikkei. I had eaten at Carnem before, and I can say with 100% confidence that this new venture is a much better endeavor when it comes to the food.

So let’s get down to business. We started with the Maguro Nikkei, which is a tartare-like dish consisting of big eye tuna, kyuri, avocado, aji amarillo, tamari and kaiware.

This was really beautiful and fresh. A great way to start the meal.

And I’m going to tell you right now: each dish that came out was more beautiful and more flavorful than the last. So hold onto your asses and get ready for some gorgeous plating.

Next up was the Hamachi Crudo.

Yellowtail, orange, ponzu, aji limo and garlic brunoise make up this bright and crisp dish.

Again, really fresh and flavorful. And gorgeous.

The next item we sampled was called Sake Passion.

This is king salmon, passion fruit, crispy gyoza skin and aguaymanto.

I was mesmerized by the plating, and wowed by the flavors. I love raw salmon treatments, and this one nailed it.

This next dish is almost too beautiful for words.

This was black sea bass with octopus, scallop, shrimp, calamari, fried cassava and ikura (roe) in aji Amarillo sauce.

This sauce had a really good heat, and every component of the dish was cooked to absolute perfection.

I highly recommend this dish when you come here.

Our final course was a braised beef short rib with sweet potato, lotus root, carrots, enoki mushrooms and white asparagus in a garlic, onion, cilantro sauce.

The sauce had an earthy heat to it that penetrated deep into the beef flesh and lingered in your mouth with each delicious bite.

I highly recommend this dish as well, especially if you’re a beef person like me.

The portions here are crafted for a light tasting style dining experience. Order a bunch of things, or share, and you will definitely enjoy every bite. There’s a LOT to try here, and I’m looking forward to going back again soon. I’ve already told my friends that live in the neighborhood about this place. Awesome.

KIZUNA NIKKEI
318 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Flame

Flame is a pretty large hibachi joint on the upper west side. I was recently invited in for a hibachi meal with a bunch of lunatic foodies.

They put on a great show here, I must say.

We started off with a pair of shrimp.

Then some fried rice and veggies.

And then the steaks came out!

Very simply prepared, and nicely cooked.

As far as hibachi goes, this is one of the best I’ve experienced. But that’s not where the action stops. They also serve a variety of nice dumplings, sushi and other seafood.

Everything was great; especially that miso octopus tentacle. I highly recommend this joint. There’s a lot of space, really beautiful tables and decor, and even some really nice mixed cocktails.

FLAME
100 W 82nd St
New York, NY 10024

Roki Le Izakaya

Japanese Brasserie ROKI Le Izakaya held a soft opening this past weekend. The menu features some really great stuff.

We tried pretty much everything that you see on the menu above, except for the veggie ramen. It sounds pretty good, though, and I’d like to go back and get it soon.

Canape are small bites of proteins set atop a bed of fried sticky rice. Each one is like an amuse, or hors. I tried three: uni (sea urchin), kani (crab) and ahi poke (dressed tuna). All were excellent, especially when eaten with the shiso leaf, but my favorite was the uni.

The quinoa salad with crab meat was the only menu item that seemed a bit out of place. It had a cumin spice to it, and it felt more middle eastern than Japanese. It was still very good, however.

Next up was the amberjack carpaccio. This was so clean and flavorful. t was perfectly dressed. I could eat this all night!

The duck chasiu was intense! And when the waiter came over with shaved foie gras on top, I knew I was in heaven.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Shrimp gyoza were next. These were tasty and perfectly cooked.

A big crowd pleaser, though, was the pork buns item.

They were decadent and so tender. I mean look at that meat!

The star of the night, for me, was the ramen. I typically don’t get down on shoyu broths. I prefer a tonkotsu (which they will have on their full menu – this was just a soft open with a limited menu selection). But this shoyu broth was deep and rich! I loved it.

The toppings were also really fun. Fried lotus root, bamboo shoots, arugula, fresh pepper, fried crispy baby shrimp and char siu pork. Oh and of course, that perfect egg…

I can use a bowl right now, actually, as I sit here writing this review.

The roasted white sesame seed ice cream was awesome! It was just right for dessert – not too sweet at all. It was coated with a nice crisp, and then topped with a sesame and honey cracker. And drizzle that thick sauce on top to bring it home!!!

I will definitely be back here soon. This was a fantastic meal!

ROKI LE IZAKAYA
12 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10010