Category Archives: Japanese

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 out 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

Secchu Yokota

My wife’s birthday is just around the corner, and her friends were taking her to dinner here to celebrate. When one of them had to cancel last minute, I filled in to avoid the $50 charge on the credit card for a missed seating.

This joint only has eight seats and two seatings per night (6:00pm and 8:30pm), so that’s why they charge your card if you bail on a seat. Harsh, but understandable. They have to fill up to make money.

Anyway, this was a long and tasty meal, consisting mostly of Japanese tempura. It wasn’t the prettiest food for photos, but it certainly was yummy!

Here’s what we had – and keep in mind I’m just going to list the dishes and then quickly blab about the items that really stood out.

Red snapper broth with mushrooms.

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Red snapper sashimi: this was really delicate and clean, and it went perfectly with the shio-bonito ponzu and wasabi salt, which were provided for dipping.

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They also gave us pickled daikon and a bamboo charcoal salt as well, which was equally excellent, and apparently helpful in digestion due to the charcoal.

Berkshire pork pate. Very nice, and notably French!

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Now we are getting into the tempura. The fryer oil they use is a blend of sesame oil and cotton seed oil, which has a very high smoking point, great for super crispy batters and fast frying.

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Crispy shrimp shell. Yes – the exoskeleton! I joked and said that we ate crispy fried xenomorph face-hugger exoskeleton (that’s an Alien reference if you’re unaware).

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Shrimp body.

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Okra: really flavorful and fresh. The tempura batter was almost like a second skin on the veggie, just crispy.

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Yellow pepper.

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Mackerel.

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Eggplant.

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Lotus root.

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Hokkaido squid. In fact everything here is actually FROM Japan.

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Sweet potato.

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Hokkaido scallops: These were almost raw, and absolutely delicious. Just the outside was cooked from the closeness of the flesh to the hot oil. My favorite bite of the night.

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Eel.

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Uni (sea urchin) wrapped in nori (seaweed) paper: very creamy. If uni is your thing, then this is the place to get it. I’m still a hit or miss guy when it comes to uni. I think I like it best when served cold (like revenge), with no seaweed paper.

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To finish the savory courses off, you get a choice between the following two items:

(1) Rice with red snapper bits and a hearty miso/mushroom soup.

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(I didn’t shoot the soup)

(2) Green tea soba noodles with eel.

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This was so fucking beautiful, and was probably my second favorite dish of the night. It came with a dipping sauce as well (I didn’t shoot that but I did take another photo of the noodles).

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Dessert was a raspberry sorbet with a sesame crisp, and a yuzu creme brulee. Both were simple but excellent.

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Lastly, I apologize for the poor photos. I didn’t bother to color correct when I got home. I mainly just focused my photo editing efforts on that beautiful soba dish because I knew I was going to post it on Instagram.

All in, this was a great meal, albeit a bit pricey. The uni and eel tempura items were add-ons that really bumped up the cost. Also drinks: They’re always bill killers. But I definitely recommend giving this place a shot. There aren’t too many Japanese joints doing real deal tempura omakase in this low price range ($65/pp to start).

SECCHU YOKOTA
199 East 3rd Street
1st Floor, New York, NY 10009

Atlantis Resort – Paradise Island Bahamas

My wife signed up for some crazy credit card that rewarded her with a free five day stay at Atlantis in the Bahamas. Then she used some of her frequent flyer points to secure us our flights. It was just a matter of paying for food at that point.

I’m sure you have no interest whatsoever in seeing my amazing vacation photos, so I’ll share with you, instead, some pics of the food we ate at the resort.

This resort is known for having very expensive food. We tried to avoid that a bit by hitting some of the cheaper joints for lunch, and supplementing hunger pangs with the assortment of snacks that we packed into our suitcases. This place is indeed expensive, with some joints even costing more than what we are accustomed to, even as NYC food lunatics.

Murray’s Deli

This is a classic NYC style Jewish deli. We had a massive loaded baked potato and a pastrami/corned beef open faced sandwich. We just couldn’t get enough in New York, so we had to eat some while in the Bahamas.

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Oh and the pickles…

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This place was pretty good.

Burger Shack

Classic American style diner with burgers, dogs, fries and other comfort foods.

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We actually ate here twice because the place we intended to visit prior to our second trip (Bimini Road – Bahamian food) was closed.

First Meal:

The burgers were pretty good. I can tell they use more fat in their patties than we do here in the states. That made for a more robust flavor but with a slightly less desirable texture. Either way a satisfying burger.

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The banana nutella shake was on point, by the way.

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And I’m sure you saw those fries creeping into the frame in the shots above. We actually ordered the combo of onion rings and fries.

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Fries were solid. Onions rings, not so much.

Second Meal:

Goombay Punch, essentially fruit soda (pineapple, mainly), is big down here. And sweet. We tried two varieties during the course of our vacation, and this one was superior (the other was called a “fruit champagne” and it sucked balls).

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Hot dogs are split and grilled, which I consider to be the best method for grilling dogs. We covered ours with mustard, ketchup, mayo and Tabasco sauce.

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Say hello to the Vitamin B: mac and cheese with blue cheese, chopped up hot dog, BBQ pork, and bacon. Insanity.

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Nobu

We had some free sake and sushi sampler platter to use at Nobu, so we figured we would eat a meat there.

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The sampler platter kinda sucked. I can’t believe they normally charge $40 for that. But we did redeem the meal a bit with this conch sashimi:

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And this crispy pork belly dish:

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This small bowl of spicy seafood soup cost $19, which was a total rip off, but it was in fact tasty.

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Unfortunately I was still hungry, so I ordered a noodle dish in hopes that the starch aspect would fill me up. Green tea soba noodles:

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These were actually pretty good. And of course Katherine lifted them for my Instagram feed.

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77 West

This was probably the best meal of the trip. We went for lunch, so kept it relatively light, but everything was excellent.

Good cocktails for the ambiance – not too sweet, just right.

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Probably one of the best tuna tartare dishes we’ve ever had; served in a spicy coconut curry style broth that really popped.

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And why not have another burger? This was much better than the ones at Burger Shack, and it came with fries or a salad for the same price, pretty much.

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I kept it light with a salad instead of fries, and that was a good move. The salad was actually really great and fresh.

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Seafire Grill

Of course we had to try a steakhouse. We pretty much shared a meal for one, since we didn’t want to break the bank.

We tried two cocktails (since we had credit for two free drinks): one was too strong and lacked finesse (the 1888 Rum Old Fashioned), but the other was perfect – a bourbon lemonade.

We started with this horrible crab cake. I’ve had better out of the freezer section of Shop Rite.

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After dining at over 100 steakhouses, some of which are not NYC-based, I’ve learned my lesson: If there is no prime or aged beef on the menu, I should probably stick with a filet. You’re rolling the dice on quality with any other cuts – especially when you’re outside of the USA. Additionally, since a filet had very little fat content to begin with, you don’t have to concern yourself with marbling quality or things like prime and choice. Furthermore, I also took a peek at the butcher shop area of this restaurant (you can buy steaks to grill on your yacht at the marina), and I was not impressed with the strip and rib eye offerings. Filet was the way to go.

It was decent. I’d say 7/10. It was super tender. It lacked some juiciness and outer crust, but it was cooked perfectly medium rare from end to end. If I weren’t such a steak snob, being spoiled by the selections in NYC, this would have been an outstanding cut.

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But at $58 for 10oz, however, this was incredibly overpriced. In NYC it’d be maybe $50, and that’s already pricey since its fucking NYC.

On the side we had some asparagus with Bernaise sauce. These were perfectly cooked, and they even shaved down the woody bottom part with a peeler.

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As always, I have to talk about the table bread in some way. Here, it was lame. A little mushy, kinda like tan Wonder Bread. Not warm.

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The ambiance and the bar were nice though, and it reminded me of something like Capital Grille in midtown. Rich and dark wood tones. If this joint were in NYC I’d probably score it in the high 60s or low 70s. Let’s just go with a 70, for the sake of ease, and because we really only tried three items.

Olives

Olives is a Todd English joint and it is directly connected to the casino at Atlantis, so the place has some standards to live up to. We weren’t planning on dining here, but when the entirety of Paradise Island lost power, we were unable to dine at the only Bahamian restaurant at the resort, Bimini Road, yet again. First time it was closed (peeve about the resort – random closures of restaurants on random days for random reasons), and the second time, which was our last night there, it was shut down because of the power outage.

Anyway, we ended up having a really nice meal at Olives. We had credit for two free cocktails (which we actually used after eating at Nobu earlier in the week).

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That same day we tried the tiramisu flan, which was really delicious and unique, since Nobu was insanely overpriced and the dessert menu looked dumb there.

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We split the rigatoni bolognese, which was really nicely cooked with sausage and ground meat.

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Since we were intending to eat Bahamian food but got denied, we tried the conch ceviche, thinking it would be stellar, made from a local catch. It was just okay. The conch sashimi at Nobu was better.

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On the side we had some of the free focaccia bread (which was nice) and this bland, flavorless broccolini.

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Natsumi Tapas

When I see something that’s marketed as Japanese-Italian fusion, the first thing that comes to my mind is Super Mario Brothers, one of the best video games ever released by Nintendo.

From http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net
From http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net

But now, since having this meal, the next thing that comes to mind is Natsumi Tapas. Natsumi is the latest venture by Barbara Matsumara, and it focuses on small plates for grazing and larger plates for sharing. She consulted with Italian chef Andrea Tiberi and sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao to create a dynamic menu that gets increasingly interesting the more you look at it. I was invited in for a press meal with Jay from The Dishelin Guide, so we got to taste a lot of stuff. Here’s what we had:

First, a nice pour of sake from this very cool bottle that houses the ice inside the center without touching the sake and thereby watering it down.

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This place also mixes up some really nice cocktails too, by the way, like the EMW, which is made with shiso leaf, sake and gin.

We started with this filet mignon, which was served sliced, tataki style, with a ponzu, garlic and truffle sauce. The truffle and garlic really brought an awesome fusion flavor to an otherwise Japanese flavored dish. While this wasn’t a traditional “steak” in the sense of a steakhouse cut or portion size, I’m still going to score it since it was worth discussing. 8/10. I definitely recommend this dish.

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Next up was the tuna tartare martini with avocado and caviar. The orange layer at the bottom definitely had some tobiko mixed in for a nice change-up in texture. Very smart. The mango and basil pesto sauce really made this pop with unorthodox and surprisingly good flavor combinations. Also recommended.

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While the flatbread wasn’t exactly the pizza dough crust that I imagined (it was more like a puffy cracker), it did pack a lot of flavor. We tried the spicy tuna caviar flatbread. It wasn’t as much of a fusion as some of the others seemed to be, like the seared salmon flatbread, but it was really delicious nonetheless. If you’ve ever had “sushi pizza” before at some other restaurants, it is somewhat similar to that, and always a crowd-pleaser.

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This bowl of green tea gnocchi with asparagus and capers in a light butter sauce was absolutely perfect. Definitely my favorite item of the night, by far. While it leaned a bit more on the Italian side, it was probably one of the better gnocchi dishes I’ve had in town. The green tea flavor was very mild, but the sauce was drinkable. I highly recommend this dish when you go here. Not only was it tasty, but it was also beautiful.

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We finished our savory courses with the Squarano roll; seared tuna, seared salmon, kani, avocado, scallion, pepperoncini and green tea aioli. This was pretty tasty, and nicely nestled into the fusion realm with the addition of an aioli and pepperoncini from Italian cuisine. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of their special roll selections. They all looked great.

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For dessert we tried the cheese cake tempura, which was nice and crispy outside, and soft like mashed potatoes inside. It had just the right amount of sweetness, and the berry compote on the plate was the perfect way to incorporate a sauce element.

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Definitely give this place a shot. It just opened in March and the place was packed to the gills when we went on a Tuesday night at 7pm. The ambiance is comfortable, not too dim, not too bright, not too loud and very spacious, which is a welcome addition to the NYC Japanese restaurant world.

NATSUMI TAPAS
323 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10010

Hida Beef

Hida is a region in Japan, located in the northern part of Gifu prefecture on Honshu island. That’s west of Tokyo, but not quite as far as Kyoto or Osaka. While I’ve never been there, I can tell it’s a place that I’d definitely want to visit.

Hida is known for it’s outstanding beef (Hida-gyu), which is derived from a black-haired Japanese breed of cattle. Laws are such that, to quality as the Hida brand, the cattle has to have been raised in Gifu prefecture for at least 14 months. The beef is characterized by intense, beautiful, web-like marbling with a buttery, smooth texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor is both rich and delicate at the same time. It can be likened to the top percentiles of wagyu beef, rivaling kobe and matsusaka in quality, with marbling grades of A/B 3, 4, and 5.

I was invited to a Hida beef tasting event at EN Japanese Brasserie, one of the seven restaurants in the area that will be serving Hida beef on their menus. The other six are Brushstroke, Hakubai, Hasaki, Sakagura, Shabu-Tatsu and the Members Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is the first time that Hida beef is available here in the States, so if you’re a meat aficionado like me, you should definitely hit one of these places and give it a try. This stuff is expensive though, so make an occasion out of it.

I tried the beef in four different preparations: (1) sliced raw, nigiri sushi style, and then kissed with the scorching flame of a blowtorch; (2) seared edges, a tatami trio, with three different kinds of salt; (3) “Hoba-miso” style, stone grilled with miso sauce; and (4) chopped raw, tartare or ceviche style, with citrus and uni. Despite all the marbling, the meat doesn’t come off tasting very fatty, like some highly marbled cuts do. It didn’t leave a coating of waxy or fatty residue on my palate like certain cured salamis with high fat content. And it didn’t cause the flavors of whatever I ate next to change or taste different due to that fat, which is sometimes the case with aged beef and cured salami. In short, it was really a very pleasing experience.

I’ll start with my favorite preparations: (2) and (3). The tataki trio was essentially three slices of Hida beef (strip loin), each dressed with a different salt element: yuzu soy sauce, sea salt and a special red salt that had hints of spice to it. All three were great, but I think I liked the classic sea salt topper the best.

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The hot stone grilled preparation, Hoba-miso, was the only one in which the beef was cooked through. This dish is local to Hida. The sliced beef is placed on Hoba (a big Magnolia leaf) with miso and scallions, which then sits directly on the surface of the hot stone. As you can see, the before and after photos of this method indicate that this beef can be thoroughly enjoyed fully cooked if you’re one of those puss-bags who is afraid to eat raw or under-cooked meat.

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Fully cooking the beef did not take anything away from the meat. You still get that buttery smooth texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor characteristics. In fact, the leaf and miso bring nice flavor accents to the beef that compliment it well. This, too, was a strip loin cut of beef, and it was presented to eat on grilled sticky rice patties.

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Here’s the chef, Abe Hiroki, who was grilling these delicious morsels to absolute beef-paradise perfection:

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The torched nigiri style reminded me slightly of spam musubi, for the sole reason that it was a warm meat item served atop sushi rice. Here, you can get a real, unadulterated taste of the beef in all its marbled glory. It truly is spectacular.

I’ve been eating aged beef for so long that something this pure and clean really blew me away. This was strip loin as well.

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This was the sushi master behind these perfect pieces of nigiri:

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Finally, this tartare or ceviche style came dressed with a citrus yuzu sauce and was topped with uni (raw sea urchin). Absolutely stunning and decadent. The reason I am interchanging tartare with ceviche is that, typically, ceviche involves fish and citrus, while tartare features meat and egg yolk. Since this dish had elements of both but not all, I figured I’d split the baby. Tarviche? Why not. Also strip loin.

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The event also showcased some nice sake selections with flavors ranging from dry to sweet, traditional to aromatic and fruity.

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In fact, the event began with a “breaking the mirror” ceremony on the casks of sake, as well as a sake toast.

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The governor of Gifu was even in attendance, introducing the beef, the region and the customs to the audience.

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The restaurant itself is beautiful, and I look forward to coming back to try some more of this amazing beef. Every preparation was 10/10 for flavor, and I highly recommend it.

EN JAPANESE BRASSERIE
435 Hudson St
New York, NY 10014

Decibal

For documentation purposes, I’ve decided to include this little basement sake bar in my reviews. I didn’t eat anything, but I did try a nice Japanese cocktail made with yuzu, grapefruit and shochu.

In any event, I’d like to come back here and give it a more thorough write up. For now, just enjoy the info.

This joint is a small, authentic, almost speakeasy like bar in the basement of an East Village building. The lighting is dim and red, and the drinks are flowing. It gets pretty packed, even on random weeknights, so get there with some time to spare.

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DECIBAL
240 E 9th St
New York, NY 10003

Yakitori by Neal

Yakitori By Neal is a Japanese style grilled chicken operation out of Brooklyn that pops up at various locations and events around the city, like Project Parlor and Sumo Stew (at The Brooklyn Kitchen).

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I had the pleasure of tasting some of Neal’s delicious grillings at a private backyard yakitori and shochu party. Guests sampled four different bottles of shochu while nibbling on tasty yakitori skewers.

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We had chicken gizzard, heart, and thigh, and shishito peppers, bacon wrapped tomatoes, bacon wrapped mushrooms, pork belly and hamachi (both belly and filet).

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Everything from the grill was really delicious; the meats were masterfully seasoned and had a great, smoky charcoal flavor.

The shochu bottles varied in intensity and character. Two had the distinct flavor of mezcal, but with a more mellow, rounded and mild finish. These were great for drinking on the rocks or with soda.

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The other two, which were aged three and five years, were remarkably smooth, clean and sip-able. One was so light in flavor that it was almost like water, yet it had 25% alcohol.

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YAKITORI BY NEAL
Various Pop-Up Locations
Brooklyn, NY