Tabelog Event at SakaMai

I’ve been meaning to yap it up about Tabelog for a while now, but the timing is perfect now for this entry. Basically, in a crude and overly simplified description that cheapens what I mean to say, Tabelog is the Japanese version of Yelp – only a shitload better. In Japan, Tabelog is 5x larger than Yelp; they dominate the food review market. The company has recently endeavored to break into the US and global market, with their first state-side stop being NYC, of course. That’s where Johnny Prime comes in. The awesome folks at Tabelog recognized my manliness and contacted me (and other well known and influential food bloggers) to be a part of the process – to give input on the website, to act as the voice of the user, etc. And most fun for us foodies – they also asked us to be judges for their NYC restaurant awards. Of course I fucking jumped at the opportunity to voice my opinion on things; namely, their “best steakhouse” category… Which, sadly, went to Peter Luger… Yeah… BOO… HISS… I was a bit surprised too… Oh well. Clearly some of the people who voted on this category need to get out to some different steakhouses, or they need to thoroughly read my site. I guess this just means that my important work must go on. I have more to do… Thankfully, Tabelog provides another great format and outlet for my manliness to disseminate to the world abroad. So thank you Brock and Ken for taking me into the fold. I’m honored, humbled, and thrilled to be a part of this.
Anyway… After being introduced to the newly launched US website I found that I REALLY liked the format. Not only that, but Tabelog allows food and restaurant reviewers a hell of a lot more control over the content and overall look of their reviews. Tabelog was smart to make the review process personal, so that you can almost get to know the writers just as much as the restaurants. Reviewers on Tabelog have their own little corner of cyberspace to stand on their milk crate and shout out their unique message; it’s kinda like Facebook meets restaurant reviews in a way. Meanwhile, Yelp has a whole shitpile of obnoxious restrictions like no use of hyperlinks, no self promotion, no mention of your website anywhere in your reviews, image restriction this, content restriction that… To some extent I understand the concern, but it has gotten a bit ridiculous lately. Yelp also doesn’t allow for embedded images in the body of the review, and they also hide or block certain reviews based on some fucked up algorithm that they THINK works to weed out what they perceive as “biased” reviews from tainting the process. Good intentions, but the reality is that many times this “feature” actually HARMS small businesses; I’ve seen it happen with people that I know who run small shops. Even despite numerous efforts by these small businesses to contact Yelp to alert them of problems or attempt to rectify situations, Yelp ignores, or pulls out some pre-conceived, pro-forma, bullshit-laden excuse/rationale. Tabelog has none of these ridiculous issues. Whoever is running the Tabelog tech is a fucking wizard, and the layout, user interface, and intuitive organizational nature of the site simply blows away the competition. Granted it is still new here, and things are just starting to heat up for them in NYC, but MAN do they show promise… I’m really looking forward to their explosion into the US market. And it’ll be fun because I’ll be there for the wild ride. Exciting.
So now, literally, to the meat and potatoes… Last night Tabelog threw an event for their NYC judges at the incredible SakaMai restaurant; a real deal legit Japanese place on the lower east side. The Tabelog folks were cool enough to let me bring my wife as well, who, as you might already know, is The Cake Dealer and also an awesome food blogger herself. The food at SakaMai was off the hook – pretty much perfection. Check out the pics and captions below.
First is the menu. Pics of the dishes go clockwise from bottom left:
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Here is the carrot puree with dashi gelee and summer truffle. At first I thought it was some kind of uni puree based on the color and bright, brine flavor. This was one of the most delicious items of the night. I think I sucked down three of these mutherfuckers.
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Next is the meat: filet mignon tartare with uni, wasabi mascarpone, and poached egg. I had three of these too. Hands down one of the better tartares I’ve ever had. It was earthy, it had great texture, and the poached egg introduced just the right amount of fat back into the dish.
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Now for the trout and caviar sushi. I only had one of these, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. It was delicate, but full of great flavor. Very clean, crisp and refreshing.
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Lobster croquettes with lardo iberico and sansho peppers. I went back for seconds here. Just a great, soft yet powerful punch of velvety flavor inside that crispy fried outer shell. And sitting on a little puree of potato.

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Now for more meat – this time a chicken + fois gras burger. Fucking delicious. I only had one, but I could have put away a dozen of these fuckers quick and easy – so quick it would rival my old drunken 3am White Castle runs. And I don’t care what you say: White Castle sliders rule. Just don’t save any in the fridge overnight or else the next day the entire appliance will smell like rotting trash.

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MORE MEAT! Iberico pork on a bed of farro salad. My first bite was extremely chewy but I think that’s because I got one of the fatty/gristled ends. My next two servings were perfect. When I first saw the color of the slices I thought I was dealing with flank, skirt or strip steak: a nice pinkish center. But when you delve into high quality pork, the “other white meat” can be served a little less cooked. This was some yummy shit:

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Dessert: strawberry compote with mascarpone and a truffled balsamic drizzle. Fuck the strawberry though. It was great but I could drink that fucking cream all day. I’d rub that shit all over my face and gobble it down like Jenna Jameson if I had to.

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Now onward to the booze! SakaMai offered us up a delicious selection of sakes, served up by some serious sake experts – so serious that they are called samurai. Serious. No joke. But seriousness aside, the one samurai we spoke to was hilarious, reciting jokes about the history of certain drinks.

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We tasted a nice array of some very different sakes and booze. Below are two pics: one of our favorite sake, which was very clean, crisp and pure… Then a spicy plum alcohol which was accompanied by a funny story told by the sake samurai.

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And last but not least, the talent and brains behind it all. First Tabelog: this is a shot of Brock (left) and Ken (right) telling us about the company’s plans and how we fit into the equation.

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Next is SakaMai owner Natalie (left) and Chef Akiyama (right), who told us a lot about their restaurant and fielded a wide array of questions from us food nerds.

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SAKAMAI
157 Ludlow St.
New York, NY 10002

2 thoughts on “Tabelog Event at SakaMai”

  1. Johnny,

    I’m glad you can see the positive side of Tabelog. Here in Japan the picture is not so rosy. Tabelog here tends to side with the “reviewer” if there is ever a conflict. Restaurants that don’t wish to be listed on Tabelog have no means to remove the reviews.

    Other restaurants suffer from falsified reviews by “patrons” who claim to have come but in fact have not come. These “reviewers” are often industry shills who “review” their own establishment with a high score and give low scores to those they want to damage.

    To date Tabelog has no mechanism in place to weed out falsified reviews in Japan. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but in my opinion, their are not entitled to fabricate reviews. Unfortunately this cheapens the value of a potentially wonderful service, and makes it untrustworthy.

    1. That’s unfortunate. I guess each system has it’s own set of problems. I think, however, for the most part, readers can tell which reviewers are serious about reviewing. When a reviewer has hundreds of thorough, detailed, lengthy reviews with many photos, there is less probability of that reviewer being a shill just to fluff their own business or deflate another. The way Tabelog seems to have done it here is with an “invite only” system. Not just anyone can join the website and review restaurants. You need to be invited by their scouts. At least that’s the way it was when I last checked a few months ago.

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