Tag Archives: japanese food

Zest Sushi

Weird name, great happy hour.

Zest Sushi has a very extensive menu of items for just $5.50 during happy hour, which also includes their beer and sake offerings as well. My wife and I tried a bunch of stuff, and pretty much everything was great. Here’s the run down:

Mini salmon don.

“Salmon Dream” torched sashimi.

Skewers of crispy squid tentacles.

Crispy oysters (this was the only item I wouldn’t get again).

Takoyaki (fried balls of octopus with bonito).

Crispy salmon skin roll.

For drinks, the better bet is to get the sake. They give you about 10oz for $5.50, and it’s pretty good.

ZEST SUSHI
249 Broome St
New York, NY 10002

Gouie

This new sushi counter at Essex Market / The Market Line offers a fairly reasonable sushi dinner that consists of 8 pieces, a hand roll, ikura with rice and uni with rice – all for $85.

I usually love hand rolls, but I didn’t really enjoy this one. I think it was a mix of the Japanese pickle and a too thick/chewy seaweed wrapper.

The sushi pieces were great though, as was the ride. But the real star of the show was this salad that we ordered as a special. It was basically sashimi with some nice veggies.

Pass on the cauliflower, crab, uni and okra cold “soup” that they have on special as well. It was slimy and not soup-like at all. It also needed seasoning.

The light cocktails are a hit. There’s no hard liquor, but they’re made with apertifs, liqueurs and digestifs.

GOUIE
115 Delancey St.
New York, NY 10002

Omakase Room by Mitsu

Last night I took my wife to Omakase Room by Mitsu. This was a 12 piece sushi omakase featuring some of the best pieces I’ve ever had. Some of our stand out favorites:

Fatty Tuna Cheek (I ordered a second of this!)

Hokkaido Uni

Temaki Hand Roll (this was a pre-course)

Blackthroat Seaperch, Cherry Blossom Seabream, and Splendid Alfonsino

There was even a sort of “dessert” piece: a rolled omelette. This was sweet, but not overpowering.

I can’t wait to go back here when the menu changes in a few months. This was our favorite omakase so far.

OMAKASE ROOM BY MITSU
14 Christopher Street
Ground Floor
New York, NY 10014

Kissaki

I took my wife to Kissaki for her birthday since she likes omakase restaurants. This place did a great job. We went with their 13-course tasting menu, swapping out sashimi for nigiri on the sushi pieces, and we also shared a sake pairing (four generous pours that progressed through the meal).

My favorite items were the Santa Barbara uni, the thin sliced squid, the Japanese barracuda, and the Spanish mackerel.

I’m no omakase expert, but this place seemed to deliver very good quality at a great starting price point of $120 (for the nigiri – add $60 for the sashimi).

My only gripe: they should offer a combo of both nigiri and sashimi, since some of the nigiri sushi looked really interesting with wild toppings and flavors, while the sashimi pieces were more traditional and plain. A mixed piece menu would be a great way to get a taste of both modern and traditional.

KISSAKI BOWERY
319 Bowery
New York, NY 10003

Kaiseki Room by Yamada

This new Kaiseki tasting is available on 53rd Street at 6 1/2 Avenue, just across from La Grande Boucherie. It’s a small stretch of bar with two seatings each night, at 5pm and 8pm, for $300 each (more for sake the pairing). I took my wife here for a Christmas present/date night and we both loved it. Here’s everything we had:

Olive fed wagyu tartare with caviar:

Uni truffle and foie dashi:

Assorted sashimi:

Hand roll sushi (our favorite bite):

Here are some of the mushrooms coming up in the next courses:

Lobster and crab miso bisque:

This plate had five cold glasses that featured octopus, abalone, and other raw fish preparations:

Eel and tilefish:

Duck and winter mushrooms:

Rice with crab, roe and squid:

Bean ice cream and granita:

Freshly whipped matcha:

This is definitely worth splurging on for a special occasion. I’m interested to see how the hyper-seasonal menu will change throughout the year.

KAISEKI ROOM BY YAMADA
145 W 53rd St
New York, NY 10019

Ishikawa

My wife told me about this joint that just opened their second location on the upper west side. I took her here for an early surprise Valentine’s Day dinner, since she has to travel on the actual date.

Everything we had here was incredible, and at a price point of $155 for the premium omakase, you really get a ton of high quality pieces. I think there were almost 20. Below are a few of my favorites.

Of course, the one that involved wagyu and foie gras was awesome:

These two with highly marbled tuna belly were great.

This was also awesome; three different kinds of eggs:

I can’t wait to go back!

ISHIKAWA
207 W 80th St
New York, NY 10024

Kaikagetsu

I recently experienced a really delicious tasting menu at Kaikagetsu in the lower east side that featured some rare and delicious Hida beef from Japan. Not too many places are serving this stuff. Here’s how it went down:

We started with a small plate of assorted bites, each of which was more delicious than the last. Bluefin tuna marinated in ponzu sauce with chopped yam; minced chicken matsukaze with sesame seeds; cooked yam jelly with spicy soy; Brussels sprouts with salmon roe; and baked chestnuts.

This was paired with a really nice cloudy and bubbly cold sake.

Next up was a sashimi course that had some really awesome bluefin tuna, Kanpachi amberjack and Yagara cornetfish.

This was paired with another really nice sake, seen here:

Our third course was a mushroom, seafood and chicken soup served in a tea pot.

This next course was delicious. Super fresh and creamy uni served atop a tempura fried sheet of nori, with a fried taro potato ball.

Now for the beef, which was paired with a whisky and soda lowball.

First was a hot stone preparation of thinly sliced Hida beef shank, with onions, scallions and mushrooms.

This was great. It came with ponzu sauce, which wasn’t really needed, and a really unique smoked charcoal/ash salt. Killer.

Next up was a trio of beef sushi: one with caviar, one with orange, and one on a nori wrapper that was topped with uni.

Mine were all awesome, but a few other people at my table had some chewy beef. I guess they got some not-so-tender pieces of shank.

Finally, there was an array of individual bite-sized desserts (we each got five) along with some delicious, peppery herbal tea.

What a meal! I would definitely go back, especially because that Hida beef is so special. Give it a shot. They also have a really nice bar with unique spirits.

KAIKAGETSU
162 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002

Mifune

I was invited into Mifune with my wife to sample some of their meat dishes and post some photos on Instagram. But we started with some cocktails, because Shingo Gokan, the man behind the cocktail menu, is an award winning “mixologist.”

This is the Seven Samurai, which is made with rye, aged sake, East India sherry, bitters and smoke:

Pretty beautiful, and really tasty. The smoke aroma was as intoxicating as the booze, and it was similar to a smoked old fashioned.

The Throne of Blood is made with Japanese whisky, Bourbon Antica, Torino and bitters. This is similar to a Manhattan.

The Hidden Fortress, made with bourbon, milk, honey shrub, orange cordial and bitters, is super smooth and tasty.

Finally, we tried the Drunken Angel, made with Hibiki, Umeshu and shiso. This was also great. Very light and crisp.

Now on to the food. The first thing we tried was the steak tartare.

This is made with Angus beef, poached egg and tosazu sauce (a seafood style vinegar). Watch the video as the egg breaks into the tartare:

It was delicious. More like a beef tartare soup – very interesting.

This next item was on special: bluefin tuna temaki. It’s a rib section of bluefin tuna, served with seashells for scraping the meat out and making hand rolls with all the fixings.

Check out this video. Pretty insane!

At just $40, this is a great deal. We probably got about 10 or 12 hand rolls out of this baby.

Okay now on to the meats! First, a straw smoked rack of lamb!

The lamb was perfectly cooked to medium rare.

It came with roasted garlic and grilled fennel. But the real treat about this dish is that when it comes to the table for eating, it’s served in a clay dish that has a smoking chamber underneath, so you get to smell that awesome straw smoke aroma the whole time while you eat.

Next up was washugyu tenderloin.

Washugyu is an American Black Angus and Japanese Wagyu cross breed that achieves a great balance of beefy flavor and tender marbling. This is the same stuff I sell in my shop, pretty much. Anyway, it was incredibly tender and flavorful. They got a nice sear on the meat too. 9/10.

It’s plated up with a shallot puree and some roasted veggies.

This was easily one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. I highly recommend this place, especially for that bluefin tuna temaki. You should go ASAP if you have any interest, because I don’t know how long that will be available on special.

MIFUNE
245 E 44th St
New York, NY 10017

Oka

NOTE: THIS PLACE IS NOW CLOSED

Some of you might remember my recent review of The Crimson Sparrow, up in Hudson, NY.

That was one of the best meals I had all year in 2017. Well, now the Chef/Owner has a Japanese-inspired small plates izakaya joint over in Murray Hill called Oka, and the meal I just ate there is likely to be one of the best meals I will have this year.

A little bit about Chef John McCarthy, which I have shamelessly jacked from the Oka Website:

John is a former lawyer who left a legal career to attend the French Culinary Institute. After graduating from FCI at the top of his class, he worked for Chef Wylie Dufresne at wd-50 for several years, ultimately becoming Chef Wylie’s research and development cook. John is also a certified sake sommelier, and has spent a considerable amount of time in Asia. He lived in South Korea for three years when he was in high school, and he typically travels to Japan at least once a year to either stagiaire or travel for food and drink research and development. For the past two years, he has partnered with Chef Hiroyoshi Amano to prepare two dinners for Outstanding in the Field at the foot of Mt. Fuji for Fujisan Winery.

Not only does he know his way around sake, but he has also crafted some really nice cocktails and curated an impressive selection of spirits as well.

In addition to the impressive cocktail and spirits menu, there’s also a really great happy hour from 5:30-7:00, during which the listed items are just $5.

I was happy to see one of my favorite Japanese beers on that menu, Orion:

Okay so let me get down to business. My wife and I tried a bunch of stuff here. Everything on the menu looked so good that it was really difficult to decide what NOT to order.

Okay so first, the baguette:

This unassuming dish was a great way to open up the meal. The shio kombu butter with smoked salt was wild and invigorating, and the perfectly grill-toasted Balthazar bread was excellent and fresh.

We actually dragged some of it through our second plate, which was the salmon roe with yeasted sunchoke puree and sunchoke chips.

I’m in love with all things sunchoke, so I jumped at this right away. This dish would make for a perfect light breakfast. It was just the right balance of smooth from the puree, pop from the roe, and crunch from the chips.

Just when you thought a Caesar salad couldn’t get exciting, John McCarthy serves you one that is.

This is Romaine lettuce with smoked Caesar dressing, nori panko, anchovy, crispy baked parmesan chips, and shaved, dried bonito flakes. For those of you who are all about that nice fish flavor in a proper Caesar salad, this is all you. It was bonkers.

Next up, steak tartare.

This was easily one of the best tartare dishes I’ve ever had. It stands out among the competition for its notably unique flavor profile. Chef John brilliantly swaps out some of the more standard tartare ingredients for things like pine nuts, gochujang and shiitake to bring this traditionally French dish into his Asian comfort zone.

This next dish was simple but so delicious. Deep fried maitake mushroom, seasoned with za’atar and served atop a smoked dijon mustard sauce. If for some fucked up reason I ever have to give up meat, I would need to consume a lot more fungus like this to try to fill the void. It was meaty, savory, and satiating.

This is grilled baby squid with charcoal garlic oil, kewpie mayo and micro daikon.

The charcoal garlic oil was really something special here. Very simple cook on the squid, but lots of complexity in the sauce.

These giant grilled head-on prawns were massive!

The simple preparation of soy, ponzu and citrus salt allowed them to really shine for the superb products that they are. Make sure you suck the juices out of their heads!

I really dig rice cakes. This Korean version is like gnocchi, only made with rice flour instead of semolina and egg.

This preparation is kinda like mac and cheese; it’s baked with creamy white cheddar and garlic oil, and then topped with spicy cod roe. It might sound weird, but this and the tartare were my favorite dishes of the night! These were like little pillows of chewy goodness with a touch of crunch on the outside, all in a velvety cheese sauce.

Hamachi collar.

There was so much meat on this baby, and every bit of it was juicy and bursting with flavor. I’m convinced this is the best part of the fish. I loved every bite, and it went well with the soy and yuzu lemon zest seasoning that was on it.

This next beautiful and tasty dish is fried rice with pickled mustard greens and mustard seed. Nothing goes better with fried rice than a sunny side up egg. Bur seriously, how gorgeous is this?

The hits just keep on coming. Buttermilk fried chicken:

All the best, most tender parts here. And that dipping sauce is a chili and black sesame mayo. Really nice.

STEAK!

This was a 30-day dry aged Niman ranch cut, which was grilled up and served with a nice house spice made with dried mushrooms and a bunch of other umami bomb type ingredients. Really flavorful!

And last but not least, dessert:

These are Chinese fried dough crullers with white caramel ice cream on a bed of chocolate coffee crumble. Such a dynamic and interesting combination of flavors.

In fact that’s kind of the theme running through the entire meal. Every bite keeps you guessing, and every dish is not only visually arresting, but amazingly tasty as well.

One final note about this place: I love how casual it is. The food is all stunning and delicious, but there is no pretense or attitude. There’s plenty of space to stretch out between tables, unlike other crowded izakaya spots around the city.

There’s also some great bar seating as well.

I highly recommend this place. Get over there and give it a try.

OKA
439 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10016

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