Tag Archives: japanese

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

Kow Cattle Company & Nobu 57

I’ve been holding off on talking about Kow Cattle Company for a bit, hoping to visit the farm and facilities out in Iowa first, but I’ve been privileged to eat so much of it in the past year that I just couldn’t hold back anymore – especially after the beef binge I just had with their product at Nobu 57.

Kow Cattle Company is a small producer of highly marbled, domestically raised wagyu full blood and purebred animals in Iowa. They’re consistently raising cattle that grade out at super high prime, with BMS scores of 8 or higher.

They made a big splash in the NYC meat scene and made some great connections both in the restaurant world and in the influencer world.

Some noteworthy folks who are featuring their product fairly regularly: BLT Steak, Delmonico’s, The Grill, The James Beard House, The Gotham Burger Social Club, Bistrot Leo, Boucherie, and, of course Nobu 57 (and more as well).

 

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Supply isn’t always high at Kow, so if you see some on a menu, grab it while you can.

My first run-in with this delicious stuff was at Bistrot Leo. I tried a burger, some tenderloin tartare, filet skewers and a tomahawk rib eye that night. As you might imagine, the shit was delicious.

 

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One of the owners of the company, Jon Urbana, who has since become a good friend of mine, sent me home with a beautiful strip steak to cook up:

Later, I banged out a tomahawk at home as well. Absolutely stunning.

The high quality, and more importantly the consistency of that quality, is pretty much untouched by any domestic producer of wagyu beef here in the states. I’d love to get some of it into my shop, but they’re currently only shipping direct from their site. Believe me, a LOT of distributors are trying to get their paws on this stuff right now. I’m not alone.

In any case, seeing that Nobu 57 is one of Kow’s purveyors here in NYC, Jon brought me there to try some of the new lot of striploin that they have.

What occurred was nothing less than a Kow Cattle Company strip loin omakase for the ages.

COURSE 1

This preparation is thinly sliced, torched and sauced with ponzu and some sesame, rare to raw. Simple and delicious.

COURSE 2

Beef nigiri sushi. This had a quick sear on the edges, rare to raw.

COURSE 3

Tataki. One of my favorites. Thin sliced after being seared on the edges, rare to raw, and then lightly dressed and garnished with some ginger and shiso.

COURSE 4

This was my favorite. This was seared on the edges as well, rare to raw, but sliced a bit thicker and garnished with a black garlic sauce and some micro sprouts. Incredible.

COURSE 5

This was similar to sukiyaki, a saucy stew with onions and greens. Really tasty, and it demonstrates that even when cooked through, this stuff is tender and savory.

COURSE 6

Classic steakhouse fare here: seared and sliced, rare to medium rare, served with a garlic miso butter on a bed of grilled asparagus. Perfection.

COURSE 7

Foie gras and wagyu beef potsticker dumplings. So decadent, and they ate almost like soup dumplings with that burst of liquified foie and wagyu renderings.

I think that covers it. When you go to Nobu 57, you’ll find Kow on the “washu” side of the menu. Ask about some of the preparations you saw here, because they’re not always on the menu. If you know about them, they may accomodate you if they have the ability. Some stuff is limited availablility, so go early and go often.

NOBU 57
40 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

Nai Tapas Bar – Revisited

I recently revisited one of my favorite tapas and wine bars: Nai Tapas Bar. They’ve expanded into a two floor location, now on 2nd Ave at 5th Street (they moved from their old location on 1st Ave near 11th Street).

They offer an $89 chef’s tasting menu, which only jumps to $110 with their generous, high quality wine pairing pours for each course (and then some).

Not only is this a great deal, but it’s one of the best tasting menus I’ve had in years. Here’s how it went down.

We were met with a heaping goblet of white sangria…

Followed by a pour of the first white wine…

Which paired with the following bites:

This is truffle mushroom basmati rice with manchego cheese, beets and a perfectly poached egg.

These clams are gently broiled open and then dressed with cilantro, citrus zest and yuzu.

Next up was a pour of another white wine to go with this torched salmon and saffron nigiri and glazed Chilean sea bass (wrapped in crispy fried bread and topped with Serrano ham and asparagus).

After this, another glass of white (Gewürztraminer) came out with my favorite dish of the night (and a possible best of 2019 contender): portobello mushroom carpaccio. The Manchego cheese and crushed marcona almonds really made this pop, and the mushrooms are marinated in truffle oil.

There was a nice sangria-marinated cube of watermelon with mint served at this point, to get us ready for the next round.

After that, a red was poured…

To go along with these three meat courses:

Chicken: what a presentation. Broiled sweet mustard marinated thighs with tobiko, seaweed and champagne picked shallots. There were three kinds of sauces too.

Pork: braised marinated baby back rib.

Beef: prime rib eye katsu sando with Hokkaido milk bread and aioli, over shishito peppers.

After that, a palate cleansing cava came out, and then a glass of dessert white…

To go with this lemon tart and chocolate-stuffed churro.

What an amazing meal! There are so many more dishes I want to try on the menu. I’ll be back here again soon for sure, and I highly recommend you go as well. The price is low, the food is great, and there’s even live flamenco music.

NAI TAPAS BAR
85 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003

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

Japanese Beef Scoring

After having a discussion with some food pals about beef marbling scores for Japanese beef, I realized that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the subject. As such, I figured it was time for a more detailed article about this shit. Here goes…

There are three things to understand when it comes to marbling scores:

(1) Yield Rating
(2) Quality Rating
(3) Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)

In many ways quality and marbling overlap each other, since it usually follows that highly marbled beef is also high quality beef. But lets break it down here one at a time.

(1) The A-B-C’s of Yield

I like to think of this as the quantity component, as opposed to quality. A yield rating is a percentage figure that objectively describes the cutability of an animal, or the amount of the animal that can be harvested from a particular area of the carcass.

In particular, this score is determined by carefully measuring shit once a cut is made between the 6th and 7th rib, on the rib eye. The score is assigned after plugging four measurements taken at that cut into a “multiple regression equation.”

The four measurements are: rib eye area; rib thickness; cold left side weight; and subcutaneous fat thickness.

Raters score wagyu as either A, B or C in Japan. A has the highest yield, at 72% or more. B is 69-71%, and this is the most common yield. C is under 69%.

From a business and sales standpoint, it’s better to have higher yields on your animal. So A is better than C in many ways on that angle. For example, a carcass can get knocked down from A to B if the band of outer fat (not the marbling) is too thick, because it lowers the cutability yield (makes the actual rib eye meat smaller). Farmers and ranchers who raise the animals will want to select and breed for good yield traits.

From a consumer’s or diner’s standpoint, however, the yield isn’t, or shouldn’t really be, much of a concern. While a rating of A, B or C makes us instinctively think A is better than C, that would kinda be wrong in this case.

The C grade really just means that, before the meat got to our plate, more of the extrenal fat had to be trimmed away, the rib eye was small, or there was less of that particular cut of meat to harvest from the animal. Or something like that…

Wagyu.org

(2) Quality

Quality grades describe the meat’s marbling, color, brightness, firmness and texture. It also describes fat quality, color and luster. This score is assigned as a value of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest quality and 5 being the highest. A lot of detailed analysis goes into this score.

Wagyu.org
Wagyu.org

As you can see, marbling, meat color and brightness, meat firmness and texture, and fat quality, color and luster are all evaluated on separate scales before being plugged into the overall quality score of 1-5. Pretty intense.

Some of the measurements are now starting to be done with cameras and digital image analysis software (like in the US), to more objectively determine the quality scores.

(3) Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)

The beef marbling stardard assigns a score to the meat based on how much intramuscular fat (IMF, or marbling) it has. It is scored from 1-12, with 1 being the least marbling and 12 being the most. Here is what that looks like:

Wagyu.org
Wagyu.org

There is definitely some interplay and overlap here with the quality score, as marbling is a factor one must consider when assigning a quality score of 1-5 up above. But the BMS score is much a more specific look at the intramuscular fat. Here is the relationship between quality and BMS:

Quality 1 = BMS 1 (poor)
Quality 2 = BMS 2 (below avg)
Quality 3 = BMS 3-4 (avg)
Quality 4 = BMS 5-7 (good)
Quality 5 = BMS 8-12 (excellent)

As you can see, a score of 5 covers a wide range when it comes to the BMS scale. BMS 8 is very different from BMS 12, yet they are both a 5 for quality.

You may be thinking, why the redundancy? Well, as I mentioned in the previous section, the quality also takes meat color, fat color, texture and other variables into account. BMS, again, is purely about the marbling.

But when I see “A5” on a menu, I want to know the BMS as well. I sell BMS 9 domestic wagyu strip for $75 a pound, whereas I sell BMS 12 Kobe for $200 a pound. Both would be considered a quality of 5. See how the BMS score just within the quality rating of 5 can drastically alter the price? Crazy.

Putting It All Together

Basically the best quality available is A5 BMS 12. The A means that there was very little junk on the animal, and it had a good-sized rib eye. The 5 means it’s the best when assessing all the variables relevant to quality, like color, texture and fat. And the 12 means that it has the most marbling.

But I wouldn’t shy away from B5 or C5 BMS 12 either. Remember the letter grade is more about quantity, at least it seems so to me, anyway. Actually, my sweet spot seems to be around BMS 8 or 9. Anything more than that is like foie gras. It tastes like a completely different protein.

Salt + Charcoal

Salt + Charcoal overall score: 85

A food Instagram buddy of mine, @NYCFoodFOMO, set up an “influencer” dinner here, so I was able to try a bunch of stuff. I was really impressed with the meats. It was difficult to fit this review into my standard 10-category format, as some sections just didn’t pan out like they would for a larger steakhouse. With that in mind, you should focus more on the flavor category, as well as the specific notes I made about other food items. Base your decision to go here on the substance and “meat” of the review, as opposed to the total number. I really loved every single item that I ate here, and I will definitely be back again. Anyway, check it out:

Flavor: 9

Porterhouse: 8/10. This baby is dry aged for 50 days, so it eats really soft with with a nice outer crust texture for contrast.

The aged flavor was on the milder side, but I really enjoyed it.

Both the tenderloin side and strip side were perfectly cooked and tender.

Miyazaki Sirloin: 10/10. Look at this gorgeous slab of beef.

I mean, it’s rare that you find beef that’s really from Japan, so this is a special situation. They cook and serve this very simply – almost like a sushi dish – with ginger and wasabi.

It packs a lot of flavor, and is incredibly tender. A really nice treat.

Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 7

You don’t have the biggest selection here (porterhouse, strip, off-menu filet, and wagyu sirloin), but the sirloin is highly marbled Miyazaki; the filet is topped with tons of uni; and the other two cuts are dry aged for 50 days. They are in serious need of a rib eye, however.

Portion Size & Plating: 9

Portions are fairly normal here for the pricing, but the plating is gorgeous. Dishes are served in a Japanese aesthetic.

Price: 8

The prices can get steep. This surprised me for a steakhouse outside of midtown Manhattan. That’s the price you pay for high quality beef, though, and the Miyazaki is actually pretty fair compared to other places I’ve seen it.

Bar: 6

There’s not much of a bar scene to speak of, but the cocktails are certainly well crafted. I had a spin on an Old Fashioned, and I loved it.

Specials and Other Meats: 9

They offer an off-menu filet mignon that’s topped with tons of uni. I didn’t try it, but I’ve heard mixed reviews. I did, however, try their lamb and duck. Both were excellent, and some of the best I’ve ever had. No shame in taking a break from beef to indulge in these two dishes. Hell, they even work as shared apps if you want.

Apps, Sides & Desserts: 10

We tried a delicious trio of apps. First was the wagyu and uni roll. This is similar to the item served over at Takashi, with the accompanying shiso leaf and nori paper.

Next up was the uni shooter with poached egg, salmon roe and truffle oil. Delicious, smooth and decadent. I could slam a dozen of these no problem.

Last but not least, the crab cakes. These were generously meaty with a nice lightly breaded crust. Lovely.

Worth noting here: two of the dishes came with these amazing potato cake sides made of dozens of thinly sliced potato. It was buttery, salty and delicious.

Seafood Selection: 9

There’s a healthy amount of seafood on the menu here, as this joint also serves up some killer sushi. We tried a few rolls and loved them all. No pics though.

Service: 10

The service here is outstanding. Everyone is attentive, yet respectful of your space and privacy.

Ambiance: 8

Beautiful rustic wood tones make for a very cozy, warm and inviting atmosphere. I really liked the open view into the kitchen on the main dining floor. While the restaurant is long and narrow, they make good use of the space. And like a traditional steakhouse, there is a private dining room available downstairs, which is where we ate.

SALT + CHARCOAL
171 Grand St
Brooklyn, NY 11249

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

Kobe Beef from Japan

So it happened… I got my hands on some real-deal Japanese Kobe beef! These are strip loin / New York strip steak cuts, to be precise. Click HERE for the product page in the shop.

I had my guys portion these out so that they’re not too insane on the wallet. Jump on them now and you can get 8oz for $100 (down from $125). Not too bad for the rarity of this beef.

I feel like a half pound is the perfect size for this (you can share with another person, too; 4oz each). Why such a small portion? Because it eats more like foie gras than beef. It’s so tender, so uniform in texture, so juicy, and so rich with delicious, melt-in-your-mouth fat, that you may want a reprieve after a few ounces.

You may want to mix up the textures with another cut. If that’s the case, my suggestion is this: grab one of these, one domestic wagyu strip, and one dry-aged prime porterhouse. Have yourself a taste-off and see which you like the best.

MY BUTCHER SHOP

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