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Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

Japanese in NYC

February 18, 2011
Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

I not only grew up between heavily Japanese-influenced Taiwan and Hawaii, but also used to live in Japan. So it’s not surprising that Japanese is the type of cuisine I eat most. Japanese cuisine in New York is consistently one of the highest quality ethnic foods, and it has become so sophisticated that I can actually satiate my specific cravings at the many specialty Japanese restaurants that have cropped up over the years. So here’s a quick run-down of my favorites by specialty.

Omakase A. Ichimura at Brushstroke

Ichimura is sushi heaven. The tiny sushi bar in a cordoned-off alcove inside Brushstroke seats only about nine. It was originally the restaurant bar, but had sushi chef Eiji Ichimura, a most congenial and soft spoken man, not mentioned that the set-up is not ideal — he stores his fish in repurposed wine fridges — I wouldn’t have ever known. The... full article

Sushi (Omakase) B. Soto

Since it opened in New York in 2007, I have hailed Soto as my favorite sushi restaurant in town. Not only is chef owner Sotohiro Kosugi’s sushi fresh and delicious, but the appetizers prepared by his wife in the kitchen are also spectacular. Marked by subtle flavors, perfect pairings and delicate craftsmanship, even the simplest dishes like... full article

Sushi C. Tsushima

On the lookout for a new regular sushi joint — not new as in just opened, but new to me — I was pleasantly surprised at the sushi bar of Tsushima in Midtown and have since returned many times. The full (Japanese) menu and daily specials showcase lots of delectable little home-style dishes, but one or two is all I’ll order, for I don’t want to... full article

Omakase (Seasonal Menu) D. Sushi Zen

On a recent wintry night, my sister and I spent an unforgettable evening at Sushi Zen. We left our dinner fate in the hands of Master Sushi Chef Toshio Suzuki for an omakase meal. Sitting at the sushi bar, we had a blast chatting with him. As he and his chefs worked, we joyfully anticipated what would come next.

Our meal began with... full article

Seasonal Menu E. Kajitsu

Kajitsu is the best culinary gift to the City this year. I eat Japanese almost daily, and there’s no other Japanese restaurant of this caliber serving real kaiseki ryori in New York. The meal is like a journey to Kyoto, conjuring the poetic beauty of Japan’s ancient capital, bringing with it all its refinement and tranquility, feeding my... full article

Sashimi F. Omen

I love many dishes at Omen, but the sashimi special platter is my staple favorite. I always order it. I enjoy sitting at the bar to watch the sushi chef endlessly and artfully compose the popular sashimi platters while I polish off my own order. Besides the sashimi special platter’s beautifully arranged pieces of fresh tuna, salmon, fluke, yellow... full article

Goma Tofu Cocktail G. Kyo Ya

The goma (sesame) tofu is a signature dish at Kyo Ya. Pieces of remarkably silky smooth sesame tofu are immersed in an unexpectedly umami-packed shiitake broth. There are pieces of shiitake to accompany, but the broth alone is enough to convince you that shiitake should be an essential part of any pantry. Don’t be shy if you want to drink the broth.

Soba H. Cocoron

The name of the hip Lower East Side soba joint, Cocoron, is Japanese for heartwarming, and indeed this soba specialty restaurant has truly warmed my heart with the best quality soba in the City. For true soba lovers, cold soba is the only way to go, as hot soba inevitably becomes overcooked and soft in the broth it sits in. Cold buckwheat noodles are... full article

Uni Ikura Soba I. Sobakoh

Fall (specifically October and November) is prime soba season! This is when “new” soba — fresh soba noodles made from ground buckwheat grain that’s just been harvested — arrives. Given my never-dying fervor for soba and uni, the uni ikura soba combination is a match made in heaven for me! While I still think that Sobakoh’s buckwheat... full article

Beef Salad J. Soba Nippon

Soba Nippon created this star item on its menu, beef salad. The salad is a regular iceberg lettuce, shredded red cabbage and carrot salad with a ponzu-based dressing. What’s remarkable are the thin slices of seared beef prime rib that sit on top of the salad. Dressed with sesame seeds, the slices of beef are still slightly warm, and upon... full article

Inaniwa Udon K. Restaurant Seo

Restaurant Seo’s signature Inaniwa udon in warm bonito broth is heavenly. Even as a soba fanatic, I recognize the high quality and perfect texture of the Inaniwa udon, a specialty from Akita prefecture in Japan. This superior udon is thin and flat, similar to fettuccine, and remains al dente after cooking, instead of turning mushy — one... full article

Kitsune Udon L. Samurai Mama

Samurai Mama specializes in udon, although it resembles an izakaya more than it does a noodle house. The menu offers a spectrum from gyoza to sushi and cocktails, all somewhat innovative in execution but based on traditional Japanese ingredients, so it’s fun. The udon, though, is truly exceptional. Noodles are made in-house using wheat... full article

Toroniku Shio Ramen M. Ramen Santoka

I know there’s been lots of talk of the ramen wars in the City, but at the end of the day isn’t it really about what you like best? I just tried a ramen outside of the City when I finally made it to Ramen Santoka at the Japanese supermarket mecca, Mitsuwa, in Edgewater, New Jersey. Santoka is a famous Asahikawa (Hokkaido)-based... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng N. Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop

There’s no shortage of good ramen in New York these days, but Ivan Orkin’s homecoming is a welcome addition. Orkin is a native of Long Island, but he spent many years living in Japan, drawn there by his love for Japanese culture. He opened his first two ramen joints in Tokyo — a bold move for a gaijin — and they were wildly... full article

Totto Spicy Ramen O. Totto Ramen

This is a drool-inducing dish. The noodles have a good amount of koshi (firmness or chewiness) that provides a satisfying mouth experience; the pork belly is an indulgent gestalt of grilled meat and fat; and the green onion and bean sprouts are crisp. What really makes the dish distinct — and justifies waiting in Totto Ramen’s long... full article

Shio Ramen P. Ramen Setagaya

Thanks to Ramen Setagaya, I have finally come to appreciate shio ramen. Shio, Japanese for salt, is a clear broth and Setagaya makes it with pork bone, chicken and chicken bone; Raus and Rishiri seaweeds from Japan; dried mushrooms, scallops, and anchovies; garlic, ginger, cabbage, and red pepper. The broth’s rich seafood and meat flavors... full article

Hakata Ramen Q. Ippudo

Ippudo specializes in Hakata (Kyushu-style) tonkotsu (pork bone soup) ramen. The original flavor of tonkotsu ramen or Ippudo’s original version, shiromaru (white) moto-aji (original flavor), is served in a rich white broth with scallions, roast pork, cabbage and seaweed. They have two other types of ramen: akamaru (red) shin-aji (new... full article

Yakiniku (Barbeque) R. Takashi

Yakiniku is Japanese- style Korean BBQ. You generally don’t see bulgogi on the menu of a yakiniku restaurant, but you’ll see kalbi (short ribs) and rosu (ribeye) as the two main staples, and then all the horumon (offal, i.e. stomach, intestine, liver, sweetbreads). Takashi is a hip yakinikuya in the West Village that offers premium... full article

Special Oyakodon (Chicken Over Rice) S. Yakitori Tori Shin

The New York branch of this Tokyo yakitori specialty restaurant is authentic and truly delicious! Oyakodon (short for oyako donburi — chicken and egg over rice) is comfort food at its very best. The special oyakodon at Yakitori Tori Shin is presented with a raw egg yolk to be mixed in with the cooked egg and chicken... full article

Bonchiri (Chicken Tail) T. Yakitori Totto

It takes some skill and time to grill the bonchiri, as the chef must alternate the skewer from the hotter and cooler parts of the grill in order to achieve the right amount of sizzle on the outside while the fat inside cooks away. And let me tell you, bonchiri is the best! You don’t taste any rubberiness in the skin, and the fat... full article

Lunch Specials U. Aburiya Kinnosuke

Aburiya Kinnosuke has a variety of daily Japanese lunch specials that include The Limited (named because there are only 10 available daily), Today’s Fish Dish, Today’s Meat Dish, and the Two Chef’s Specials Served Over Rice. The Limited is the best deal at $13. Two weeks ago, it was eel over rice, pickles, an appetizer, and soup. On a... full article

Lunch Specials V. Ise Japanese Restaurant

Ise Japanese Restaurant’s Midtown location offers a substantial range of daily lunch specials. The chef decides the specials menus in the morning, including special A, special B, lunch box, lady’s set, ramen set, and udon set. Lunch starts at 11:30, and with only 10 of select sets available, they sell out quick. My lunch box last Tuesday... full article

Lunch Specials W. Gyu-Kaku

Gyukaku is a low-end yakiniku (Japanese barbecue) chain from Japan that has expanded all over the U.S. The quality to price ratio doesn’t work for me as I find it overpriced, but once in a while, I just crave meat! It’s fun to grill it yourself, and it goes down great with Japanese draft beer.

Lunch Specials X. Ariyoshi

Ariyoshi is best described as a hole in the wall. The homestyle cooking is of the lowest quality from my Midtown Japanese Lunch Specials feature, but they offer a nice deluxe lunch for $12 that includes sashimi, appetizer, tofu, pickles and a main. The selection of mains ranges from grilled fish, katsu, and steak to tempura. The grilled... full article

Tonkatsu Y. Katsuhama

Katsu is the Japanese adaptation of the Western “cutlet.” The Japanese have made it into a national tradition, eating it with rice, shredded cabbage, and dipping sauce (sometimes with a little mustard). Katsuhama is a tonkatsu specialty restaurant, with a menu full of different cutlets and deep fried skewers. The standard pork tenderloin katsu... full article

Rice Balls Z. Oms/b

Japanese rice balls, called omusubi or onigiri, are a staple in Japanese cuisine. They’re a common fast food that can be found even in convenience stores, while a superior incarnate can be found in specialty omusubi stalls, among other purveyors of fine foods, in the gourmet basement food markets of department stores. As I share Japan’s love... full article

Curry Omu Rice 1. Hiroko's Place

Omu Rice is a Japanese cafe staple: omelette rice. Rice stir fried with ketchup and bits of vegetable are rolled inside an omelette. This curry omu rice here at Hiroko’s Place has white rice in the omelette so there’s no conflict of flavors with the beef curry. Great comfort food!

Spaghetti with Tobiko and Shiso 2. Basta Pasta

One of my favorite pastas at Basta Pasta is the spaghetti with tobiko and shiso. The Japanese love mixing pastas with fish roe — mentaiko and tarako are most commonly used — and it works because the texture of the roe adds a miniature crunch and a strong flavor to the pasta. While tobiko is less commonly used it pasta, it... full article

Pork Kakuni 3. Zenkichi

Apparently, the most popular dish for gaijin (foreigners) is the cream cheese and anago tempura — which I enjoyed very much — and the most popular dish for Japanese is the kakuni — pork belly. It never occurred to me that people might be afraid of the fat on the pork belly, but a friend said she got to eat all of the kakuni because her... full article