Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Best Kept Secret

I returned again to a lovely authentic Japanese gem in NYC that serves the best eggplant that I've ever had (I have been dreaming of their delicious eggplant ever since my first experience there). The restaurant has the feel of an exclusive club - it is little known outside of the Japanese community, there are no windows, the restaurant's name is understatedly displayed outside and easily missed, and there are no menus other than a drinks menu. To keep this place a gem, I won't be posting any photos or mention its name (although I did mention its name once in the past...hint hint).

The restaurant exudes homeyness - from the Japanese comfort food, decor, to the waitresses outfitted in aprons. It is filled with patrons who gather after work to relax over beer and fine food. No one is in a hurry to leave, and the waitresses are in no hurry to rush you out. That doesn't translate to slow service though. Our food, served only omakase style (tastings by the chef's choice), came in no time. The courses are mainly cooked Japanese food, with one sushi course. They make sure that you're full by the end of the omakase, and offer ramen, udon and dessert if you're not.

It appeared that the restaurant's omakase varied little from my two visits there. I had the pleasure of enjoying their eggplant, fried chicken and broiled cod both times. My last experience was just as tasty as the first. We had 6 courses in total, consisting of:
  • Broccoli Rabe - Cut pieces of broccoli rabe rested in a delicate pond of light broth and bonito flakes. It was a perfect light start to the meal.
  • Eggplant - Eggplant pieces were cooked and marinated in a delightful sauce that included sesame seed oil, soy sauce, and other flavors I could not identify (it was so delicious that I tried to replicate this dish at home). Not only did I love the flavors, but also the many tiny cuts along the eggplant skin that helped it absorb the sauce deep inside. The cuts showed how much care is put into the food.
  • Sashimi - Tuna, yellowtail and thinly sliced octopus in Japanese-sized portions, of course.
  • Chicken Salad - Chopped pieces of warm fried chicken mixed with thinly sliced red onion, cucumber, sprouts and tomatoes. I loved the saltiness of the fried chicken with the sweetness of the vegetables, and the crunchiness of the chicken skin and cucumber with the softness of the tomatoes.
  • Broiled Cod - The miso marinate was tasty and the fish was perfectly cooked. The fattiness of the fish filled me up. I was definitely feeling full by this point.
  • White Fish Stew - This was my least favorite, but was indeed an eye opening dish. The color and thick texture of the stew resembled clam chowder in America, but was sweet in comparison. It had pieces of sliced mushrooms and chicken, and was topped with a piece of chewy dough that was broiled. The dough, I thought, brought the dish down. On top of that, I didn't taste any fish in the stew.
We got a little greedy after our omakase and ordered a ramen to share even though we were both feeling full. This was also because someone on either Yelp or Chowhound (forgot which one) proclaimed that this restaurant had the best ramen he/she had ever tasted. I disagreed with that person, and thought their ramen was satisfactory. Ramen or no ramen, I look forward to the day I return once again to this gem, even if it's just for their delicious eggplant alone.

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