[caution: this post contains kanji and hiragana, I’ll put in the romaji names as well when possible.]
Three nights in Midtown East and three excellent dinners:
1) Hane Sushi, 3rd Ave at 38th location. This is probably going to become our default restaurant for “we just got in, we’re tired, we want food near the hotel, and we want it to be good.” There’s a good selection of fresh sushi and the sake selection is also nice. Most of the waitstaff know enough about sake to help you pick the right sake and order the right food, including at least one self-described “sake fiend”. Note that we’ve only had sushi there, so no idea how their plates/dinners are. If this were my neighborhood sushi joint I would not complain one bit. (I’d compare the sushi quality to Fuki Sushi in Palo Alto, CA.)
2) Sakagura. I’ve never been to any restaurant like Sakagura, the closest I can think of is Nihon Whisky Lounge in SF. Imagine a huge sake list of the best sakes that Japan will export and a menu color coded to help neophytes pick the right food to match their sake choice. Given that they’re in a basement, they’ve done wonders with the decor. Take a look at their specials and dinner menus and tell me you’re not considering an “emergency junket” to Midtown. There was nothing whatsoever to complain about except for the loud jackasses at the bar chugging down Sapporo and trying to outdo Scarface in the profanity department. (I say this as a person who drops the f-bomb on a routine basis in regular conversation.) The food selection was amazing, including things like é»’æžè±†ã€€(kuru edamame, or black soybeans) as an appetizer and their own, homemade, sea-salt chocolate sorbet.
3) Aburiya Kinnosuke. I know it’s cliche’, but I almost don’t want people to know about this place. It clearly has enough business to keep it going, the last thing it needs is a bajillion tourists getting in the way when I want to eat there. Aburiya is not just an izakaya, it’s an old-school izakaya that uses a charcoal stack in a sand pit for ç‚‰ç«¯ (robata, or “hearth-side”) cooking. I think we only ordered one or two things from the regular menu, everything else came from the daily special menu. The sauteed tuna was a bit overcooked, but everything else was so much better than expected that I barely remember the deficiency. One of the best dishes was the fried, homemade soft tofu — crispy outside, creamy inside. Such a simple dish yet so completely amazing. (No, we didn’t have the purportedly world-class tsukune, we filled up on specials first.)
Sakagura and Aburiya Kinnosuke were cheaper than Nobu, probably a better value overall, and we were able to make same-day reservations. I really liked dinner at Nobu, but their sake list is minimal and it’s so hard to get in that I’m not sure it’s worth the effort and advance planning. (Cue Morimoto’s ninja death squads hunting me down…. Hey, but I totally love Morimoto in Philly, so it’s a push!)
[tags]izakaya, manhattan, robata, sake, sushi[/tags]