We live in a day and age where a restaurant’s fate is seemingly determined by its ability to garner press. Those who are lucky enough to be picked up in the New York Times or to be constantly featured in food bloggers’ Instagram feeds can add on a few years, whereas those who are ignored will soon die from irrelevance. Which is why it’s unusual to find Secchu Yokota, a Japanese tempura restaurant in the East Village that operates under the radar in soft-open mode and has never officially advertised its opening, thriving.
Secchu Yokota has that intimate, zen-like atmosphere that is reminiscent of sitting through an omakase in Tokyo where the chef silently and painstakingly prepares a meal, speaking only to describe the dish and not much else. The focus of the omakase at Secchu Yokota is high-end tempura, which is still something of a novelty in the States. It’s reasonably priced at $65, which gets you two appetizers and a generous assortment of tempura pieces, followed by a concluding savory “shime” dish and then dessert. If you like seafood, an upgrade to the $95 tasting is worth it, as it will get you three special tempura pieces like sea eel and king crab.
Even in the $65 tasting you will have your fill of seafood, which tend to be the stars of the omakase. The fried tempura of scallop from Hokkaido was a real standout, as was the rich, buttery filet of Japanese sea bream that followed it. With the $95 option, you’ll also have the privilege of enjoying the eel, which tastes like a flaky white fish. At Secchu Yokota, you have the option of eating your tempura pieces plain, with a squeeze of fresh lemon, two types of salt – a spicy wasabi and a charcoal, and soy sauce infused with bonito flakes. I found that the less you dress up your tempura the better it tastes, and the charcoal salt really did the best in enhancing the umami of the piece while letting the original flavors shine through.
If you’re in a rush to meet someone afterwards, this isn’t the place for you, as the omakase can stretch nearly 2.5 hours. But it’s to be expected when two chefs are making nearly 5 dishes and ~12 tempura pieces by hand for each of the 8 guests. Good things come to those who wait, as they say, and those hours will be ones well spent.
199 East 3rd Street 1st (between Ave A and B)
New York, NY 10009
*The restaurant offers two seatings each evening at 6:00 and 8:30 pm, Mon-Sat