Ato in Soho

Ato is a restaurant that’s very easy to miss, even if you’re looking for it. It looks like an abandoned retail space from the outside with no obvious signage around. Once you do a double take and notice the menu taped out front, you might be inclined to enter, although you’ll still wonder if this place is fully open. Something about it feels like it hasn’t completely repurposed its original retail space as a restaurant, even though there is an omakase counter and proper tables set up in there. But sure enough, Ato is very much fully operating, despite looking like a work in progress.Read More

Japanese Home Cooking at Ootoya

Japanese food in New York is pretty awesome. Whether you want excellent soba, ramen or yakitori, you have so many options to choose from. Nothing makes me happier than a rice bowl with delicious pieces of egg and pork tonkatsu laid on top. As you would expect, there are a lot of options for a kick ass donburi bowl, and other homestyle cooking items in general, and Ootoya makes a lot of them.

Ootoya is a Japan-based chain that specializes in traditional home cooking, specifically set meals, or teishoku, which generally consists of meat, fish, rice, miso soup and a side of pickled vegetables. The quiet buzzy atmosphere and the clean minimalist surroundings with an open-air dai really make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Japan. The food, most importantly, is comparable to what they’re serving in the mother land.

ootoya - tofu
homemade tofu with selected salt

I was having a particularly rough Sunday, but as soon as I had a taste of the grilled mackerel in the hokke yuan dinner set, all my troubles seemed to melt away. I was too distracted by the deliciously unctuous and salty quality of the plump mackerel pieces sitting on top of the warm, herbal bed of rice. The hot miso soup, which was notable for the presence of thick, hearty vegetables throughout, was extremely soothing and was the perfect antidote for my depressing, cold Sunday night. Mixing in some chawanmushi into the rice and blending in the mackerel ponzu sauce really cinched things together into a delicious porridge.

ootyoa - mackerel
hokke yuan – grilled atka mackerel marinated in yuan sauce

The kaisen don, which was essentially a chirashi bowl served with a side of requisite soup, egg custard and pickles, was like a treasure chest of fresh, flavorful raw fish. Digging through the sushi vinegar rice and finding little orange bits of Santa Barbara uni and blue fin tuna was a very satisfactory treasure hunt, indeed. I tried to stop myself from picking at all the delicious rice, but when salty salmon roe awaits you, it’s hard to say no.

ootoya - kaisen
mini kaisen don

Throwing back all this food with a glass of Asahi and a bowl of green tea ice cream was just what I needed for the evening. I was at peace that my day sucked, and that tomorrow was an early start of the work week. They say you shouldn’t eat your feelings, but when stress and sadness are ingested in the form of delicious donburi, then this phrase definitely needs to be revisited.

8 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 255-0018


Japanese Korean BBQ at Takashi

What I’m about to say is a little blasphemous, but the best Korean bbq that I’ve had in the city is at Takashi, a Japanese restaurant that combines “the bold, heartiness of Korean flavors with the finesse of Japanese cuisine.” Koreans and Japanese have had a rocky past, so the fact that a treasured regional dish is being reinvented in a Japanese manner is sure to ruffle some feathers of a proud and nationalistic group. But I have to give credit where it’s due–I was extremely impressed by the flavors of Takashi’s subtle marinade and the melt-in-your mouth qualities of the high-grade meat.

The whole bbq experience at Takashi is very Japanese. Gone are all the banchan appetizers that take up the whole table. Instead, there are three small bowls of pickled vegetables, seasoned beansprouts and cabbage salad. The Japanese tradition of restraint is clearly being exercised here. The portions of meat provided for grilling are smaller than what you’d receive at a Korean restaurant. In one bbq order, there’s usually 4-8 pieces of meat total. Each table has a huge vent that traps the smoke and smells of the grill before it stinks up your clothes, which is definitely a big plus because the smell alone is enough to rule out Korean bbq for me. The Japanese really have such an eye for detail.

Takashi sources its premium Japanese and American Angus meat from local farms and esteemed distributors like Pat Lafrieda. I think the quality of these premium meats goes a long way, because I could not find fault with any single meat dish that we tried. It was a matter of splitting hairs to determine which one was my favorite. Even the cow tongue or shio-tan was a pleasant surprise. I am not one of those adventurous eaters who think eating offal is totally awesome. I explicitly told everyone in my dinner party that I was opposed to tongue, and when I actually felt the rubbery, squishy piece in my mouth, the phrase “cat got your tongue?” became much too real. But it really was pretty good, although the texture still leaves much to be desired. If you are into offal, Takashi has you covered. Stomach, large intestine, heart, sweetbreads, liver, aorta–no part of the cow goes to waste.

takashi - tongue
cat got your tongue?

My favorite non-grilled meat dish of the night was the yooke, or the beef tartare. Imagine eating the best bulgogi you’ve ever had, only in raw form. It sounds odd, but that’s the best way of describing it. The famed niku-uni, which consisted of fresh sea urchin and chuck flap wrapped in seaweed, was memorable, but I personally thought the uni and the meat were competing for my attention. Uni in my opinion goes best with something more neutral like white rice or pasta, in which its unique, brine-y flavors can really come through.

takashi - niku-uni
takashi - yooke beef tartare
beef tartare

My favorite grilled meat was the kalbi–the slightly sweet marinade was just perfect, and the thick cut was extremely satisfying. The harami skirt steak was also excellent, tender and chewy in just the right amounts. I wasn’t expecting much from the cheeks or tsurami, but they were surprisingly flavorful. I suppose plump and soft parts of the body usually yield great cuts of meat.

takashi - cheeks
takashi - kalbi
takashi - skirt steak
skirt steak

Even though Takashi has the best Korean bbq, the experience you get here is pretty different from the one you get in Ktown. The places in Ktown have all the additional stews, pajeons and hearty dishes that are perfect for fueling your raucous night of clubbing or karaoke. A dinner at Takashi is much more subdued and intimate, and meat is the main focus. I think there’s room for both to harmoniously coexist on the Korean bbq spectrum since they are selling experiences that are different enough. But more importantly, Takashi is another West Village joint that passes my crosstown test!

456 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10011
(212) 414-2929