The trend in Indian cuisine in NYC has shifted towards the elevated or the reinvented, which explains the success of restaurants like Junoon or Babu Ji. But if you’re looking for a reliable traditional meal, then a dinner at Moti Mahal Delux on the UES should do the job. Why Moti Mahal vs. the countless options on Curry Hill? It helps that Moti Mahal comes with some solid credentials. The original Moti Mahal in India is famous for creating several signature Indian dishes like Tandoori chicken and butter chicken that are seen on menus throughout the country. You can’t go wrong with a restaurant that invented some of the greatest hits in Indian cuisine. Read More
I finally made it out to Tanoshi for the omakase tasting menu. I knew that the restaurant was small, but I didn’t realize how tiny it was until I got there, in a highly inconvenient area of Yorkville. There were about 10 seats at the sushi bar in both the original sushi sake bar and the bento shop, which converts into an extension of the sushi restaurant at dinner.
It was very scrappy and humble inside, more neighborhood hole-in-the-wall than critically acclaimed sushi restaurant in atmosphere. But for a high-quality omakase experience at ~$80 all in, and with a BYOB policy, who cares that it was a little janky. Plus, bonus points to Tanoshi for having a female sushi chef on the staff, and to call bs on the Jiro theory that women can’t make good sushi!
There were 10 pieces total in the omakase. Similar to Sushi Sasabune, the nigiri pieces come pre-seasoned, and the staff is absolutely vigilant that you eat each piece with your hands. Apparently the rice underneath is formed a bit delicately, and there’s risk that the use of chopsticks might make everything fall apart. That seemed reasonable to me, since the rice did appear a little more al dente than at other places, and the layer of rice was on the thin side.
There’s no doubt that the fish was absolutely fresh, and the quality impeccable. The seasoning, on the other hand, was a bit uneven. There were times when the fish was a tad too sweet, but these lapses were few. For the most part, the sushi chefs were on point, and I’m still thinking about the uni and the king salmon to this day. Below is a recap of the 10-piece omakase in pictures:
The fluke cured in kelp had a light, clean taste. There was a bit of citrus in the seasoning, which added to the bright flavor profile. A great way to start the palate off fresh.
The seared king salmon that followed was brilliant. Salmon is a fatty fish, which you usually sense in the denseness of the fillet, but at Tanoshi, the richness is of a luscious, fluttery kind, the type that melts in your mouth like butter.
I wasn’t as big a fan of the marinated big eye tuna. I’ve definitely had better tuna elsewhere, and the fish seemed a bit leaden and at the end of its shelf life.
The branzino with pickled kelp had a very interesting texture. It was bit more firm, similar to the sturdy consistency of squid. The flavor itself didn’t really stand out in any way.
I love rich, fatty fish, and no surprise, I enjoyed the miso cured black sable. The unctuousness of the fish muted the wasabi underneath, rendering it to a subtle, mild heat.
Again, I don’t think tuna is one of Tanoshi’s strong suit, at least not the night I went. The wild albacore tuna left no impression, and I’m not sure that the egg yolk really added anything to the piece.
The seared scallop was another winner. The scallop, which was poached and then seared, was silky and slightly sweet. Let the tough, rubbery scallops of yesteryear be distant memories.
Tanoshi really found its footing towards the latter half of the omakase. The marinated salmon roe was an excellent follow-up to the scallop. The juicy, salty squelch of the salmon eggs was a satisfying sensation, coating the rice in a delicious brine.
The santa barbara uni was my absolute favorite piece of the night. It was everything uni should be–rich and soft, with the flavors of the seawater emanating throughout. And what better way to enhance these decadent qualities with some quail egg yolk?
The uni was a hard act to follow, but the sea eel made a very respectable showing. It wasn’t tough and full of prickly bones, and something about it was less fishy than what you ordinarily get. Probably a testament to the freshness of the fish, and the type of water it grew up in.
The nigiri portion of the omakase concluded, followed by two rounds of sushi rolls. I’ve already made my feelings about the tuna here pretty clear. The albacore tuna rolls with scallion were solid, but nothing spectacular.
The spicy tuna handroll was a more successful tuna effort, probably because we were distracted by the heat and the sharp, herbal flavors of the shiso leaf. These were welcome distractions, however, and I was perfectly content with the handroll.
The omakase concluded with a shot of miso soup. I was a little surprised that the meal ended on such a succinct, savory note, and not on a slightly sweeter one, since the progression went from light to rich. Perhaps it was done in response to all the BYOB in the restaurant–coating the stomach one last time with a dense layer of soup might be more helpful in keeping the alcohol in check. Nevertheless, the miso soup, much like everything else, left a strong, positive impression. I’ll certainly keep refreshing the reservation page for another encounter with the uni.
Tanoshi Sushi Sake Bar
1372 York Ave (between 74th and 73rd St)
New York, NY 10021
I have fond memories of my old studio apartment on 89th and 3rd. I liked how it was on a block that felt like a real neighborhood. You could sense that generations of families grew up here, whereas downtown neighborhoods lack that sort of heritage. People aren’t trying to be part of the scene, they’re just shopping for groceries, coming back from the gym and just living life. True, downtown has all the flash and excitement, but when you want to get away from it all, the UES is a true escape.
The restaurants in the surrounding area have a similar vibe–reliable neighborhood spots that you can count on to serve you a homey, comforting meal. Fratelli Brick Oven Pizza is that type of a place, and I actually used to frequent this restaurant back in the day. When an opportunity to revisit Fratelli came up, nostalgia and curiosity prompted me to take advantage of it.
Like the name suggests, the pizza is the real draw here. I was a big fan of the crust–it was thin and had that perfect, golden brown char around it, and when you bit down it revealed a soft, chewy interior. We ordered the Mama Fratelli’s Classic, which is a white pizza, meaning that there is no tomato sauce. Instead, you’ll find layers of melted fresh mozzarella revealing a bed of creamy ricotta underneath. There was a generous helping of garlic in the pizza, which provided the pie with some nice, sharp flavors.
We also tried the brick oven baked eggplant lasagna. This had all the trademark trappings of a red sauce dish. Generous amounts of tomato sauce and cheese surrounded the grilled eggplant. I was initially concerned by the excess, but the flavors were surprisingly muted, although the eggplant did get overshadowed by the other components. I also think the lasagna would have benefited from having some sort of carb to provide more structure and neutrality to the dish. But despite these criticisms, I was extremely drawn to the comforting, familiar flavors of the lasagna. With each spoonful I felt like there was less weight on my shoulders and that Friday was closer in the horizon.
A real treat was the white chocolate polenta cake that concluded the meal. I liked how there was a lot of grainy cornmeal texture from the polenta–it was a unique touch that differentiated it from other cakes. I felt like I was biting into a large blondie pancake with bits of sugar crystal granules throughout. Sweet and satisfying, it competently served its purpose as a dessert.
Nostalgia was definitely the overriding theme of this meal. The obvious one was that I had been here before during my early years in New York. The other one was the red sauce style of cooking that Fratelli specializes in. This type of Italian cooking is the one that I grew up, and it’s great that it still finds a place in a dining landscape that demands exotic hybrids and reinventions. Sometimes you just want pizza and pasta the old school way, and that is what Fratelli Brick Oven Pizza delivers.
Fratelli Brick Oven Pizza
1317 First Ave (between 70th and 71st St)
New York, NY 10021