145 Duane Street, New York NY 10013 (at West Broadway; map); (212) 571-1830; takahachi.net
Kids' Amenities: High chairs, stroller storage
Best Dishes for Kids: Maki, Edamame
Cost: Lunch specials $13.50-17
Takahachi may be my new favorite spot for lunch in Tribeca (and I am almost thinking jury duty might not be that bad after all). The lunch specials, in the $15 range, may also be the best Japanese food bargain you could get for the amount and quality of the offerings at this beautiful restaurant on Duane Street.
My daughter and I met an old friend of mine with her daughter for lunch there recently, and we were sat at the skylit back room. Takahachi's front room is surprisingly dark at noon, but the back room, with an abundance of natural light, was perfect for two active toddlers. The restaurant counts with a number of "stone planters" (pebble-filled patches on the floor) which proved to be both a blessing and a challenge: the pebble patches were great fun for a while, but soon became too much of a sandbox for them.
The food came soon enough, however, and we started with pitch-perfect edamame (a staple in Japanese summers): bright green, with plenty of bite, and sprinkled with salt flakes—not too much, not too little. What's not to like about edamame? Both girls got directions on how to squeeze the beans right inside their mouths and that kept them busy for a little while.
We ordered three lunch specials between the four of us, with the hope of having the girls share the maki box (tuna, salmon and California rolls, $14). The attentive waitress suggested that we order the maki without wasabi, and so we did. The salmon and tuna maki sushi were great, and the girls thoroughly enjoyed it; sushi rice, in particular, proved irresistible to both, although they also quite liked the fish. Nori was less appealing to my daughter's friend.
The California roll was harder for the children to eat because it's rolled inside out, and they forgot to hold the wasabi. I thought they were wonderful, especially because instead of kani (crab sticks) they used real crab meat in the rolls. Rolls tend to be a very good choice for kids at Japanese restaurants; it's entirely acceptable to eat them with your hands and they are both fun and healthy.
I order chirashi-zushi whenever I can, because I like to strike my own balance between fish and sushi rice. The chirashi at Takahachi was as beautiful as it was fresh. I had to surrender my fish roe to my daughter, but I was glad to see her enjoying the delicate red balls exploding in her mouth.
My sushi-lover friend is pregnant and was a bit concerned about raw fish, so she wistfully order the enoki mushroom-stuffed beef rolls ($15) from the kitchen, and although she enjoyed the flavors of the marinade and dip, she thought the texture of the vegetables was a little too stringy.
But really, besides all the excellent dishes, what makes Takahachi a winner for adults and their kids are the small dishes that come with the lunch special. In addition to the usual miso soup (choice of red or white miso) and salad that you get with Japanese meals, we also got two side dishes, which on that day happened to be a delicious chicken and carrot salad, and steamed spinach, both laced with a very subtle sesame dressing that's slightly sweet and thus appealing to children.
In the end, even if your kid is not into any of the entrees or sides, try putting some rice into the miso soup bowl and feeding it to her. It's irresistible and, although not particularly refined, entirely acceptable! As soon as the little ones' appetites were satiated, however, the pebbles became too much of a distraction again—so we took our profits and left Takahachi without dessert. (Takahachi Bakery is only a few blocks away on 25 Murray Street, for those interested in a great selection of Japanese sweets).