A cafe by day and a sake bar by night, Hi-Collar brings two highlights of Japanese cuisine under one roof. But the lunch menu is worth a visit all its own.
'Japanese' on Serious Eats
You won't want this for lunch every day, but as a reasonably priced meal with lots of variety in two neighborhoods lacking in good food, BentOn is a good option to have.
Wasabi, a by-the-piece sushi shop, is the latest fast food import to hit Times Square.
Chuko opened in 2011 and continues to draw enough of a dinner crowd that evening waits for a table can stretch perilously close to one hour. But the idea of ramen on a bitingly cold day is too good to pass up, and for the vegetarian noodle-lover, there's good news: Chuko does a great bowl of meat-free ramen.
Beef offal specialist Takashi recently started a late-night ramen menu by reservation only. Forget pork tonkotsu; here's ramen with Kobe beef belly.
For your money, it would seem that the best way to navigate Soba Totto at lunch is to head straight for its specialty, its exceptional soba noodles.
Ivan Ramen's Slurp Shop is open, and it's good. Really, really good. The last great ramen rush in New York was all about the pork. It's not until the last year or so that we've been dipping our feet into craziness that is modern ramen. Slurp Shop marks New York's first headlong dive, and it's fitting that a Jewish guy from Long Island is bringing it to us, leaving authenticity far behind in the dust.
Japanese import Ootoya specializes in teishoku, set meals of meat or fish with sides like rice and steamed egg custards, but you need to start your meal somewhere, and the Homemade Tofu Salad with Special Bonito Flakes ($12) is a fine way to do so.
Ichibantei might lack the glitz and gleam of the ramen houses and sushi joints that proliferate in the East Village. And there are certainly places that do ramen and steak with more proficiency. But almost anything that is deep fried or that you eat with your fingers at Ichibantei is worth your time, and the general vibe—with the dim lights and pulsing reggae beat—makes the joint a great place to hang, snack, and knock back a few drinks.
Yesterday evening, The Gohan Society, a non-profit organization that works towards foster appreciation for Japan's culinary heritage through cooperation with chefs, held their third annual Aki Matsuri. The event was a celebration of Japanese cuisine and how it's taken shape in New York as well as an embrace of the fall season.
The name pretty much says it all —these are Hide-Chan's standard fried pork and vegetable gyoza, topped with a layer of mozzarella cheese (think less Joe's Dairy and more Kraft), then broiled the mozz has liquified and formed a golden, bubbly crust. Embrace the gutbomb.
Sure, you can have sushi or ramen at Ootoya, the large Japanese chain that recently sprouted its second US branch between Bryant Park and Times Square, but that would be missing the point. New York already has more than its share of single-minded specialists and Ootoya excels at less common teishoku, set meals with miso soup, rice, pickles, and egg custard, plus dish-specific sides, all presented in eye-pleasing ceramic and lacquerware.
When a new restaurant serving self-described "authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food" opens in South Williamsburg, it sounds like a punchline. But throughout my leisurely dinner in the low-key space, I was consistently, pleasantly surprised by the friendly service and creativity at play in the kitchen.
Sitting at the subterranean, yet still light and airy bar at Bassanova a week after their opening, there's a veritable supergroup of ramen chefs populating the dining room to test out their newest competition, a straight-from-Tokyo import that serves up pork-based tonkotsu broth along with a Thai-style green curry.
You can most assuredly find brighter and glitzier spots for sushi and Japanese comfort foods in the East Village, especially if you want to spend a lot more money. But Natori has far more character, history and soul than all of them combined.
The shiny new midtown branch of Ipuddo may be garnering the most recent ramen attention, but it's not the only Japanese import worth talking about. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Both serve Hakata-style ramen characterized by pork-based tonkotsu broth and thin firm noodles. Also like Ipuddo, you'll get the shouted welcome upon entrance. Unlike Ipuddo, you probably won't have to wait in line for the privilege.
Loop is a solid neighborhood option for the area. I recommend you stick with the simplest of preparations—the basic rolls and the sashimi—which are the surest bets. The specialty rolls and especially the hot food is more hit and miss.
After a string of delays, Ippudo II is now officially open on West 51st Street, with a slightly more streamlined menu than the offerings downtown. We stopped by the soft open for lunch last week to see how the Midtown branch stacks up.
The Japanese restaurant's hearty homemade noodles are a satisfying and affordable vegetarian meal.