Inspired by the idea that nothing edible should go to waste, EN Japanese Brasserie in the West Village is serving family-style, "staff" meals ($45 for a set menu) on the first Saturday of every month. In keeping with the spirit of thrift, the meals make use of whatever the restaurant has on hand: leftover tuna collar, salmon skin, sea bream head, beef tips, and sashimi ends were all part of the meal this past Saturday.
Eager to try chef Abe Hiroki's nose-to-tail dishes, I am happy to report that owner Reika Alexander and her team at EN Brasserie certainly know how to feed their customers fully and well on the parts of the animal that would otherwise be discarded.
A sake-marinated, roasted magura tuna collar was pleasantly fatty and flavorful. The subtle taste of the miso came through; in a matter of minutes the diners at the table had cleaned the meat off the bones.
A crispy salmon skin salad was dressed in a yuzu-citrus dressing. The salmon skin was nicely charred, with just a bit of flesh left on the skin.
Stewed with sea bream head, the fish soup was the most deeply flavored dish of the night. With a clear broth and a powerful, pure essence of fish, the soup was a tonic to the frigidly cold weather outside.
Deep fried eel and fluke bones were difficult to stop eating. Some strips bore a curious resemblance to fried taro; other chunks were intensely fishy and bursting with flavorful oil.
Japanese-imported braised Wagyu beef tips came in a miso-based sauce, served with plenty of tender bits of konnyaku. The execution of the konnyaku was some of the finest I've eaten in a restaurant. A mainstay of home-cooks, konnyaku may be bland in taste, yet its texture and ability to absorb its surrounding flavors makes it worth seeking out. There was very little beef on the plate, but such was the point of the dish—that, when aspiring to make use of every last bit of the animal, humbler ingredients should be added to bulk up the more expensive protein. Perfectly cooked rounds of tender lotus root added yet another layer of texture and flavor.
The chirashi dish may have used the ends of sashimi, but the amount of fish atop the rice was more than enough. The salmon ends were especially flavorful.
Finally, butajiru, a hearty pork and vegetable miso soup, rounded out the dishes. The soup came with more of the chef's expertly prepared konnyaku.
The event began in a bustle as guests dove into the dishes at the center of each table; as the night progressed, the pace became more relaxed. Certainly, the family-style dining and the free-flowing Sapporo beer facilitated the convivial atmosphere. Diners left happy and very full, with a much better understanding of just how much of the animal can be used to such delicious effect.
EN Japanese Brasserie
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