We all love Japanese food -- but sometimes I find it a little hidebound. The same dishes made the same way, with the same flavors. What I find exciting is when Japanese food takes that left turn, as it does in these restaurants.
One of the city's best and least-talked about Japanese restaurants, this gem serves gorgeous kaiseki food, the elaborate composed food traditionally associated with the tea ceremony. Set aside plenty of time, and bring your wallet.
Kaiseki isn't for everybody. The most intricate, subtle, exquisite and demanding form of Japanese cookery requires great patience, respect, and a willingness to pay a lot of money for many courses of not-especially-filling food. Descended from the even more complicated tea ceremony, kaiseki restauants, of which Sugiyama is the preeminent example, serve a series of delicate and tiny dishes to diners of a certain temperament. The flavors aren't bold and the portions aren't big, and you have to sit there forever, but for the truly discerning it can be a glimpse of paradise.
You'll see lots of Japanese nationals when you walk by here, and there's a reason why: brilliant original dishes and absolutely superb sushi.
Say this for New York's sushi king -- he is at work behind the bar every day, and when you splurge on his omakase menu, it is the master himself who hands you each piece of magic.
"Big Box" Japanese restaurants are generally low-quality, off-brand affairs, but EN is as good as it is big. Avoid the New York cliches (e.g. miso cod, etc. ) and ask for the actual Japanese standards at which the place excels.
Sushi restaurants tend not to be romantic. It would be closer to the truth to say that they are closer in spirit to operating rooms. But Zenkichi is a rare exception, a Williamsburg sushi restaurant of very fine quality which is, a the same time, one of the most romantic settings to be found in the city -- a perfect place for a date, especially given how easily good sake goes down and how un-filling great sushi is.
Exquisite, expensive, and aesthetically exhausting, this is high japanese cuisine at its most formal and fastidious. Go once a year and then talk about it the rest of the time.
Super delicate, super stark Soto takes an especially high-minded approach to sushi: a combination of the characteristic stripped-down vision of perfect sashimi on the one hand and an almost kaiseki-like approach to small, exquisitely composed and plated dishes. The combination is a huge winner, and more than worth the considerable cost.
Are pig's feet your favorite food? Well, allow me to introduce you to your dream restaurant: Hakata Tonton, which serves a menu made up more or less exclusively of the delicacy, served from a variety of pan-Asian perspectives.
It takes a certain temperament to come to Kajitsu, an ineffably fastidious Japanese vegetarian zen cookery. Don't expect to get bowled over by flavor, or to walk out especially full, but do expect a supremely subtle, umami-filled experience. This is a restaurant for very civilized people, or the elderly. I want to be able to appreciate because I can see how accomplished it is, but it's not my thing.
Helmed by two Masa veterans, this is the uptown sushi temple in stripped-down (and cheaper) form, featuring exquisite omakase in a former shoe store space.