This guide isn't for the gastronomes. "What, does he think we are rubes? Who doesn't know of the exquisite dignity of the tea ceremony?" The answer is, a lot of us. So here is a guide to help you out.
I know that people come here for the food, but to me that's crazy. This is possibly the greatest sake bar in the city, if not the country, and the only purpose for the (admittedly fine) food is to keep you from ralphing. I'm sorry, but it's true.
While David Bouley is the nominal chef, the real authorship of this Japanese tasting restaurant are the graduates of the Tsuji Culinary Institute, Japan's elite cooking school. There will be many courses; the check will be astronomical; and the experience unforgettable.
Japanese food rarely seems homey. But this wonderful East Side restaurant makes you feel like you wandered into someone's home. The food is great but the warmth and intimacy make it worth returning to.
If you don't work at the United Nations, you might miss this place, which would be a shame. It's an almost perfect Japanese restaurant, with an incredible sake program, a way with small kaiseki-style dishes, and some really first-class meat dishes.
The Japanese have a great grilling tradition (technically this isn't barbecue, no matter what they say.) The meats are from all over the animal, and the marinades are diabolically good. The only downside is that the city makes them use gas grills instead of the charcoal this was obviously meant for. Maybe you can work something out....
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.
You know the immaculately curated, elegant temples of sake? This isn't that. It's low, dirty, rowdy, a den of drunken salarymen gobbling chicken skin and downing endless shots of cheap sake. It is wonderful.
The art of handmade of buckwheat noodles, like so much else in Japanese culture, is a whirlwind of mystique and conniseurship. Some people don't get it, but for those who do, the texture and delicate flavor of soba totto's titular noodles are a Mecca.
The partisans of ramen are fierce indeed. Some love momofuku, others Totto Ramen. That's fine. But you know what? Anybody who thinks there is a better ramen out there, from soup to noodles, should have their head examined. The broth alone here would be worth a trip across town. (I guess I am a partisan myself.)
Curry came to Japan via England and, like so many of their discoveries, they now do it as well or better than the original. This tiny East Village operation, clean and sharp, is an ideal place to encounter it.