Restaurant Hack: Make reservations at the counter, especially if it’s date night.
My favorite cuisine is Japanese; unfortunately for me, that is also one of the most difficult cuisines to master at home. This left me with no other choice than to frantically look around for great Japanese restaurants when I first moved to NYC three years ago. I started bookmarking on Yelp every cute/popular Japanese restaurant that I found on Instagram, and eventually compiled a pretty impressive list—feel free to ask me for recommendations.
Robataya has actually been on my list since last summer, but I never really got around to going there until my friends hit me up last week to hangout. Let me just say, Robataya did not disappoint. The food was delicious, the sake selections were impressive, the staff was knowledgeable and make excellent recommendations, and the ambiance was unparalleled.
I cannot explain the importance of going to a restaurant with the right kind of ambiance; it sets the mood to your entire dining experience. Robataya blew me away. Mind you, I’ve been to a lot of nice restaurants, but this was completely different. It felt like Japan. Robataya features a traditional Japanese barbecue, where they grill seasonal vegetables, fresh seafood, and savory meats (ft. organic ingredients) right in front of you if you sit at the U-shaped counters. Your order is shouted out across the room from your waiters to the chefs, and after it is ready to be served, the chef will serve you food on an oar. [According to Japanese legends, fisherman used to grill their catch on the boats and they would share it with others by bellowing at each other at sea, while passing the food on their oars as well] This is one of the reasons I would definitely recommend the counters, you get the entire experience. The main dining room, however, is equally beautiful, set in a traditional Japanese Garden, while preserving the elegance and simplicity of a traditional Japanese restaurant.
It being my first time at the restaurant, I chose to go with their omakase menu [omakase means chef’s choice, so it’s a menu carefully curated by the chefs of that restaurant]. The food from the grill were minimally dressed in suzushio [a type of sea-salt], to accent the natural flavors of the fresh and organic ingredients used.
The first course was the zensai, or hors d’oeuvre, which consisted of a home-made tofu topped with scallions and bonito flakes [dried, fermented fish flakes], and two types of salt that you can season to taste. Absolutely silky with a refreshing taste.
The second course was a sashimi set [raw fish sliced into bite sizes], with tuna, amberjack, and what I think is sanma (could be wrong about this one). Hands down the freshest tuna I’ve had, and it literally melted in my mouth.
Our third course was the robatayaki [literally translated as fire-side cooking] course, which refers to the traditional Japanese method of cooking, in which food is slow-grilled over hot charcoal. This course consisted of pumpkins, mushroom and asparagus, all cooked to perfection
An exotic looking fish also came with this course, crusted with salt, which allowed the fish to retain the maximum amount of moisture. Dressed with a little bit of lemon juice to further bring out its natural flavors.
Kamemeshi [a traditional rice dish cooked in a kama, which is an iron pot] was the final savory course of the night. Ours was topped with shitakke mushrooms and chicken breast. Because the rice was cooked in a kama, the rice on the bottom gets slightly burned, adding a desirable flavor to the entire dish.
You can’t end a meal without desserts; our final course consisted of a mochi [A Japanese rice cake made of mochigome, a short-grain Japanese glutinous rice] dessert and two scoops of matcha [finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea] and sesame flavored ice cream. The impeccable end to a great tasting menu.
The only downside to this dinner was the sake pairing option. The restaurant was nice enough to accept my request of getting the 5 course meal with the pairing (usually you have to do the seven course menu). However, for the price for the pairing, I expected a sake with every course, only to find out that by pairing, they mean 3 sakes for 5 courses. The sakes they recommended were delicious, however, it was just way too pricey, even in New York.
Robataya is a must-go restaurant, especially if you are adventurous and want to go out of your comfort zone and dive deep into a different culture. I’d suggest getting slightly tipsy before you go, and maybe go bar hopping afterwards. Or just order the sake separately and forgo the pairing option. Robataya is the perfect place to take friends/dates that you want to impress.
Overall Ratings: 8.4/10