KANPAI NY A Celebration of Japanese Food, Drinks and Culture!
26 South Central Ave., Hartsdale, NY 10530, 914-428-1203
Best of 2015: Best Casual Japanese Restaurant, Best Sushi Rolls
Fujinoya, located in Westchester, makes some of the best Japanese food we've had in NY. This hidden gem in Hartsdale, NY is what it is all about, and features a large selection of both sushi and izakaya dishes. Located in a former garage space, this low-key spot is truly a one-of-a-kind, and proves that you don't have to be in Manhattan to have the best. Try the vegetable sushi roll, which is made entirely of fresh (rather than pickled) vegetables, and tastes like a bite-sized salad. They also make the best California rolls we've ever had. And if you want to eat your meal from the cutest plates you've ever seen, make sure to ask for the puffer fish plates, which depict a trio of happy-go-lucky puffers. They have a decent selection of sake, as well.
113 Thompson St., New York, NY 10012, 212-925-8923
Omen, located in Soho, is the NY outpost of a Kyoto-based restaurant company (where they have three locations). The entrance is so subtle that you might miss it, but when you step inside you realize that you're part of something special. The atmosphere is low-key and the decor is somewhat rustic, but it still feels decidedly sophisticated, thanks to the Noguchi-inspired lighting, the sophisticated Soho clientele, and--most importantly--the elegant and pristine Kansai-style food. The restaurant is named after their signature dish, omen udon. They also make the best agedashi tofu we've had in NY. There are not many Japanese options in the Soho area, but there's no reason to go anywhere else.
66 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016, 212-885-7111
Hakubai, located in The Kitano hotel, is the NY location of the 180-year-old Tokyo-based restaurant Nadaman (which opened in 1830). This elegant basement-level restaurant specializes in kaiseki and sushi, and offers a quiet and peaceful atmosphere with semi-private alcove seating, which appeals to the mostly Japanese clientele. They also have three private tatami rooms for special occasions with friends or colleagues. The kimono-clad waitresses add to the authentic appeal of this special restaurant.
7 E 48 St., New York, NY 10017, 212-813-1009
Shinbashi is a beautiful multi-level restaurant in midtown that caters to a sophisticated clientele. It's also one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in NY, originally opening (down the street) in the 70's. The impressive dining room features a very large sushi counter and 40 foot ceilings, and is a perfect compliment to the restaurant's creative menu. The food is outstanding, and surprisingly, not very expensive, and they have a great sake list, as well. Add to this very attentive service, and Shinbashi is still one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city, not to mention an amazing value. The restaurant has a large outdoor seating area in the warmer months.
3 E 44 St., New York, NY 10017, 212-681-0001
Azusa is a comfortable and attractive multi-level favorite near Grand Central, known for good value and service (especially during lunch). It's popular among Japanese businessmen who frequent the always-packed bar near the entrance. The dining room features two private tatami rooms, which add to the authentic atmosphere. We like their udon and nabe, in particular, which makes it a good destination in the Fall and Winter.
729 Saw Mill River Road, Ardsley, NY 10502, 914-674-6015
Sazan is one of the few good authentic Japanese restaurants in Westchester. Located in Ardsley, NY, it has a regular Japanese clientele who seek out the restaurant's sushi and izakaya dishes in a refined yet casual dining room. Their list of appetizers is quite extensive, and includes many unique dishes. They also have an informed sake list that includes the SMV (sweetness) rating for each sake.
19 E 49 St., New York, NY 10017, 212-758-2700
Sushiden is our favorite sushi restaurant in NY. The NY location of a large Japanese restaurant chain, they've been serving a mostly Japanese clientele since the 80's, and are still going strong--despite the newer competition. The original (Madison Ave.) location is a beautiful and elegant multi-level space that isn't showing its age at all. The half-dozen sushi chefs behind the popular sushi counter create top-notch traditionally presented sushi. The waitresses wear kimono, and provide gracious service. This is the authentic sushi experience that you're looking for. Sushiden also has a location at 123 W 49 St. (212-398-2800).
204 E 43 St., New York, NY 10017, 212-972-1001
Sushi Yasuda is consistently hailed as one of the top sushi restaurants in NY. And when you enter through the sliding glass door--a modern take on the traditional shoji door--and step into the minimalist dining room, made entirely from bamboo, you realize that you're entering someplace special. Although Chef Yasuda is no longer behind the sushi counter (he opened a new restaurant in Tokyo), the restaurant is still producing top-notch sushi. And the huge assortment of fish varieties on the sushi list is second to none. They also have a great variety of vegetable sushi options. Try the daikon sprouts roll for something different. On another note, Yasuda wins points for serving Ozeki by the glass, which is the first time we've seen that at a high-end restaurant, and reminds sake snobs of the importance of the "big brands" in Japanese society.
1143 First Ave. (bet. 62 & 63 St.), New York, NY 10065, 212-371-0238
Sushi Seki, also located in the UES, is a popular sushi restaurant where you can enjoy top-notch sushi late into the night (they're open until 3:00 AM). Chef Seki was previously a chef at Sushi of Gari, and specializes in a similar style of creative sushi. The decor is somewhat eclectic, and the staff is very friendly (and happy to offer suggestions). Try the spicy scallop roll, which is their most popular sushi roll, and is a great example of traditional-looking sushi that's done in a creative way. They have a large (and interesting) sake selection, which suits the creative sushi and eclectic decor perfectly. Come here when you want great sushi in a fun, casual atmosphere. Seki also has locations at 365 W 46 St. (212-262-8880) and 208 W 23 St. (212-255-5988).
SOBA / NOODLE
309 E 5 St., New York, NY 10003, 212-254-2244
Soba Koh is a cozy, low-key spot in the East Village, specializing in handmade soba, which is made in the window as you walk in. The atmosphere is casual yet sophisticated--with beautiful paintings of koi on the walls--and the staff is extremely gracious. In addition to the extra-thin soba, they have one of the better sake lists in the city.
229 E 9 St., New York, NY 10003, 212-533-6966
Soba-ya, located in the East Village, was one of the first restaurants in the city to specialize in handmade soba. The space is lively, and always packed with a young downtown crowd. They also have an outstanding sake list, which was selected by the sommelier at Sakagura. Soba-ya doesn't take reservations, so there can be a wait at peak times.
326 E 6 St., New York, NY 10003, 212-388-1155
Souen Noodle, located in the East Village, is the newest of Souen's three locations, all of which specialize in organic, macrobiotic cooking. The cute, minimalist space offers a relaxing environment in which to enjoy their signature organic ramen dish, which comes in a kelp based broth. As the name implies, they also have a nice selection of soba, udon, and rice noodles. Souen also has locations at 28 E 13 St. (212-627-7150) and 210 6th Ave. (212-807-7421).
213 E 45 St., New York, NY 10017, 212-867-5454
Aburiya was one of the first restaurants in NY to specialize in robata cooking. The long, narrow dining room is dark and cozy, and features several semi-private booths on the right side for small groups. In addition to the robata, which is cooked in the back of the dining room, they also have a very creative menu of appetizers, most of which are listed as specials. Try the homemade zaru tofu, which comes with a unique assortment of flavored salts (kelp, wasabi, and yuzu). Also, not to be missed, is the grilled edamame, which is probably the most interesting and flavorful edamame we've ever had. The sake list is also outstanding, with almost 30 sake to choose from, including a large selection of daiginjo.
125 E 39 St., New York, NY 10016, 212-228-4873
Kajitsu, located in the East Village, specializes in shojin cuisine, which is a form of vegetarian kaiseki that originated in Zen Buddhist monasteries, and is said to be the foundation of all modern Japanese food. So, not surprisingly, when you enter Kajitsu--through the traditional sliding door--it's truly a Zen-like experience. The dining room is simply designed in wood and stone to provide an unencumbered environment in which to enjoy some of the most elegant food you'll ever eat. And it will probably also be the first time that you try many of the ingredients. In keeping with the Zen Buddhist philosophy, only the freshest, most seasonal ingredients are used in order to be in harmony with nature. Thus the menu changes every month. And the perfect accompaniment to the food is the gracious and accommodating service. Each dish in the two prix-fixe menus is described in detail as they are brought to the table in one-of-a-kind plates from Japan, many of which are antiques. This is truly a special experience.
141 E 45 St., New York, NY 10017, 212-986-1109
Riki is a popular midtown izakaya, known for its extensive menu and a lively late night atmosphere (they're open until 3:00 AM). Although it's been there for a long time and features traditional Japanese decor, it manages to maintain a cool, young atmosphere--thanks in part to the younger clientele and wait staff--which distinguishes it from many of its midtown rivals. Their huge izakaya-style menu is probably the largest and most-varied we've seen in NY, and features a creative assortment of dishes that you won't find anywhere else. Try the snowpeas with chili sauce, which is our personal favorite when we go there, and defines the experience for us--simple and traditional, yet somehow new and exciting. The staff is very friendly and the owner (Riki) typically greets you at the door when you come in. They have several private rooms on the left side of the dining room, which add to the authentic atmosphere. In addition, Riki has two karaoke rooms on the second floor.
226 E 53 St., New York, NY 10022, 212-319-3940
Ariyoshi is one of the oldest izakayas in the city, and is a favorite after-work and late-night spot (they're open until 4:00 AM). They have a large selection of izakaya and sushi dishes, and a nice selection of sake. Unlike most places, their "happy hour" starts at midnight to accommodate the late-night crowd.
86 E 3 St., New York, NY 10003, 646-654-1122
Uminoie is an unexpected oasis in an otherwise grungy area of the East Village. The name is a Japanese word for casual beachside restaurants, and the funky island decor--including fishing nets on the walls--makes you feel like you're sitting in a beachside bar in the South Pacific. They serve a creative menu of Goto Island-inspired seafood dishes, including their signature Goto udon, which is handmade by the owner's father and comes in a flying fish broth. They also have a large bar in the front of the restaurant and the largest shochu list we've seen in NY (with over 50 shochu to choose from). The shochu is substantially discounted everyday during their Happy Hour (7:00 - 9:00 PM).
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Featured Sake of the Month
Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto
Best of 2015: Best Junmai Kimoto Sake
The Seven Sake 2015
Kurosawa (Nagano) Est.1858
Smooth, medium-bodied, slightly earthy flavor with hints of brown sugar and pepper, made using the rare kimoto method, which produces rich flavor, slightly higher acidity, medium dry
Seimai Buai: 65%