Ok, so perhaps the use of “authentic” isn’t exactly fair because I’ve never actually eaten in Japan, but having watched lots of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmer tells me that this place is the real deal in New York City.
Yokocho’s entrance is at 8 Stuyvesant Street, between 3rd Avenue & 9th Street, next to St. Mark’s Bookstore. However, its on the second floor and there’s another Japanese restaurant on the ground floor, so make sure you head up the stairs.
Inside feels like what I imagine the Tokyo equivalent to Brooklyn might be. Its filled with hand-drawn flags advertising the food options. Sadly, they are in Japanese and so I could only guess at things based on the accompanying drawing, if there was one.
Additionally, there is an extensive English-language menu with lots of tapas style choices, including a kind of Japanese BBQ skwere called yakitori, fresh salads, soups, noodle dishes and so on, but no sushi, so if that’s what you’re in the mood for, you won’t find it here.
What you will find are unique selections on every page, including on the sake menu – oh and did I mention its affordable?
For starters, we ordered a Junmai Daiginjo sake, a large carafe for $16. This grade of sake is considered high end. A minimum of 50% of the rice must be polished away before fermentation and no additional alcohol can be added. The result is clean, floral and light, without any morning-after side effects.
Then, we ordered lots of little plates of interesting sounding things off the menu, and by pointing to other patron’s plates and saying “one of those, please.” I had octopus salad, steamed green beans with black sesame sauce, and deep-fried squid legs. We also shared a plate of Japanese pickles, a barbecued rice caked filled with pickled plum, dumplings, chicken liver yakitori and quail egg yakitori.
By the time I ordered the quail eggs, I was full and really didn’t need anymore food. However, when something like BBQ eggs is on the menu, and I know that yakitori involves skewering something, I can’t suppress my curiosity. Three perfect little eggs appeared, skewered through the poles and tea-colored. The eggs had been hard-boiled and brushed with the BBQ sauce before grilling and were a blend of custard and chalk mouthfeel; familiar, yet utterly unlike any preparation I could have imagined for the humble egg. Oh, and the skewer cost $3.00.
The only thing that wasn’t stellar were the chicken livers, not because they weren’t good, but they were unadorned. I might have liked a brush of plum sauce or something to cut the minerality with some sweetness.
We ended with mochi ice cream. Mochi is glutenous rice that is pounded out into a gummy circle or square and wrapped around a filling, like red bean or ice cream. We had chocolate and black sesame and they were awesome, except that you had to order two pieces and when the server told us that only the chocolate and black sesame were available (from a list that also included strawberry and green tea) one of us asked if she could only order one, as her second choice was sold out, and she was refused. I found that slightly annoying but perhaps the byproduct of a complex, computerized ordering and inventory system.
I will certainly be back and am looking forward to being a little more adventurous in my ordering (beef tongue yakitori!) and also dipping in to the adjoining Angel’s Share bar that is known for an extensive list of specialty cocktails, but was to swanky for my jeans and t-shirt of choice.