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111 East 18th Street btwn. Park Avenue South & Irving Place
Savory NY video

Contemporary Japanese & sushi
Feng shui sleek
OCCASION: Entertaining

GO WITH: A date, birthday party, or power lunch – the possibilities are endless
DON’T MISS DISH: Wagyu brisket ravioli
DON’T BOTHER DISH: Tuna tuna salmon roll
PRICE: $50 & up
HOURS: Dinner, Sunday-Thursday, 5 PM-11:00 PM, Friday & Saturday, 5 PM-11:30 PM. The lounge (no food served after 11) stays open Sunday-Wednesday until 1 AM, Thursday, 1:30 AM, & Friday & Saturday until 3 AM.   Lunch will begin come September.
RESERVATIONS: Two weeks in advance for prime hours.

INSIDE SCOOP: No reservations necessary in the “walk-ins only” upstairs & downstairs lounge (100 seats & with an abbreviated food menu).

FINAL WORD: A big addition to the neighborhood…

– Wine by the bottle (the best bang for your buck)
Start with – Baked king crab nigiri
Eat – Wagyu brisket ravioli
Finish with – Chocolate indulgence

In a city being systematically swallowed by gargantuan Japanese eateries, the newest attack, this one mostly by sea, has set its sights on Gramercy Park’s restaurant row.  Having already succeeded in becoming a prominent fixture on Chicago’s culinary map, Japonais takes an 11,000 square foot stab at NYC and refreshingly manages not to make a scene about it.  The stylish space is divided into numerous intimate nooks, including an outdoor veranda, main dining room, upstairs & downstairs lounge (equipped with a DJ) – all outfitted with walnut, red & golden hues.

While I was tempted to linger in a sexy banquette-filled lounge, already brimming with a trendy crowd, I chose to dine centerstage, sinking into a cushy candy red vinyl chair beneath a ceiling of undulating walnut wood waves in the dining room.  But there’s no bad seat in this house – even the sushi bar’s surprisingly roomy and civilized.  I eased into Japonais with the signature “Floating Orchid” cocktail – a fruity blend of vodka, cointreau, fresh pear & lemon juices, & an edible floating orchid – an Asian-inflected cosmopolitan of sorts, saccharine sweet, except for the orchid, which tasted exactly as a flower should (I don’t recommend eating it).

Though the menu seems somewhat intimidating and lengthy, it’s simple to navigate if you start with sushi, but focus your efforts (and money) on the cooked “Hot Kitchen Specialties”.  I began with an
inside-out spicy octopus roll, topped with a tuna tartare so fiery even the sweet eel sauce couldn’t offset the heat, practically rendering my tastebuds useless for the rest of the meal.  Luckily, my tongue recovered just in time for a fantastic Kani Nigiri, a tangy tangle of spicy baked king crab wrapped in seaweed.   My last stop in the sushi section was a Tuna Tuna Salmon roll: generous slabs of silky and fresh ahi tuna arrived draped over a dried-out baked salmon roll (I would’ve preferred the ahi tuna solo).

But it was smooth sailing once I hit the cooked dishes.  Wagyu brisket raviolis were nearly perfect: tender and sumptuous pillows of wagyu simmering in a sweet sea of mirin & beer broth so delicious that I had to be physically restrained from picking up the bowl and lapping up the rest of the addictive broth.  Then came “The Rock”, a kitschy & tasty do-it-yourself signature steak dish, that should be required eating by every table.  Marinated in a sweet soy sauce, slivers of paper-thin New York strip are cooked any way you like it – just throw a sliver on your personal hot rock (but don’t touch the rock).

Come dessert, I spent time with the Chocolate Indulgence, an unmemorable trio of decadent sweets.  I tried not to pick favorites, but the chocolate truffle beignets – warm and fluffy bite-sized donuts – stashed an unusually rich, dark chocolate ooze that gloriously spilled out when bitten.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl

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