QUICK CHEAT SHEET:
Drink – 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
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.