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Mr. Jones Yakitori

jones.jpgMr. Jones: A little swank with your yakitori.
243
E. 14th St., (212) 253-7670.
Sun.-Wed., 5:30 p.m.-midnight;
Thur.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m.;  CUISINE: Traditional Japanese
VIBE: Stealthy yakitori den;
OCCASION: Night out, casual date;
DON’T MISS DISH: Chicken wings, wagyu with wasabi, escolar with citrus sauce;
PRICE: Appetizers $6; entrees $15; desserts, none; RESERVATIONS: Recommended

Some people like to invent imaginary friends. Lesley Bernard likes to invent imaginary friends who design restaurants.

He
created Tillman’s, a Harlem soul lounge in Chelsea, named after its
fictional proprietor, Mr. Tillman. Mr. Jones is the name of Bernard’s
new restaurant on E. 14th St.

The question is — who does Mr.
Jones think he is? And more importantly, do you really want to eat in
the mind of a fictional character? Especially a mind that resembles
James Coburn’s in “In Like Flint”?

But there are other theories. Everybody has one.

Mr.
Jones could be a furniture store specializing in Danish Modern. It
could be George Jetson’s bachelor pad, fireplace and all. It could be
the first-class lounge at Dubai International. Most restaurants look
like they could only be restaurants.

But Mr. Jones is more club
than restaurant, more sex than food. And Mr. Jones seems to have a
question too. Who are you? Perhaps it’s best to plan on coming in
costume.

The waitresses are dressed like ’60s stewardesses. The
hostess almost offered to reclothe me at the door. And all this for
yakitori, which, after all, is food on sticks. Not that I mind some
swank with my yakitori. But perhaps not so much music. And perhaps not
so much darkness.

And perhaps chairs that don’t force you to recline and use your chest as a plate.

Is this dinner or a seduction? The trouble is that all this gets in
the way of the man in the kitchen — Bryan Emperor, a highly trained
chef who has worked at Nobu, Megu, Bouley and at one of the most famous
kaiseki restaurants in Japan. The point is, the persona that matters in
a restaurant should be the chef’s, not some imaginary dude’s.

Now,
let’s talk food. The problem here, too, is persona. What is a humble
iron pot filled with kimchee, tofu and Korean pepper paste doing in a
spy movie? Or

Berkshire black hog belly with lemon and
Mongolian sea salt, for that matter? Both were good, and yet it felt
strange to be eating them in that setting. There is some excellent
traditional Japanese food here — though no sushi — but it deserves a
more appropriate room. Remember, this is yakitori: small, small
portions and lots of choices.

Here’s what I’d order: Karai
honey — chicken with spiced honey. Harami wasabi — wagyu beef with
wasabi paste. Tsukune zura — minced chicken and a raw quail egg with
sichimi, a Chinese blend of seven spices. Most of these are $8, even
the wagyu.

One of the best dishes on the menu is the tori
tatsuta age — Japanese for tempura-battered chicken wings with daikon
sauce. I also liked the slow-cooked escolar with a goma ponzu sauce.

Here’s
what I’d skip: The chicken with mikado teriyaki sauce — too much sauce.
The sakura smoked duck — too much smoke and too much pepper. And the
shiitake mushrooms skewers — too cold and slimy.

At the moment,
Mr. Jones is too cool for dessert. But as an alternative, there is a
wide array of sakes, including the kikusui funaguchi, an unpasteurized
sake that comes in a can. And there’s a perfect palate-cleansing
cocktail. It’s made with wasabi-infused vodka, sake and cucumber.

Guess what it’s called? Mr. Jones, of course.

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