New York has its share of both posh and pricey omakase restaurants, as well as cool and casual Japanese izakayas, and they both tend to exist as totally disparate concepts. But Tempura Matsui blurred the borders last year, when it designed $200 per person progression around fried & battered meats and veggies, and now TEISUI has done the same, making the grilled and skewered chicken known as Yakitori — an izakaya hallmark — the focus of its luxurious, chef-designed tasting menus.
Located in NoMad, the recently opened kaiseki spot seeks to recreate the experience of a Ryokan; a Japanese-style guesthouse where visitors come to experience traditional culture, and most importantly, authentic food. And while the windows at Manhattan’s TEISUI peer out onto the scaffolded scrum of Fifth Avenue, it manages to maintain an aura of total zen; the intimate space cosseted with curtains and lined with as many books as a library (perhaps to remind diners to use their inside voices).
Besides, it’s a lot more fun to watch the action behind the 17-seat bar — presided over by Nobutaka Watanabe (previously the head chef at Hapa Izakaya in Vancouver) and Yuichiro Yoshimura, directly from the actual TEISUI Hotel in Japan — than in some private guestroom, the way they so often eat at a ryokan. Offering a single, set menu of 10-courses for $150 (consider adding on a wine or sake pairing, curated by Aldea’s Yasmin Mansour), they work in fluid tandem with a duo of grill masters and a vigilant squad of servers, who adroitly describe each dish.
After sliding ones spoon through the final, velveteen dregs of a bowl of uni custard (a mere amuse bouche, which could have been a standalone dish), the show starts in earnest; scrolling through edible canvases of art rendered in not quite miniature. The Hassun is like a seasonal play on the bento box; four tiny tastes of king crab, watercress salad, cylinders of pounded, cedar-toasted rice, and chewy lobes of chicken masquerading as burdock root. Ensuing offerings include Tsutsumi-Yaki — a papillote of chicken tenders and mushrooms, which patrons release from a steam-filled, beribboned bag — and a frothy Rabbit Miso Cappuccino, poured over nuggets of the lean, firm-fleshed meat. There’s Sushi (uni again; always a welcome treat), a capable take on Tsukune (char-grilled chicken meatballs, trailed through a sunburst of raw egg yolk), and a highly original rendering of Momo; chicken thigh paired with pinpricks of mashed potato, gemstones of eggplant, and a swath of risotto-like couscous. And the grand finale (save for a Milk Honey Ice Cream dessert, accented with red beans and yuzu gelatin, and crowned with a lacy sugar cookie) is the Ishiyaki TEISUI; a broth of miso and Tokyo scallion, afloat with red snapper and king crab, and set to simmering tableside with a scalding Mt. Fuji Rock.
Asian cuisines like Chinese, Thai and Korean may have more than asserted themselves in New York in recent years, but additions like TEISUI prove that Japan is still king when it comes to fine dining.
246 5th Ave, New York, NY 10001