NYC Restaurant Review – Robataya

Posted by bmountain | Posted in Restaurants, Sake | Posted on 17-01-2010

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On a recent business trip to New York my colleague Dave Hauser and I dropped by Robataya in the East Village for a late dinner.  Dave is originally a west coast guy where they know a bit about Japanese food so I wasRobataya looking to show him some of New York’s best.  Robatya was definitely one of the more interesting dining experiences I’ve had in the city and we enjoyed it tremendously.  The sake list is excellent and the format is completely unique.

I knew we were in for a good time when we walked in the door and were greeted with a shout by the cooks and wait staff (I assume everyone gets that treatment).  We sat at the counter which I strongly recommend.  The counter surrounds the cooking area and you get to watch all the food preparation action which is fascinating.

Robataya emulates the simple beachfront restaurants in Japan where fish is cooked over an open fire using an oar as the only cooking implement.  At Robataya your meals are grilled behind the counter and then passed to you on a large oar-like paddle.  When the cook passed my first course to us I wasn’t sure what quite to do with it and after he had been holding the 8 foot paddle out for a while he started pleading with me to take it as it was apparently getting heavy.

The grilled vegetables are superb at Robataya.  We particularly liked their mushrooms.  We also tried fish, chicken and beef dishes and they were uniformly excellent.  Portions are designed small enough so you can enjoy a range of dishes but large enough to share.

The sake menu is quite good with a range of sakes from affordable to super-premium.  We started with a Housui “Old Mountain” Junmai which is produced in the Tokushima prefecture located on the offshore island of Shikoku. Tokushima has a unique culture distinct from the mainland of Japan. Over 3/4 of Tokushima is covered by forests and the prefecture is also famous for its clear seas and abundant water. Yamahi Old Mountain Sake is cold brewed. Cold brewing is a process that is done in the winter time. Snow is collected in a kettle and the kettle is added to the brew, lowering the temperature and causing the brewing process to be slower and longer. The result is a sake that is darker in color and bit aged Riesling like in flavor. It has a delightful aroma of super dry, yeast mash sourness, which becomes even more pleasant and mildly sweet after it is allowed to breathe.

We followed with a Takatenjin “Shrine of the Village” Junmai Ginjo.  This sake is made by Doi Shuzo in the Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan. it’s brewed in small batches with Yamada Nishiki rice grown in the brewer’s own fields. A clean and dry sake with a bit of richness in the recesses and a quick finish.  This was a much more subtle sake than the Housui and if I had it to do over again I probably would have switched the order.

Robataya is on an extremely cool street, across from Decibel, with lots of Japanese establishments in the area.  Decibel is a basement-level sake bar that is very popular with the purple-hair crowd but makes for great people watching and a great spot for an after-dinner sake if you’re in the area.  Stay tuned for an upcoming post about it.

231 East 9th St. (East Village between Stuyvesant and 2nd Ave)
NY, NY 10003

Housui “Old Mountain” Junmai
Alcohol: 15.3%
Seimaibuai: 55% (rice is milled to 50% of its originally size)

Takatenjin “Shrine of the Village” Junmai Ginjo
SMV:  +5
Alcohol:  16.8%
Seimaibuai:  50%
Acidity:  1.4
Rice:  Yamada Nishiki
Yeast:  Shizuoka


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