Okuda, NYC

December 26, 2017

Chef Toru Okuda has two highly rated restaurants in the Ginza in Tokyo. He has opened another in Paris and in November 2017 opened Okuda on West 17th street near the High Line in New York. It replicates his Tokyo restaurants in décor, accessories and menu. All of the staff comes from his Tokyo restaurants.

Okuda believes the space truly represents the country of Japan: “It’s not only about the food,” he says. “It’s the minimal decor, the tableware, the ceramics, kimonos and all the materials in the restaurant that makes the experience at Okuda unique and special.” Diners are expected to experience Japanese culture and kaiseki meal via the five senses. Linda and I went for dinner on December 6, 2017.

The austere, but elegant entryway.

We were seated in the middle of the seven-seat counter, with its truly minimal décor. (There is also a six-seat private dining room, which did not seem to be in use that evening.) The “Chief chef,” Mitsuhiro Endo, introduced himself. The hostess/chef’s assistant discussed sakes with us. After we expressed a preference for more robust flavors, she offered three for us to taste.

We ordered a bottle of the one on the right, “Schichida.” When this ran low near the end of the meal, we had a glass of the one in the middle, “Tatenokawa.” Both had distinct flavors which went well with the cuisine, as you would expect.

Our first course was a warm, thick Chinese cabbage soup with small California “Japanese-style” oysters.

A good starter.
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Lobster with fresh and dried persimmon and a miso, yuzu, mustard mayonnaise.

The fresh persimmon was underneath. The sauce was surprisingly sharp for Japanese cuisine, which did not help the lobster.

Scallop slices dressed with a vinegar gel topped with batons of Japanese potato.


The gel was also somewhat sharp. Fortunately this was not the start of a trend. The meal continued with more typical Japanese subtlety and respect for ingredients. I suppose that the idea was to wake up the palate.

A grated turnip soup with a maïtake mushroom and abalone.

We were instructed to drink the soup first and then eat the ingredients.
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Japanese fluke with bottarga grated on it.


The fluke had a good subtle flavor, which was nicely enhanced by the grated bottarga, or salted, cured mullet roe.

Mackerel with soy sauce.

Mackerel has a more pronounced fish flavor, brought out by the umami of the soy suce.

Spanish tuna topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin and fresh wasabi.


These three ingredients were each top quality and combined beautifully for a rich, but elegant, dish.

The sous-chef grates the wasabi. You can see handles of the impressive battery of knives available to the chef, but he almost always used the first one (missing in the photo) with a very long, thin blade.

Sea bass and Japanese vegetables.

The little ball of grated ginger on top was to be mixed into the broth, which was poured out at the end into a little bowl for drinking.

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Marinated Spanish mackerel topped with grated lemon zest served with a potato slice.


In the top photo chef Endo is plating this dish, you can also see his genial and efficient assistant with a bottle of good, cold Champagne, which the young couple to our right drank through their whole meal, celebrating his birthday. I think that it must have gone well with the cuisine.
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Shabu-shabu with wagyu beef and Maine sea urchin.



The bowl of dashi on the little burner had chunks of sea urchin in it. The chef put in a slice of wagyu, let it cook and served it with the sea urchin broth and dabs of wasabi. This was repeated. I think that there is some tradition in this, but it did not work for me.
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Deep fried taro with snow crab.

Simple and good.

Vegetables

Fresh water eel on rice, pickles and miso soup.



And so we came to the traditional rice bowl finish to a kaiseki meal, but with only token rice, which was a good thing as we had eaten a lot. The eel was lovely; the cucumber pickles were excellent, the others less so; the miso soup was very good.
Tea

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Granny Smith ice cream with lady apple compote.

Strawberries on red beans; tofu sauce with matcha powder.

It was evident that the strawberries were out of season, but the presentation was nice.

We certainly enjoyed the meal, but it did not seem as well thought out and put together as some of the other upscale Japanese kaiseki meals we have enjoyed in New York. This was supposed to be the same as what they were serving in Tokyo the same day, but I wonder: would they really have two desserts and shabu-shabu there? Maybe.

We loved the austere and quiet Japanese ambiance.  The consistently beautiful ceramics were a big plus. The service and pace were good, the staff certainly wanting to please. We look forward to reading what others say.

http://www.okuda.nyc/

 

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