Manhattan, New York – Robataya NY (Japanese)

Restaurant: Robataya NY
Cuisine: Japanese/BBQ/Sake/Izakaya
Last visited: September 6, 2011
Location: Manhattan, NY (East Village)
Address: 231 E 9th Street
Transit: E 9 St – 2 Av
Price Range: $20-30

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4 (Based on what I tried)
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Japanese owned/operated
  • Traditional robata
  • Specializes in robata (BBQ)
  • Meat/Seafood/Veggies
  • Daily specials
  • Local favourite
  • Sophisticated
  • Seasonal sake
  • Sake list/wine/beer/cocktails
  • Open late
  • Accepts credit cards
  • Robataya “Chef Omakase” available $48/pp (Must reserve)
  • Lunch:
  • Wed. – Fri. Noon – 2:25pm (Last Order)
  • Sat. & Sun. Noon – 2:50pm (Last Order)
  • Dinner:
  • Sun. – Thurs. 6pm – 10:45pm (Last Order)
  • Fri. & Sat. 6pm – 11:45pm (Last Order)

**Recommendations: Fried oysters, Aspara Bou, and Gindara Saikyo Yaki & Kakuni are apparent hits. Sit at the Robata Counter.

Living in Vancouver, BC can really spoil you. Given that we’re not in Japan, the Japanese food is excellent here and even the “bad” ones are never that bad compared to other cities with limited Japanese options. Checking out the Japanese restaurant scene in Follow Me Foodie to New York was never my intention, but little did I know just how significant their Japanese population was. In fact, there’s even a J-Town, aka “Japanese Town”. It shouldn’t surprise me though because New York is so multi-cultural that they probably even have a Canadian-Town… eer maybe not? However I did pass by an Australian Restaurant and a candy shop offering only candies from Norway. New York really does live up to the saying “we have something for everyone”.

When I discovered just how popular and apparently delicious the Japanese restaurant scene in New York was, I had to try it. So far I had only tried Momofuku Noodle BarMá Pêche and Ippudo, but Robataya NY was a last minute decision. It was actually on my list as “the place to go for robata in New York”, but it wasn’t a priority considering I can get pretty great robata at home in Vancouver from Aki Japanese or Zakkushi Charcoal Grill. The original plan was to eat and drink sake at New York Sake Bar Decibel across the street, but since the wait was well over an hour it was off to plan B – Robataya NY, and then back to plan A after – New York Sake Bar Decibel.

Robataya NY was unlike any Japanese robata I’ve experienced in North America so far. It was a stylish interpretation of traditional Japanese robata. It was a modern replication of the Japanese country side and how fishermen would grill fish along the shore-side over an open flame by their boats. With fresh produce and seafood surrounding the “boat”, the chefs here cook the food in front of their customers and transfer the dishes on long rowing ores. It takes a lot of arm strength for them to do this all day, but it really made for the complete experience.

It might be reminiscent of teppanyaki, but robata is more seafood focused and the food is grilled over open flame whereas teppanyaki is over a flat iron plate (although sometimes there is still an open flame for show). Robataya was very upscale and sophisticated without the obvious entertainment of tricks and big flames. I actually don’t recall seeing a big flame at all so you don’t leave smelling like BBQ either. They do offer grilled meats and other hot foods, but those are prepared in the back kitchen. Personally, I think sitting at the Robata Counter was the best spot in the house.

The ingredients were good quality, fresh, well executed and generally excellent. I was impressed. Part of me thought it was going to be a tourist trap and overpriced, but the ambiance and food delivered. The portions were small and it is pricey, but it was justifiable in New York and I enjoyed my dining experience. Sure there are much more casual and solid places for robata and sake in Japanese Town, but this was unique. It embraced a traditional Japanese dining experience using authentic techniques. It showcased robata in the context of dining in New York. I might have found it more charming as a tourist, but it attracts locals and it’s more than a novelty. It pays respect to tradition while giving robata a sexy appeal.

On the table:

Urakasumi “Zen” Junmai Ginje | 18 | 31 | 33 | 116 |

“The brewery in Shiogama was flooded but all employees escaped. Some facility was damaged. The City has the most sushi restaurants per square kilometer in Japan. This exquisite sake has a well-rounded flavour, smooth and subtle fragrance.”

Gasanyu “KISARAGI” Daiginjo, Yamagata | 11 | 19 | 21 | 75 |

Sophisticated, gorgeous aroma with clean finish.

Daikon Salad3/6 (Good)

  • Thinly Sliced Daikon Radish Served with Ume Plum Dressing $6
  • It came with the dressing on the side which was a sweet and sour Japanese sour plum dressing.
  • The dried nori on top was very fresh and likely made in house and it lent a tea leaf flavour so it could have been infused with tea leaves.
  • I wouldn’t have minded some cucumber or fresh wakame, for some textural contrast and more flavour though.
  • The salad was simple, but the ingredients were fresh and for what it was, it was good.
Uni Kobu Yaki 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
  • Grilled Sea Urchin, Sprinkled with Salted Konbu Seaweed $11
  • I love uni. It’s hard to find a good quality one.
  • This one was fresh, but quite fishy tasting and I think the seaweed just enhanced that.
  • Uni has a briny mineral like seafood flavour and the texture is very creamy and rich.
  • It can be very pungent, but it isn’t always and it really depends on the quality.
  • Overall it was perhaps too salty though and I have a high tolerance for salt.
  • The uni was very lightly seared and almost raw which is perfect for me.
  • The salted konbu seaweed on top I found quite chewy and very salty. Being that uni is naturally salty, I found it overpowering.
  • The chewy konbu wasn’t my preference because it made the uni seem a bit chewy and overall it just wasn’t my favourite execution for it, although still good because it is uni.

Hirame Carpaccio4/6 (Very good)

  • Thinly Sliced Fluke Sashimi Topped With Salted Seaweed $9
  • This was really reminiscent of the fish markets in Asia.
  • It was incredibly fresh and fluke fish has a very light, clean and mild flavour.
  • This was sliced extremely thin and almost translucent, but it wasn’t broken either.
  • The knife skills and presentation were good for cutting it that thin without tearing it, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit thicker.
  • The salted seaweed on top was better than having to dip it in soy sauce which can really mask the flavour of the delicate fish.
Momo (Chicken Thigh) – 4/6 (Very good)
  • California Free Range Chicken Thigh w/ Salt or Teriyaki Sauce $6
  • We had this with salt. Salt is kind of the “purest” way of enjoying Japanese robata so you can taste the freshness and quality of the meat without masking it with sauce.
  • It was juicy morsels of chicken thigh with crispy skin and there was good flavour, but not too much smoky aroma.
Kamo (Duck)2/6 (Okay)
  • Long Island Duck w/ Salt $7
  • I was a bit disappointed about this because the the duck almost tasted like beef.
  • It was lightly glazed in a house made soy based dressing which was sweet and salty, but the duck was very chewy and the fat wasn’t well rendered and the skin not crispy.
  • I actually found the meat quite tough and I didn’t get that charcoal smoky flavour.
  • It wasn’t overcooked so I think it might have been the quality, although Long Island Duck is locally sourced and supposedly good quality. Being a tourist, I’m not sure, but I was baffled.
**Fried Oysters5/6 (Excellent)
  • This was a special. I’ve have many deep fried oysters before, but this one was memorable and excellent!
  • It was quite heavily battered, but it was nice and crunchy and perfectly cooked.
  • The oysters were fresh, plump and juicy and it was dressed in a sweet dashi (Japanese stock) with perhaps some teriyaki like glaze.
  • It was garnished with parsley and millet, but the flavours in the sauce were delicious with a balance of sweet, salty and tang. It had that savoury umami flavour.
  • Homemade Chicken meat ball w/ Salt or Teriyaki Sauce $4.5
  • This actually wasn’t my order, but I just got a photo of it. I think it was the Tsukune.
**Aspara Bou 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
  • Lightly Fried Asparagus and White Fish Paste Encrusted with Pine Nuts and Rice Crackers $8
  • This was brilliant. I loved the sound of it and it even tasted better than the description.
  • It was tender asparagus which still had its bite and it was wrapped with a chewy fish cake.
  • The fish cake was almost like fish meatballs made with white fish puree. It reminded me of the Chinese fishballs.
  • It was crusted with a generous amount of coarsely chopped pine nuts and millet (not traditional rice crackers) and the whole thing was texturally satisfying.
  • It was crunchy, soft, juicy, nutty, aromatic and well seasoned with salt.
  • It was one of my favourite things I tried in New York and I want to try remaking it.
Salmon Kamameshi4/6 (Very good)
  • Rice Cooked Served in an Earthenware pot for Two. Please allow 30 mins to prepare. Last order for Kamameshi is 10:30pm (Sun-!urs); 11:30pm (Fri & Sat)
  • W/ Salmon & Salmon Roe $15 W/ Chicken & Burdock $12 W/ Snow Crab $15 W/ Assorted Mushrooms $13
  • Kamameshi is “kettle rice” and it Japanese rice cooked in an iron pot with meat, seafood and/or veggies.
  • The rice was obviously cooked in the pot first and then the the salmon was likely put in for last 3 minutes. The salmon was incredibly moist and tender.
  • I wouldn’t have minded it more rare, but it was juicy and still great.
  • The salty bursts of cod roe were put on last and I loved the quality of those. They were plump and not fishy, but fresh and briney with a pleasant seafood flavour.
  • The rice was warm and sticky, but it tasted like regular steamed rice and it’s not meant to be like sushi rice.
  • The quality of rice was good, but the bottom should be a bit burnt from the cooking process to create that nutty crispy crust on the bottom.

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1 Comment

  • Linda says:

    the food here looks stunning! and wow, look at that asparagus… almost makes you want to become a vegetarian… almost.

    this place sort of reminds me of takashi in nyc, have you heard of it? very intimate but all the grilling is done at your own table 🙂

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