For the fourth year in a row, I present the 100 most exciting dishes I’ve consumed during my food adventures around the five boroughs. Look for another five dishes every few days.
It’s ironic that Japanese cuisine is my favorite because when I was younger, I tasted some dark roasty soup at the Japanese pavillion at Epcot that made me want to gag. My dining choices have gotten much better since my young days at Epcot. And today I just love the delicate freshness and full flavor of everything from ramen to sushi to grilled yellowtail collar. Here are the five Japanese dishes this year that Epcot wishes it had on one of its menus.
NUMBER 15: HIRAME AND CUCUMBER at NETA
Neta was full of surprises – all delicious. One of the first surprises we experienced at this trendy Japanese restaurant was the hirame (flounder) wrapped up with little bites of green, herbal freshness. The filling consisted of lime, cucumbers, and jalapeños, with a spicy cilantro sauce. It’s not your usual Japanese combination (it almost had a Mexican flair), but the bright, citrusy lightness paired with the luxuriousness of the plump fish flesh worked wonders. And throughout our dinner at Neta, the surprises kept coming, Price: $15
|61 West 8th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenue),
NUMBER 14: MATCHA CREPE WITH RED BEAN CREAM at TAKAHACHI BAKERY
At Takahachi, you’re not sure if you’re in a French bakery in Tokyo or a Japanese bakery in Paris. The truth is, of course, you’re in the middle of Tribeca, NYC. The desserts here are delicate and perfectly executed often featuring Asian flavors like red bean, black sesame, and mochi. The most perfect example of this is the beautifully presented green tea crepe. Cold creamy sweet red beans were layered inside of the tender and sweet rolled pancake dusted with matcha. The dessert wasn’t too sweet, but the unique pastry and flavorful cream gave it a refined decadence. Perfect for Paris, Tokyo, or New York. Price: $4.50
|25 Murray Street (between Church Street and Broadway),
NUMBER 13: FRESH BOTAN SHRIMP & SEA URCHIN at KYO YA
On my birthday this year, I treated myself to a blow-out dinner at Kyo Ya. I sat at the bar and was the only person who didn’t speak Japanese. The wait staff were kind enough to translate for me, but I truly felt like I had been immersed in an exclusive, subterranean Tokyo restaurant. It was awesome (especially when the chef offered me some of his beer). And so was the food, especially the gorgeous combination of raw sweet shrimp and briney, rich sea urchin. The forest of colors also featured more delicate ingredients like shimeji mushrooms, ikura (salmon roe), lots of edible flowers, and a glaze of lively wasabi-kuzu sauce. Price: $16
|94 East 7th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A),
NUMBER 12: SALMON AND CHEESE MAZEMEN at YUJI RAMEN
In years past, I never would have included a dish from Whole Foods. But this is the year that Whole Foods jumped on the Brooklyn bandwagon (they even opened a location in hipster Gowanus) and featured a rotating food vendor from Smorgasburg at their Bowery location. That all stopped when Yuji Ramen had their turn and everybody reallized it couldn’t get any better. Yuji Haraguchi specializes in mazemen, which is a mostly brothless noodle bowl that is as rich and moist as a plate of carbonara. My favorite was the one featuring melt-in-your-mouth cured salmon topped with lemon, herbs, and creamy cheese. It was light, citrusy, rich, and full of flavor. And this is all while lounging at Whole Foods! Price: $9
|Whole Foods Market,
95 East Houston Street (at Bowery),
Second Floor Mezzanine,
Lower East Side
|Whole Foods Market,
214 3rd Street (at Third Avenue),
NUMBER 11: CHAWANMUSHI at BRUSHSTROKE
I remember the first time I heard about chawanmushi. Somebody I was waiting on at The Modern learned I loved Japanese food and she started telling me about her favorite dish. The word sounded so cute and cuddly that I thought it was a joke. And then I discovered the luscious egg custard on menus and have not been able to get it out of my head since. The best version I’ve ever tasted came this year at David Bouley’s Brushstroke (and its adjoining hidden sushi bar Ichimura). Underneath a translucent, but slightly firm custard of egg, soy, and dashi, I uncovered a wealth of Dungeness crab meat and intoxicating truffle aromas. It was transcendent – each bite sent me to food heaven. I wonder if that woman from The Modern ever had a chance to taste this game-changing version.
|30 Hudson Street (at Duane Street),