- Jim Leff
One of the weirdest things about being a restaurant
critic--as all of them will tell you--is that you can
never predict which of your reviews will attract
I wrote up a place called Tokyo Restaurant (342
Lexington, (212) 697-8330) in my book, and I've not
heard a WORD about it since--from readers, from the
other media, on this site. It went "thud". I don't know
I find this place extraordinarily good, though also
extraordinarily difficult. They have a very boring
English menu for gaijin listing all the usual suspects,
all cooked competently (with the exception of salmon
meuniere, and beef katsu, made from rib-eye steak). But
if you speak Japanese--or can persuade the manager that
you won't go all squeamish on him--you can get the most
wondrous off-menu treats that include some of the most
subtle, complex, and unusual Japanese food I've ever
tried. there are some French touches (like that salmon
meuniere), but they're very well incorporated into the
cooking--not at all self-conscious.
There's more specific info in my book (the publisher
would kill me if I reprinted my review here), but I'm
wondering if ANYONE has ever checked it out...?
Note: they have sushi, but it's reputed to be good-not-
great. I didn't even bother trying it.
also, it's a clip joint. They pour the sake...and
pour...even "top off" your glass, and the meter is
running BIGTIME. Like I said, it's a difficult eat...
Great tip on the Tokyo Restaurant. Neither I nor any of
my Japanofile friends has heard of it...the conspiracy
theorist in me, hearing that it's a clip joint, tends
to wonder if it's Japanese mob-related (there are a few
of these dubious places around).
But hey, look what organized crime did for Italian
grub! And since I'm a journalist, I consider it my
professional duty to check the place out - ordering in
Japanese, of course.
I wonder, if one stays away from sake, what kind of
prices to expect?
Also, thanks much for the encouraging welcome to these
boards. You truly are running a wonderful service, and
I look forward to hanging around in the future.
Pam--no, I'm sure it's not Yakuza. Not that vibe at
all. Just a restaurant that gets greedy.
I should clarify a few things: first, I didn't specify
that the salmon and beef katsu are especially GOOD, not
Also, the Japanese stuff is only "off-menu" if you
don't read Japanese (though there are lots of daily
specials unwritten anywhere...and waiters don't speak
Also, I fear that "some of the most subtle, complex,
and unusual Japanese food I've ever tried" was laying
it on too thick. This isn't a world-class restaurant;
it's a place making some very hard-to-find Japanese
fancy dishes (and some homier things plus a few
original creations) extremely skillfully. And it's very
unlike anywhere else in NYC. The combination of those
two things gets me pretty excited.
You can squeak by for $30-45 if you moderate the sake.
If you don't, sky's the limit. But it's good...and the
food goes with the sake. So maybe save this for a
special occasion. But do go with a group, so you
can order tons of things (it's definitely a "lots-of-
small-plates" kind of place).
Jim, when I bought your book, I went immediately flipping through to find anything in Murray Hill, where I live. As is widely known, Murray Hill is largely a culinary wasteland of tequila joints, business hotel restaurants, and below-par pizza and fast food. (There are actually some hidden secrets, but I'm not going to talk about them yet -- they're more great neighborhood joints than places to journey to from outside, and some are more about atmo than food.)
Anyway, Tokyo caught my eye immediately due to the few Japanese restaurants in the neighborhood that look any good at all. I'd passed Tokyo on my walks up and down Lexington, and it didn't look any better than any of the other slightly-shabby Japanese places lining the avenue -- kind of an early-'90s decor vibe, maybe a lunch special ad, that was it.
Anyway, now I'm totally intrigued to discover the wonders of Tokyo. The challenge of ordering correcgtly only adds to the fun. I'll try to visit this week and let you know how it was.
"(There are actually some hidden secrets, but I'm not going to talk about them yet -- they're more great neighborhood joints than places to journey to from outside, and some are more about atmo than food.)"
Could you be persuaded to talk about them now? Hidden secrets in Murray Hill, I mean. I've been here a year and half, and while I admittedly eat out/order in pretty rarely, I've still only found a handful of places that I go back to (that I can afford). I think only Ali Baba and Tre Pomodori are in Murray Hill proper - my other two faves, Pongal and Bamiyan (really tasty Afghani - I don't think I've seen any posts on it! I don't know why!)are a little further (26th and 3rd, and 28th and Lex, respectively) but worth the walk.
I do love the focaccia robiola and pizza with prosciutto and arugula at Da Ciro, but it's sort of a splurge for me.
Oh and my pick for when I'm really poor, hungry and too tired to cook is the chow fun with roast duck from Mee's. It's not so attractive when you get it, a plastic bucket full of noodles and brown sauce, some spinach, maybe a quarter of a roast duck, but it's pretty damn satisfying. Also it's under $5. Last time it came with dried oysters on top, entirely unexpectedly.