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Kyo Ya

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I recently had dinner with four friends at kyoya. You'll find the photos and more on my blog: http://ulteriorepicure.com/2010/05/23...

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Tucked away below street level in a townhouse in the East Village, kyoya could elude even the keenest eye.

There’s no sign or marker. Indeed, other than an unassuming set of stairs and the glow of the restaurant coming up from the side of the street, you’d never know it existed there. There’s no website either (that I am aware of).

Kyoya is essentially a very refined kaiseki-style restaurant modified just enough to accommodate the confused expense that might wander in.

Here, you will find a menu of mostly authentic Japanese foods partitioned in four sections: Chef’s Seasonal Dishes, Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers, and Main Courses. There’s also a menu of sashimi from which I ordered uni from the East Coast. The generous stack of fresh little sea urchin “tongues,” more briny than sweet, was served with crisp sheets of nori and light soy sauce ($18). A rarity, this was a true treat for me.

But kyoya is probably more well-known for its kaiseki, which have to be ordered a day or two in advance. There are three kaiseki menus (10 courses $95/11 courses $120/12 courses $150).

We ordered a la carte.

My favorite dishes were the more comforting ones, like a fantastic tempura-fried wheel of sweet potato. It’s so fantastic, apparently, it’s become “famous,” as the menu proudly announced (“Famous Sweet Potato Tempura,” $11). The molten-hot potato was ringed with a emerald necklace of fried greens and served with dipping salt and a tiny clay kettle of soy sauce.

By comparison, the cold dishes seemed almost refreshing, even the strips of “Smoked Anago” ($14), which were surprisingly firm, having a pleasing bounce to them.

And this is what I appreciated most about the colder dishes – they highlighted textures.

“Spring Onion Salad” ($11) compared and contrasted a tangle of crisp, thinly-shaved raw onions with quartered bulbs of softened, roasted onions. A bowl of sweet, velvety caramelized onion dressing seasoned with soy and ginger tied everything together nicely, marrying especially well with the bonito shavings that blanketed the salad. It was all surprisingly mild, surprisingly lovely.

The servers here are so adorable that you really can’t get too frustrated, even if they charge you for a forgotten order.* But we didn’t notice the mistake at the time, partly because the total was surprisingly reasonable. Divided by four, our tab, with a carafe of sake, worked out to be around $75 per person including tax and tip.

Asian faces dominated the dining room, with a few “foreigners” here and there (our table having the largest contingency). The front dining room seats about 14 (3 deuces, 2 four-tops). A strip of counter, which seats about ten, leads to the back, where there’s a tatami room,** which I believe seats up to 6. The restaurant was fairly full the entire night. Most seemed to have reservations.

Nothing on the dessert menu looked terribly convincing, even if I’m positive that kyoya would only be capable of making excellent green tea ice cream.

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Kyo Ya
94 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

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