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Moderately priced Japanese with veggie options

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indiefoodie Feb 25, 2013 08:30 PM

Hello, I'm trying to figure out a place for dinner for a group of 5 or 6 people someplace in the downtown/midtown area. Something around 70-80 pp with T&T. No Ramen/Udon/Soba. One of the places that seemed like it fit the bill as far as the price is concerned is Bugs but it seems to lack on the veggie front. Any other recommendations please?
Another place that looked interesting is Yuba. Has anyone tried it after the chef changed? How is it compared to say something like EN?
Thanks you!

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    sam1 RE: indiefoodie Feb 25, 2013 09:33 PM

    bugs is too small for your party...unless you like the feel of taking over a place. as much as i liked my food, the vibe is lacking. they need some music and not pop fm radio.

    sakagura would work for your needs. ive had dinners there with 5 people and we had great times.

    7 Replies
    1. re: sam1
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      indiefoodie RE: sam1 Feb 26, 2013 05:33 AM

      Thanks Sam. Actually, 90% of the people in the group (incl. me) have already been to Sakagura so I wanted to see if I could find something different.

      1. re: indiefoodie
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        kathryn RE: indiefoodie Feb 26, 2013 06:18 AM

        Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill (Columbus Circle) or Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya (LES) are not the best sushi in town but the sushi is solid, and the cooked dishes are excellent. Both take reservations. The LES one is on OpenTable; the Columbus Circle one you'd have to call (this one only takes res for 5+ people).

        Was just at the LES one last night. In terms of vegetarian dishes, I love the habanero cucumbers, bean sprouts with chili paste, phoenix roll, shishito peppers.

        There are also vegetable maki rolls, other vegetable appetizers (edamame, pickles, seaweed, etc), veggie fried rice, tofu, vegetable tempura, and salad dishes.

        1. re: kathryn
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          indiefoodie RE: kathryn Feb 26, 2013 07:21 AM

          Thanks Kathryn! Have you tried Aburiya Kinnosuke in the past? If yes, how would you rate Blue Ribbon (LES) as compared to Kinnosuke?

          1. re: indiefoodie
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            kathryn RE: indiefoodie Feb 26, 2013 07:32 AM

            Unfortunately I have not.

            1. re: indiefoodie
              Silverjay RE: indiefoodie Feb 26, 2013 07:43 AM

              Aburiya Kinnosuke is similar to EN (broad menu, decent quality, should be some veg options) and also has compartmentalized spaces for small groups if you want semi-privacy.

              1. re: Silverjay
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                indiefoodie RE: Silverjay Feb 26, 2013 08:39 AM

                Thanks Silverjay. Purely in terms of quality of food, would you rate Blue Ribbon better than Aburiya?
                EN - I've read mixed reviews about this place and I'm not sure of the portion sizes, hence the price. Would you have an idea as to how many dishes per person would it take to fill (not stuff) a regular eater? Thanks!

                1. re: indiefoodie
                  Silverjay RE: indiefoodie Feb 26, 2013 08:52 AM

                  I've only been to Blue Ribbon Sushi in Soho a few years ago and it was lousy. I haven't been to the LES izakaya off-shoot. Most of the dishes Kathryn described at that location sound kind of fushiony, which is not really my thing.

                  Aburiya Kinnosuke is usually pretty solid. The food at all these places is akin to tapas and not entrés. $80 pp should be way fine for a bunch of dishes, especially if there are vegetarian ones mixed in. But you need to be very specific for requesting vegetarian as dashi, bonito flakes, etc. can make their way into dishes.

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        foodwhisperer RE: indiefoodie Feb 26, 2013 09:01 AM

        I've read all the comments thus far. Without listing each poster's name, I agree that Bugs is way too small, and out of the question. Sakagura is good but you have been there.
        Blue Ribbon is an excellent choice. There are vegetarian options. The sushi quality is excellent if at the sushi bar. When dealing directly with the top 2 chefs you get much better than if you are sitting at a table. I assume with so many people , that you will be at a table. The sushi chefs are from Ushiwakamaru, and from Hatsuhana/Sushi Gari. The cooked dishes are from a skilled American chef. I do think your bill will be over $80 after tax and tip, if you have beverages.
        There is very little similarity in the dishes at Blue Ribbon to Sakagura, or En. Silverjay compared Aburiya to En, I've never been to Aburiya but have been to En many times. I don't think you can say which is better En or Blue Ribbon, especially for the cooked dishes. Since you are looking for vegetarian choices, I don't think you have sushi in mind. And if you do, and you order a vegetable type sushi roll, there really isn't an amazing difference, IMO,from one decent place to another. Although, I have had amazing oshinko in Kyoto.
        The "made fresh" tofu at En is excellent. I think you should go to En. They have no problem accommodating 6 people. It is a nice location and nice room. The dishes are mostly big enough to share 2 or 3 ways. So you can get a good assortment of dishes to share amongst the 6 of you . Aside from the Fresh tofu ( warm), the cold tofu dish is really good and has diced pickled vegetable on top. I'm not sure if it has bonito flakes or dashi, i forget. The ebi shinjo is my favorite dish at En, and the seasonal specials are usually really good.
        So, En is my top choice for your group. I would order 3-4 dishes per person and share the ones that are sharable.

        5 Replies
        1. re: foodwhisperer
          Silverjay RE: foodwhisperer Feb 26, 2013 09:06 AM

          Went to EN once as I've been to several of their branches in Japan, and we felt the meal was not a good value. Also sashimi was sloppily done, the fresh tofu was served in the tofu water instead on a zaru basket, service was a little flakey. We did see Yoko Ono there, so that was a plus.

          1. re: Silverjay
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            foodwhisperer RE: Silverjay Feb 26, 2013 09:23 AM

            LOL that Yoko Ono gets around. I used to see her at Jewel Bako. I thought they served the fresh tofu in the basket. I'll have to go back, I haven't been there in a year, so maybe things changed. The service can be flaky, as they have big turnover in staff. But the last time i went I had Japanese servers and the service was greatly improved from previous times with non-Japanese servers. The best meal I've had there was when I reserved one of the beautiful rooms upstairs and had about 10 people. We had 4 servers, it was fantastic. The sashimi isn't the best, I agree, but I usually just pick two that look acceptable , to fulfill my need for a sashimi course.

            1. re: foodwhisperer
              Silverjay RE: foodwhisperer Feb 26, 2013 12:45 PM

              Just looking at their menus today compared to Kinnosuke, there is some overlap but with EN always being more expensive. The pricing on a lot of their items is pretty wacky. Perhaps the $19 kakuni and the $12 oshinko help cover the costs of the big space and high FOH turnover.?.?....

              1. re: Silverjay
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                foodwhisperer RE: Silverjay Feb 26, 2013 02:28 PM

                I just looked over En's menu. They have $65 and a $95 tasting menu. I usually order a la carte and don't
                remember seeing a tasting menu previously. To be quite honest , the menu made me hungry.
                The mocha croquette with potato and duck covered with mocha rice cake and served in dashi, ($12),
                the ebi shinjo $14
                Geso Uni miso yaki ( grilled squid in an uni miso sauce)$18
                and one more dish maybe
                Buri collar ( from Kyushu) fried with negi and pepper soy sauce
                vinaigrette ($20, a little steep)
                Ok, I'm over $65 , dammmit... If i do go tonite i think it's going to be over $100. but that's because I get carried away and keep ordering. Could skip the Buri collar and get fried chicken and save a few. The tofu isn't too expensive, its big.
                Yes the prices are high,,but there is a way to get away reasonably priced, if one orders shrewdly.
                Maybe better off going to Bugs and saving a few bucks.

                1. re: Silverjay
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                  foodwhisperer RE: Silverjay Feb 27, 2013 01:21 PM

                  Well , as I said i went back to En last tight. You were correct about the tofu, it was in a wooden box , not a basket and was sitting in liquid. It also was very bland. I like the cold tofu at Robataya much more (it has the toppings for flavor).
                  The ebi shinjo was good but I should have ordered the potato croquettes as they are prepared in a similar way to the ebi shinjo at kyo ya ( meaning in a dash type of broth). The ebi shinjo at En were simple , saved with lemon and a bit greasy.
                  The next dish was large scallop sashimi. It was excellent and huge, it would have been better with yuzu instead of lemon though.
                  The amaebi with uni and gel , was fantastic. It was the "real" amaebi not the bigger botanebi. It was the pink Alaskan or hokakku akaebi. The small ones. and accompanied by the fried little heads.
                  The next was grilled shishamo, really delicious.( see photo))
                  The last dish, which Silverjay couldn't believe how expensive it was ( Oshinko). I had to order it just to see what they could possibly do to justify the expense. I also like to finish a meal sometimes with oshinko. That being said , This was the worst oshinko I ever had. It tasted like it was sitting and getting soggy, in a refrigerator for a year. Absolutely horrible and very little pickling. It kind of ruined my meal , i had to run to get some gelato after to get the taste out of my mouth.
                  The service was very good. The staff actually knew what they were serving and no long delays between courses.
                  The total bill for 2 of us was about $90 ( $45 pp). It was $130 with drinks and tax. ( photos attached)

                   
                   
                   
                   
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            indiefoodie RE: indiefoodie Feb 27, 2013 07:37 PM

            Thanks! Based on the comments so far, I'm leaning towards Blue Ribbon Izakaya.

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