When my Dad comes into the city for dinner, I feel added pressure to impress. He is not the type of individual to be woo-ed with over-priced flashy meals, but rather loves hole-in-the wall restaurants just as much as an elaborate prix-fix meal at Gramercy Tavern. If the food is great, he’s impressed. If it’s not, I’ll know.
During Restaurant Week in the city, I trust Zagat’s to steer me to places worthy of the $38 prix-fix dinners. Many places use these few weeks to open their doors, giving a tasting of their best dishes for more reasonable prices than ordinary week, which brings me to my meal on Friday night.
My Dad had met a few of his old high school buddies for a drink in the city and asked to grab dinner afterwards. He proved to be a champ, agreeing to a 10pm dinner, leaving me with selecting a restaurant. EN Japanese Brasserie ranked high on Zagat’s ratings, with a 26, and seemed like a great spot for restaurant week, with a 5 course meal, rather than the typical 3.
The layout of the restaurant is gorgeous, with a large dining room and lounge area in the front. EN Japanese Brasserie is designed in the Japanese dining called Izakaya, which means a homey, pub style. The walls lined with colorful bottles of sake, dark and light carved wooden beams, with simple flowers and candles on each table. The rooms are darkly lit, giving an inviting, but classic feel. We were seated in the front lounge area, sitting at over-sized comfortable seats, in line with the design of the restaurant.
We ordered off the restaurant week menu, selecting the fried oysters as our entrée. In addition, we ordered one of the Sake flight tastings to share.
Each of the different sake’s were sweet, smooth and divine, varying in flavor. The middle, Kagatobi, had the fruitiest flavor, while the other two were a bit more subtle. My Dad knows sake well, after having spent a decent amount of time in Japan, and thought this was on par with variations he has tried overseas. We sipped on the glasses, enjoying them throughout the entire meal.
Shortly thereafter, our first dish arrived, the homemade tofu. I had read about this dish in the short Zagat’s review, but the flavor and simplistic presentation surpassed everything I could have imagined.
This dish made me question anything I ever through or knew about tofu. The tofu, made fresh hourly, is silky, smooth and light. The addition of the wari joyu, a dashi sauce, ginger and scallions enhances the flavor with a sweet, spicy subtly and a bit of crunch. Each bite left you wanting more, as the simple flavors continued to build. I couldn’t help but smile, as I slowly ate this dish, wishing all tofu could taste this divine.
Next, two of the chef’s choice of O-Banzai, small Kyoto style dishes, arrived. The selections for the day were Kinoko Kiriboshi Daikon Ohitashi, better known as assorted Japanese Mushrooms with Daikon and Yuzu, and Zenmai Piri-Kara, Fern Sprouts in a Spicy Shichimi Sauce.
These dishes were absolutely delicious in once again, such a subtle way. The royal fern sprouts had such a wonderful spiciness of flavor, cooked down to a light, slightly crunchy consistency. The varieties of mushrooms were rich, sitting in a gorgeous broth. They soaked up all of the sweetness and slight, bitter acidity of the daikon to give the dish an additional level of complexity. Mushrooms and Sprouts seemingly come off so simple, but these flavors could never be replicated at home. Japanese cooking and flavors elevate high quality ingredients to a completely new level, without losing the integrity of the vegetable.
The progression of the meal continued, with the arrival of our main dishes, the fried oysters, accompanied with Miso Soup and Onigiri, rice.
Gigantic, fresh, creamy oysters, panko crusted and deep fried. Need I say more? These were awesome. The interior stayed fresh, sweet and briny, with the light brown, crisp exterior. I loved this dish, which often has the ability to become over-cooked and greasy, very quickly. This was not. I did not feel overly full, with each bite. The dish held the integrity of the oysters. The addition of the homemade tartar sauce, and a bit of lime juice, gave an added level of acidity and creaminess of flavor. On the side, the crunchy cabbage, dressed in some of the best ginger sauce I have enjoyed, gave a fresh contrast to the fried oysters. I would have happily eaten another bowl of the ginger and cabbage alone.
In traditional Japanese fashion, the miso soup arrived covered, to keep it warm, and without a spoon. I lifted off the top, allowing for the all of the steam and sweet, smell of miso to come out. You pick up with soup, feeling the warmth around your hands. With each sip, your body warms up to the comforting, delicious soup, with large pieces of seaweed swirling inside. My Dad said he hasn’t had such good miso soup since his days in Japan.
The rice on the side was good, but almost unnecessary after such a rich, long meal. If it wasn’t included in the meal, it would not be needed.
Finally, the meal concluded on a sweet night with a beautiful, colorful scoop of black sesame ice cream.
Sweet, refreshing and slightly savory, the black sesame ice cream ended the meal on a light note. I sat up, feeling full, but completely satisfied. There was so much complexity to the meal, without an innate heaviness you can so easily feel after a prix-fix meal.
My dad and I sat in discussion, thinking about how EN Japanese Brasserie reminded us of the upscale, yet phenomenal food of Nobu. All of the food was fresh and delicious. The most memorable of which was the tofu. It was something I have really never tasted before, and I would go back for this dish alone.
The deal for restaurant week was perfect, giving the right amount of food for a reasonable price. EN is definitely on the higher priced end, normally, with pieces of sushi easily costing $20. The bill could increase extremely quickly. But for a delicious meal and extensive Sake list, EN will fill any need for a high end Japanese meal in a beautiful restaurant.
EN Japanese Brasserie – 435 Hudson Street – New York, NY
EN Japanese Brasserie
Location: West Village, NY
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Prix Fix, Girls Night Out, Date Night
Reservations: Recommended, via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Chilled Homemade Tofu, Miso Soup, Fried Oysters