On a cold winter’s night, like many, I crave the warmth of delicious comfort food. But unlike many, my comfort food isn’t Southern, it’s Japanese.
I made the trek on a cold evening to Saint Mark’s Street, in the East Village, on the hunt. Many find themselves wandering down this particular street in Manhattan looking for cheap sunglasses and scarves, but I make my way there for chronic Japanese food.
I met my friend, Mike, at Oh! Taisho, a spot my family had discovered a few years ago. The outside definitely doesn’t seem like much, with a gigantic, cartoon-ish sign outside. You need to walk down a few steps to enter inside the small restaurant.
When you first enter inside, there is a long narrow bar, which has a similar look to one you find at any sushi restaurant. However, sushi is not served here. Instead, patrons sit at the bar to watch the chefs create a simple Japanese delight called Yakitori. Yakitori is the art of skewering meat, grilling the pieces slowly, usually over a charcoal grill. Charcoal grills are not allowed in the United States, so they adapt by using alternative means to get that same delicious smoky flavor to the meat or vegetables.
We made our way towards the back, where a few tables are set up. We were clearly out of place amongst the young, hip crowd, speaking Japanese to each other while they devoured delectable treats.
Mike and I decided to share hot sake, to warm up from the cold and a pitcher of Sapporo, my favorite draft beer.
Simultaneously, I ordered Okonomiyaki, a rich Japanese pancake filled with Shrimp, Squid and Scallions. This was the reason behind my trip to Oh! Taisho, since they serve up such a delicious version of this comfort food. My Dad, who lived in Japan for a while, says it’s close to the dish you find at the hole in the wall shops throughout the Hiroshima region of Japan..
The complexity and unique flavor of Okonomiyaki (pronounced, Oka-No-Me-Ah-Key) is hard to describe. The outside is crisp, with a slight crunch, but the inside is soft, warm and sweet. The batter from the pancake is generally make with Nagaimo (a type of yam), cabbage, and flour, along with the additions of shrimp, scallions and squid. The condiments on top add crucial elements of flavor to the pancake. The self-named, okonomiyaki sauce has a sweet, sticky flavor, similar to that of a Worcestershire sauce. In addition, a Japanese mayonnaise, adds another element of creamy flavor to the dish.
Perhaps the funkiest part of Okonomiyaki is the use of Katsuobushi, otherwise known as Bonito Flakes. These pieces of petrified fish wiggle around the top of the dish, looking as if they are alive. They ‘dance’ on top of the pancake, until devoured, giving a wonderfully intense, yet subtle fishy flavor to the dish.
Mike and I talked, sipped on our sake, and devoured the dish until the plate was empty. Next, it was time to order Yakitori to complete the meal. They have a few platters, offering 2 pieces of each type for a lower price. But I figured it would be more fun to try different types, and share each of the skewers, which look like the Japanese version of a Greek Kebab.
We ordered six different types of Yakitori, to have a little taste of everything.
The simplicity and care that goes into each piece is evident. The meats are so flavorful, without having been marinated for hours or the addition of fancy ingredients. Instead, it’s simply prepared meat, lightly seasoned and cooked over an open flame, giving a wonderful char to each piece. I especially have a weakness for the beef and scallions, which retain a lovely, simplistic taste. It’s fun to try different pieces, and decide what you love.
Next time you’re on the hunt for comforting, delicious food that won’t put a dent on your wallet. The entire meal cost under $25 each, including alcohol (pitchers are $12.50, sake is $11).
You will leave complete satisfied and feel as if you stumbled upon onto a secret Japanese restaurant, serving authentic food, at reasonable prices. Plus, if you have never tried Okonomiyaki, now is the time to be adventurous, and I promise you will be better for it.
Oh! Taisho – 9 St. Marks Place – New York, NY
Location: East Village, NY
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Late Night, Big Groups, Cheap Eats
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Okonomiyaki, Beef Yakitori, Negi Yakitori