Our favorite “traditional” Japanese restaurant in New York City is En Japanese Brasserie which is located in the West Village. En Japanese Brasserie is the American outpost of several sister restaurants in Japan. This close connection to the restaurant scene in Japan is apparent in the quality and flavor of the food. The West Village space is modern and airy, exactly how we envision a Manhattan restaurant to appear. Although En Japanese Brasserie feels trendy, it does not distract from the food and service which are impeccable. The meal is always visually pleasing and incredibly fresh and tasty. Homemade tofu is the star here. The tofu is prepared six times each day, ensuring exceptional quality. We particularly enjoy the pickled vegetable appetizer and “O-Banzai” or small Kyoto style dishes. If you enjoy sake or Japanese shochu, the selection here is extensive. There are literally pages of the beverage menu dedicated to these uniquely Japanese spirits. If you aren’t sure what to try, no worries! Your server can guide you to the perfect selection, including sake flights. En Japanese Brasserie is a wonderful restaurant for a delectable meal. It will satisfy everyone in your party!
Our favorite sushi restaurant in New York City is Kura, which is located in the East Village. The storefront is non-descript, without any signs indicating you have reached your destination. As you walk down the street, looking for the correct address, keep your eyes open. The door for Kura is located behind drape that is decorated with an almost complete circle. The unadorned exterior matches the minimalistic interior. Inside, you will encounter an extremely straightforward sushi bar. There are 12 seats at ths sushi bar and a single four-top. Although Kura is very intimate, the atmosphere is unpretentious. The restaurant is tiny, but this lends itself to an incredibly thorough and personalized dining experience. Because of this, we got to chat with Chef Norihiro Ishizuka and his staff throughout the meal. The chef and staff hail from Michigan and we are so thankful that they decided to move and open this restaurant in Manhattan. Chef Ishizuka makes you feel like you are a guest in his home. Kura is all about the sushi. The sushi is extraordinary and the price for the omakase style meal cannot be beat. The meals start at $65 per person! Seriously! Omakase starting at $65 in NYC?! It’s true! What makes this even more insane is that the quality and variety of the fish is exceptional. We’ve been to countless sushi restaurants and Kura offers the best all-around experience for the price. If we get a craving for sushi, this is the only place we want to visit in NYC.
One restaurant trend that we noticed is the uptick in popularity of restaurants featuring “small plates”. We love this style of eating. It encourages diners to share bites of food which not only allows for more variety of food at a meal, but also lends itself to “family-style” dining. One of our favorite restaurants in NYC is a terrific example of “small plate” dining. Torishin (torishinny.com) is a fabulous, Michelin star awarded restaurant located on the Upper East Side. Torishin is a “yakitori” restaurant. Yakitori means “grilled chicken”. Typically, yakitori consists of bite sized pieces of chicken, giblets, and other types of meats or veggies on bamboo skewers which are then grilled over Binchotan charcoal. This type of charcoal is popular with yakitori chefs as it allows for cooking without smoke to mask the flavor of the food. We’ve been to several different yakitori restaurants in Manhattan and nothing compares to the variety, flavor, and attentive service of Torishin. The sake selection is exceptional and pairs spectacularly well with the meal. If you are not familiar with sake, don’t worry! photo 3Your server will help you select the perfect sake. We enjoy sake but were curious about some unfamiliar choices. Our server gave us samples of several we were considering so that we could make an informed selection. If you want to try yakitori, do not try any other restaurant. We’ve tried several yakitori restaurants in both Manhattan and Boston and nothing compares to the selection, quality, taste, and service of Torishin. Tom loves the unique (or as Lora states it, “weird”) skewers. Lora enjoys the more accessible choices (“regular” chicken and veggies). Torishin is the perfect restaurant for everyone’s taste. You will not be disappointed!
The fall of 2013 took us to New York State’s Finger Lakes wine region. Tom had the opportunity to visit there a number of years ago, but Lora had “driven” through but never explored the area. Both of us wanted to explore this wine region and knew it would be the perfect time to not only taste wine, but to also participate in “leaf peeping”. The Finger Lakes region is a 6 hour drive from our home. Which makes it a perfect 4-day weekend trip. Prior to our short getaway, we researched different wineries, restaurants, and hotels in the area. We also searched out fun things to see and do. One noteworthy finding is that the area is not very developed. This means small and independent hotels and restaurants. Bed and breakfasts abound the Finger Lakes. Several campsites are also dotted throughout the region. On our drive to the Finger Lakes, we decided to take a short detour in Syracuse to have a late lunch at Dinosaur BBQ (http://www.dinosaurbarbeque.com). This restaurant has been highlighted by countless travel and food shows. We shared a small sampler plate, the “tres ninos” which consisted of brisket, ribs, and pork. The portion was huge for being a “small” serving. No need for individual entrees here! The food was very good for the region and definitely satisfied our taste for BBQ. Prior to reaching our hotel in Seneca, we took a detour to Cayuga Lake. (http://cayugawinetrail.com/maps/1/trail-map) After over 5 hours in the car, we needed wine tastings, stat! We did tastings at: Knapp winery (knappwine.com) and Swedish Hill Vineyard (swedishhill.com). Both had decent wines, however, we preferred wineries that we visited (and will soon highlight) from Seneca Lake. Two important observations to pass along: 1) The Finger Lakes region really is an agricultural area. We love that, for the most part, the wines are produced from local vineyards and not from grapes shipped in from California. And 2) The tastings are inexpensive! We’re used to the typical $10 tasting fees imposed by wineries in California, Oregon, and Washington State. Tastings in this region range from $3-6! And many times you are able to taste the winery’s entire wine collection, rather than the typical tasting of 4 wines. One great hint when traveling: be sure to “check in” on Yelp (yelp.com) as some wineries offer specials upon “check-in”. Days 2 and 3 were beautiful, crisp fall days. We decided to focus our tour of the Finger Lakes on Seneca Lake http://wineries.fingerlakeswinecountry.com/Seneca-Lake-Wine-Trail.aspx. Although we visited several places, we will highlight places we believe are incredible finds. Muranda cheese (murandacheese.com) was a terrific discovery. For a $2 tasting fee, we got to try over 10 cheeses. The purveyor, Tom Murray, was a wonderful guide for our tastings. We were lucky to be in the shop at a slow time which allowed us to learn more about the family, their farm, and cheeses. All of the cheeses are manufactured only with milk produced from their own cows. Murray’s son, a graduate of Cornell, heads the milk production for the delicious product. The Murrays have been approached to widen their distribution, however, they are choosing to keep production small to ensure optimum quality and a superior product. Over the two days touring Seneca Lake wineries, we had an amazing time discovering delicious wines. One of the best discoveries was Shalestone Vineyard (shalestonevineyards.com). This winery only produces red wine and the only day they are open for tastings is Friday (which luckily was the day we were there). The wines are truly delicious and rival those from the West Coast. We particularly enjoyed the Dry Riesling at Sheldrake Point (sheldrakepoint.com). The Pinot Noir from Silver Thread (silverthreadwine.com) was incredible. Another find was Bagley’s Poplar ridge Vineyards (bagleysprv.com). This place has the feel of a bar. We recommend visiting this winery at the end of the day. The wines are decent, but the main reason to visit is for the camaraderie to be had with the staff and other visitors. We have noted that local, craft distilleries are opening in wine tasting regions. We both love spirits and decided to try Finger Lakes Distilling Company (fingerlakesdistilling.com). This was the most unexpectedly pleasant discovery. Many distilleries are new so the spirits are still a bit young. However, every spirit we tasted here was delicious and didn’t send shivers up your back (which happens to us with less mature liquor). For those who find it difficult to taste liquor straight, there are a variety of mixers available. We love Bloody Marys, so our guide made one with corn whiskey. What a revelation! It puts a nice spin on the usual vodka based drink. For the two nights of our tour of Seneca Lake, we decided to stay in Ithaca at the Fairfield Inn. http://www.marriott.com/fairfield-inn/travel.mi#/s-video/ The hotel was recently built and extremely clean. The staff was helpful and incredibly welcoming. Ithaca is about a 25 minute drive from Seneca Lake. The Ithaca location gave us an opportunity to further explore the area beyond our original plan of just touring wineries. The city has great restaurants, State Parks, and hiking trails. We also enjoyed the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and took home some beautiful, locally grown vegetables and meats.