This is my favorite restaurant. That's not me speaking. It was one of four giggling girls seated next to me at Ootoya, a Japanese restaurant on a sleepy strip of 41st near Bryant Park. Even on one of the coldest days in New York City history every table was taken with a few people waiting by the door. On a normal day the wait be a lot longer.
The restaurant is immaculate. There is a sake bar up front and another counter in the center along with several booths. A large vase of cherry blossoms adding to the upscale feel, but prices here won't break the bank. Service is friendly, but not overbearing.
All of the food is pepared in an open kitchen in the center of the restaurant. Here you can watch as the chef grills the yakatori which is prepared with care. If you have never eaten yakatori. It is basically skewered meats, similar to shish kebab, accompanied by a special sauce. I tried two. Momo Ninniku featureds plump pieces of chicken sandwiched between whole cloves of garlic. It gets a light dusting of sea salt and is masterful in its simplicity. A second skewer, Mune Ume, is drizzled with a tart plum sauce and topped with shredded shiso leaves. In both cases, thigh meat is used making the chicken extra moist. There are also yakatori made with chicken skin and washu beef.
Dinner continued with Maguro Soba, thin slices of blue fin tuna curled atop mounds of soba noodles floating in a sea of soy jelly. It's a complex mix of flavors and textures. The fish this visit tasted extremely fresh. Next up: pork belly. I would count this dish, Buta Koji, among my most satisfying meals. Maybe because I can't resist pork belly with all of its luscious fattiness. Be sure to order the "set." What arrives is a tray complete with a small bowl of satisfying misu soup, assorted housemade pickles, a large bowl of brown rice and a cup of silky smooth egg custard. That's in addition to the actual pork belly which was grilled perfectly. It's served with fresh greens and a scoop of very addictive potato salad.
I think what impressed me most about Ootoya is I actually felt like I was getting an authentic Japanese meal; a good reason to get on line.
Review By: Thomas Rafael