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Riingo

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Riingo

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Address: 205 East 45th Street
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10017
Phone: 212-867-4200
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Cuisine: Japanese
2nd Cuisine: Sushi
Area: East 40s
Entree Price: $20-25
Payment:

Review:

I've got some good news and some bad news with respect to my impressions of Riingo, Marcus Samuelsson's Asian-accented restaurant in the Alex Hotel. I am a bad news first sort of person, so here goes. I don't love the restaurant design. It is small, dark, a bit cramped and it just doesn't really make as much of an impact. The bar is compact and modest, with bare bulbs hanging down to give the room a moody glow, but other than the lighting, there is not much to it. To the left of the bar you'll find a windowless wood-paneled dining room (just past the narrow passageway that is also the sushi bar) that is strangely shaped so there are just a few tables in the space. The upstairs dining room feels lonely and like an abandoned land. The room lacks that sexy, heated vibe that you crave when you eat out. The design just doesn't pop. Perhaps that is even more noticeable because the food does, and then some, which brings us to the good news. In a nutshell, the eats at Riingo are quite amazing. The food is deliciously creative, the flavors are visionary, well-articulated and balanced. Many of the dishes are challenging, yet they present the sort of challenge that invites you in, and doesn't make you run in the other direction. The menu as conceived by Aquavit's Marcus Samuelsson and executed by his able (and adorable) chef de cuisine Johan Svensson, is divided between sushi and Japanese-American dishes. We started with the Japanese-American side of the menu, with a salmon salad—thick, earthy planks of fresh raw salmon crowned with watercress, and set on ribbons of cucumber and bits of cabbage dotted with chiles, and refreshed with grapefruit segments. We moved onto the braised pork belly with honey-roasted garlic ($14), listed as an entree for one. (It was big enough for two; portions are generous.) The minute I took my first bite, I was not prepared to share, and I usually share everything. But it was so tender and soft, and so completely saturated with moist, sinfully fatty flavor, and was served with this unbelievable honey-roasted garlic, tossed on the pig's crispy-skinned back in soft sweet caramelized nuggets, that I almost took it away with me to another table and refused to share. Next we tried the nori-wrapped foie gras ($16), an appetizer, served on a long sleigh bed style china platter. The foie—two creamy lobes tucked inside a nori wrapper— tasted like a savory custard, softly melting in your mouth. The foie gras came with a pair of seared sardines each set on a rectangle of pickled watermelon, a sharp jolt of brininess that was the right contrast to the liver. A whole red snapper for two ($35), in a red miso broth, was huge, perhaps the size of one of those small dogs that you see in ladies handbags on the dreadful Upper East Side. It (the fish, not the dogs) is served with smiling head still intact, and with its wide fan-like tail flipped up, so it appears as though it is quite happy to be on the plate. I don't know about the fish, but I was happy it was on the plate. The fish is a star—sweet and moist, with a soft, persistent, but subtle heat. It was perfectly cooked. Sushi is a must, especially the Tasmanian sea trout, bubble-gum pink dominos that were silky, buttery, and provide simple pleasure for your mouth. For dessert, you must have the one called "Donut." It really should be called "Donuts" as we were treated to a trio of puffy, pillowy rounds of yeasty fried dough coated in sugar and filled with green-tea cream. Warm, soft, and sweet, these little pups are yummy. Samuelsson is a gifted chef with an eye for making eating fun, challenging and gratifying. Your mouth doesn't get tired of the food, instead, with each and every bite, it is more and more excited and more and more in love. This is the sort of relationship you want with food and in life, always.



Review By: Andrea Strong


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