Ikinari – review

FullSizeRender

Ikinari Steak

Nowadays gimmicks seem to come and go in less time than it takes to forget a login password. And no industry has a larger appetite for them than restaurants. And no country gets a bigger kick out of franchising them than Japan. While it might seem obvious for a mediocre chef to make eating more “fun” as a perfect distraction from inferior cooking, Ikinari – Japan’s popular standing steakhouse chain – is quite the opposite. So, what’s a standing steakhouse? An eccentric solution for über-impatient diners who are so obnoxiously busy that they just can’t spare the time to wait for a table, or wait for it to be cleared, or wait for menus, or water, or service… They don’t even have the luxury of time to bend their knees and SIT DOWN, for goodness sake!

 

FullSizeRender[2]

The first of 3 stateside Ikinari locations debuted in the East Village to a zoo of media and long lines of gimmick guzzlers. Here’s how it goes: You supervise the butcher who slices your preferred thickness of Japanese style (wet-aged) sirloin, rib-eye or filet mignon. If you can’t decide, you can try the mixed sampler of all 3.

 

IMG_2135

Your steak gets weighed, salted and flame grilled, and arrives at your table roaring, hissing and howling louder than a steam train slamming on the brakes to narrowly avoid hitting a well-fed country cow. While the swirl of roasted garlic butter gently melts over your perfectly seared rare cut, a “must-try” side order of Garlic-pepper rice gets tossed with a generous dollop of wasabi. Everything you need is at arm’s reach: steak knives and forks, mustards, Japanese dressings and sauces. There’s even a little rack to store your stuff and splash bibs to protect your clothing. Just no…um, chairs.

 

IMG_2134But you soon forget you are still standing as the tender meat succumbs easily to the bite, and the signature (warm) steak sauce mingles with a few drips of melted butter, collapsing your palate under a salty and umami sweetness you secretly pray will never end. No wonder there are only 5 or so items on the laminated menu. Quality over variety – in true Japanese fashion.

 

IMG_2136

Garlic-pepper Rice, Ikinari

For a city that emboldens impatience as table stakes, the concept of an 8-minute meal in a seat-free diner would be as obvious as odds that the M train will be delayed, but every gimmick has its Achilles heel. Despite being featured in the humor segment before the first break on practically every morning news show as yet another far-fetched oddity, New York’s first standing-only steakhouse buckled to public pressure and reluctantly snuck in a half-dozen chairs. But if you’re a gimmick devotee like me, try it standing up. It’s better for the digestion anyway.

FullSizeRender[1]

http://www.ikinaristeakusa.com/

 

 

Cosme review

While much of New York had been in a state of near apoplectic delirium as it anticipated the opening of Mexico City master-chef Enrique Olvera’s newest dining sensation Cosme, I have to confess that I also smooshed my nose against the glass on more than one occasion as I’d walk past the former sleazy strip bar (or “gentlemens club”) to witness the progress. Thankfully the space bears absolutely no resemblance to its former existence. Instead Olvera’s team has created a sleek and moody, dark gray, L-shaped room with sparse lighting, bright wooden surfaces and eye-level racks of wine. In the off chance that there might still be an open ear for improvements, I would make a plea for some desperately needed sound-absorptive materials. Hidden fabric ceiling panels, cushions, rugs…anything to facilitate hearing some of the intricate preparation details from the authentically accented wait staff.

I think it’s imperative to point out that if you’re expecting a typical taco/burrito/quesadilla dinner, you wouldn’t be reading a review by me. Chef Olvera’s menu is the culmination of homegrown authenticity combined with unexpected and unusual international preparations that elevate Mexican cuisine into the culinary stratosphere. The flavoring is bold – but not blunt. The dishes are diverse – but not random. The presentation is full of bright contrasts, but still very appetizing and approachable.

Occidental Heirloom Blue-corn Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and Habanero butter - Cosme

Occidental Heirloom Blue-corn Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and Habanero butter

Instead of bread and butter, they serve a heavenly (yet modest) portion (I was obliged with three subsequent follow-ups) of Occidental Heirloom blue corn Tortillas, that have been dried and freshly fried until they deliver a deeply earthy and dark purple crunch with a curry colored paste of pumpkin seed, garlic, habanero peppers and butter – the perfect introduction to the dozen or so appetizers ranging from sea urchins to eggplants.

Seafood vuelve a la vida - Cosme

Seafood vuelve a la vida

I am a huge fan of ceviche, but no one ever served me a Seafood vuelve a la vida (comes back to life) inside an avocado before. The combination of sweet tomato and horseradish, with morsels of fish inside the cocoon of a creamy avocado is utterly simple, remarkable and wonderful. We had to try the much bleated about Burrata with salsa verde and “weeds”, which is another confident combination of simple flavors and fresh textures that might crisscross multiple borders, but delivers flawlessly nonetheless. The only disappointments to the daily printed menu were the Chicharones which were quizzically sold out by 7:00pm, and our first two wine choices were both temporarily un-locatable, but the main courses proved to be fierce distractions.

Back garlic rubbed NY Strip Steak - Cosme

Back garlic rubbed NY Strip Steak

It was a fairly close call for the Broiled Red Snapper with a Hoja Santa salsa and plantains, but I ended up settling on the magnificent Black garlic rubbed New York strip steak. Hiding between the rare seared domino sized medallions of tender steak was one of the rare appearances of guacamole in the entire establishment. I had no idea that the über-popular green dip was such a red-headed stepchild, that it needed to be disguised as “avocado purée”! Velvety smooth and finished with tarragon and spiked with wasabi, who cares what they called it – to me it was absolutely delicious.

Duck Carnitas - Cosme

Duck Carnitas

The most popular dish has to be the Duck Carnitas – and with good reason. The boneless breast of succulent, salty duck literally tears apart with little more than a suggestion, before being inserted snugly into warm, fresh tortillas along with white onions and a citrusy salsa verde. They describe it as a sharable dish, but that depends on the familiarity of your fellow diners.

Husk Meringue - Cosme

Husk Meringue

Olvera’s contra-ordinary prowess shifts ceaselessly into the desserts. His two fluffy Husk Meringue halves are actually made from dried, ground corn-husks, which are separated by a surprisingly light and airy mound of corn and mascarpone mousse (although a dose of liquid nitrogen can even make me light and airy) but the dominant sweet and subtle savory combination is the work of a flavor maestro who knows what he’s doing. Also taste-worthy is the unpronounceable yet utterly caramelicious Nixtamalized Carrot paired with a cinnamon cake and sweet-tart cream-cheese ice cream.

Nixtamalized Carrot with Cinnamon Cake - Cosme

Nixtamalized Carrot with Cinnamon Cake

Even though Enrique Olvera named Cosme after his favorite obsession – the cosmos, in my mind the man wasn’t just reaching for the stars –  he seems to have clutched a few fistfuls before bringing them down to the Flatiron district to share with the rest of us.

http://www.cosmenyc.com/