Monday, April 23, 2007

The Original

85 Ave A (6th Street)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 505-6524


I moved into the East Village in 1990, sharing a small, $600-a-month illegal sublet with my friend Jon on 11th St. right next door to the venerable Italian bakery Venierio's. Every morning, I awakened to the smell of cake.

It wasn't quite as idyllic as it sounds. Many nights I was rocked to sleep by the sound of snapping rat traps in the courtyard. And the apartment was built like a bad Boy Scout project. The neighborhood, too, was far from the hip, expensive, boutique-laden neighborhood it is now. Back then, it was dirty, a little dangerous, and the further east you went, the more edge it had. Tompkins Square Park was still a homeless encampment. Junkies slept in our doorway. But compared to today's East Village, I have to say, it was awesome.

One evening, in 1992, Jon came home raving about a new sushi restaurant on Avenue A called Takahachi, and took me there the next night. We were blown away by the size of the sushi--indeed, they were the biggest pieces we'd ever seen, as well the quality of the fish, the best of any sushi we'd had in the city yet. The California rolls used only real crab. The chefs made their own soy. And the specials and deals were terrific, including a sushi-for-two plate that was so enormous it was often tough to finish, and came with a free handroll of your choice, all for just $22, perfect for a young, struggling writer.

Fifteen years later, I've been forced out to Williamsburg. But Takahachi remains, and Spoon & I are Takahachi regulars. We've befriended the chefs. I get bottles of plum wine from the restaurant at Christmastime. And as an OC (original customer), I received a 10th anniversary sake set from Takahachi in 2002. We've delighted in turning friends on to this place over the years, and they too have become regulars. Fifteen years is a long time for any restaurant to survive, much less one in the rapidly gentrified East Village. Takahachi has done it the old-fashioned way: with top quality ingredients, innovative chefs, great service, affordable prices, amazing consistency and a commitment to its customers, who since about 1994, have had no problem waiting outside for up to an hour to get a table.

You can't go wrong with anything on Takahachi's menu. Here's how we do it. First, we like sitting at the bar with the chefs. For one, they always try out new stuff on us, and we're all too happy to oblige. The fish is lovely to look at, and watching the chefs work is great entertainment. The specials are the way to go. Every night, the chefs throw out something incredible, and over the years they've really opened our eyes with the scope of ingredients they use without sacrificing the integrity of Japanese cuisine.

Tonight, we started with crab shumai, a staple on the menu, and a special dish called Tako Green; it's octopus on bed of red onion with a spicy green sauce. Tako Green isn't often on the menu, but the chef makes it for us--what a guy! We followed that with a special sashimi plate of chu toro, medium fatty tuna; and a special called Jala Hama (photo, left), yellowtail sashimi with red onion and shaved jalapeno with a soy ginger dressing. For our main sushi onslaught, we stayed with the hamachi/jalapeno theme of the evening with a special roll; and a few pieces of sushi: salmon, yellowtail and some uni for me. Takahachi has great uni. They won't serve the uni from Maine one gets at lesser sushi bars, only the sweet, California variety, one of my favorite flavors in the world. We had beer and Sake, and a banana spring roll dessert, all for $75. This wasn't our best Takahachi meal: some specials have defied description. But as usual, it was excellent.

For reference, Takahachi is not in the same league as, say, Nobu or Gari. The room and its woodplank/white plate service is pretty plain. But as far as the kitchen is concerned, it's not terribly far behind either, and you could eat four or five full meals at Takahachi for the price of one at either Nobu or Gari. If you like and know Japanese food in New York, the quality of the food is comparable to Tomoe, Yama and Hasaki, and much more affordable. The pieces are large, though not as large as they once were and not unwieldy like the slabs served at Yama. It's cheaper than Hasaki, which is also excellent. Tomoe is magnificent, sublime. And, worth the long waits. There aren't many rooms that Takahachi beats for decor but the cramped Tomoe is one.

It's not enough to say Takahachi is our favorite restaurant. We're proud of Takahachi. We're happy he's been successful enough to open a second restaurant on Duane Street, and grateful that ours has remained home to us for so long with such a high standard of excellence. How many restaurants can you say you've been going to for 15 years that still can surprise and amaze you with each visit?--F

1 comment:

Laura said...

Thank you, F&S, for introducing me to the BEST SUSHI OF MY LIFE!!! at Taka. I dream of that stuff at night...