Saturday, September 12, 2009

Outstanding Japanese food in the East Village at the serene Kyo Ya

I LOVE FOOD. I love wine. In my spare time, I find myself planning culinary adventures and dinner parties although with the latter, it's limited, with the scarcest availability.

I like to get recommendations from palates that I trust, read food magazines and search Zagat's and New York mag for up to date information on the NY food scene. Although I have a short list of non-local places such as Alinea, Schwa, Moto, Goodstone, Town House, Inn at Little Washington, El Bulli and the Fat Duck that I'd love to visit, I'm focusing on exploring the options in my playground, the streets of NYC.

Interestingly, Kyo Ya, my choice for dinner this Friday, has the highest food rating in Zagat NYC.

Low ResponseThough most surveyors have yet to discover this “sophisticated” East Village Japanese kaiseki specialist, those who know it say it’s “one of the best” for “wonderful” multicourse set meals served in “calm”, wood-lined environs; “kimono-clad” servers ensure all feel “well-cared-for” here.

Not including Kyo Ya, I have eaten at sixteen of the top twenty Zagat-rated restaurants for food. However, it has been years since I've gone to Mas or Per Se, on the list. I've not been to the three other restaurants, Sasabune, Rosanjin or Sugiyama, notably all Japanese. Away from this list, I'd like to visit Brooklyn Fare, Minetta's Tavern and Co Pizza. I'd also like to go to Cookshop, Il Bagatto and Peter Luger's, old favorites. Last week, I tried to make a second ressie at Brooklyn Fare with my friend Marko, but it was booked until November; luckily, I planned in advance and have a ressie there in a couple of weeks. Aside, some current favorites in NYC include Marea for the best pasta(lobster with uni spaghetti is amazing!), Mary's Fish Camp for the best lobster rolls, Mad for Chicken for the best fried chicken and Momofuko Ssam for general excellence. My most important criteria is the quality of the food and generally, I'm drawn to places with concise, focused menus(it is easier to get a few things right); I'll happy pay up if the quality warrants. That said, great food doesn't have to be expensive, as some of my favorite meals ever have been inexpensive, made with simply the best, although not most expensive, ingredients.

After a particularly intense work week, I was ready for a relaxing evening; buying wine is hard work! :) A friend picked me up from my office. A light sprinkle of rain with a cool freshness in the air indicated to me that fall is now here. (Yikes, where was summer?) The restaurant was serene and relaxing, just what I needed, and a nice preface for the evening.

I was impressed with Kyo Ya and I'm looking forward to returning. The chef's special dishes, cold appetizers and sashimi were outstanding with the hot dishes and entree good to outstanding.

Following is my dinner selection and my comments.

Cold apps:

Yuba And Uni Yoshino Style sea urchin on tofu skin in crystal clear sauce

A, so very good
Aigamo Soy Demi-Glace roasted duck simmered in our demi-glace style sauce
B, liked the delicacy but wanted more texture

Chef's Specials:

Smoked Hotate cherry wood smoked hokkaido scallop marinated in white sesame oil
A-, it was a little too cold and made the scallop too firm

Chef's Selection of Sashimi:

Red Bachan Sea Urchin from Portland
A, different textures and flavors with creamy goodness. I love high quality uni. Who knew there was such a range?
Bonito Tataki from Izu
A+, my favorite of the evening. Smoked. Literally.
Big Eye Medium Fatty Tuna from Panana
B+, I liked the the gradation in fat content but I prefer the pure indulgence of uniform fat. This is the first time that I've knowingly ate tuna from Panama. Love that they stated the origin. 

*note, prices were not listed on the daily special sheet but came in at around $20

Hot apps:

Famous Sweet Potato Tempura served with soy sauce and mongolian salt
B+, Almost a pale/medium yellow in color with a good balance of richness and lightness.
Kurobuta Kakuni slowly cooked pure pork belly
B, Good flavor intensity but lacked texture. Crispy skin would have made a nice contrast. 


Hokkaido Style Lamb grilled with japanese style bbq sauce
B-, My least favorite. Slightly overcooked and too sweet.

With dinner, we drank a 1993 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Sp├Ątlese Auction. Z's auction wines are made with highly selected berries that are fermented in a single 1,000 liter barrel(for reference, a typical Bordeaux barrel is 225 to 228 liters, a traditional Italian botti is 500 liters). This was my first Zilliken auction bottling. The wine was beautiful, with an elegant finesse and minerality-- the weight of water. My dinner companion noted corn in the aromas. We'd been told that the auction wines have more concentration, however this bottle did not. I tried the same wine from 2007 and the 1993 again, two days later, and found significant differences. The 2007 was piercing and intense, the 1993, subtle, with less obvious charms(how I prefer my peeps), but still rocking. I purchased the 1993 wine direct from the winery in the Saar, via the distributor Bowler and the importer Rudi Wiest. Tasting notes on 4/03 from Hanno Zilliken: Delicately yellow, greenish color. Delicate petrol notes. Juicy acid structure, peach and apricot fruit indicative of botrytis. Very complex. Aging potential for another 10-20 years.

Thanks for reading!

Kyo Ya

94 E. 7th St., New York, NY 10009 
nr. First Ave.

Kyo Ya on Urbanspoon