When the whirlwind of Manhattan Japanese restaurants steer you astray, look to one from the homeland to get you back on track.
Ootoya in Flatiron does just this. Anny and I endured an hour-plus-wait on a Thursday night for a taste of Japan. It’s not about the sushi or rolls here that New Yorkers have made so mainstream, but heartwarming dishes that show a whole other side that is just as much a part of the national cuisine.
There’s the chilled soba that’s perhaps not too unfamiliar to the American taste bud. But the care in their preparation shows, firm but plump strands to be submerged into a tsuyu sauce that you blend with an egg yolk. It helps the sauce cling to the noodles and you’re just hoping that it soaks though so you get as much as the slightly sweet, slightly salty blend reaches your mouth.
That’s our recommended starter, along with the chilled tofu with a dash of dashi sauce for a neutral, but super refreshing flavor.
My favorite of the night was the buta cinnamon, two delicate slabs of grilled pork belly marinated with cinnamon and topped with cinnaon powder. The sweetness comes in subtle waves letting the robust pork flavors do their thing. Think of the cinnamon more as an herb that offers a kind of sugary tinge no other seasoning can offer.
A warm Japanese meal wouldn’t be complete without a kastu don, a Panko-breaded, deep-fried pork loin cutlet, enveloped in onion and egg over rice. It’s silky here but I’d say worth skipping if for items you’ll have a harder time finding elsewhere.
Japan has much more to offer in the dining department than raw fish and yakitori. Ootoya brings it to you here in abundance, not only in what they serve, but how they serve it.