Friday night’s happy hour left me craving sushi. Everyone who knows me knows that this is not at all unusual. Unfortunately we were in midtown (below 42nd St) with no desire to travel too far because I was starving. As you probably know, the options in this area for fresh, authentic sushi that won’t break the bank are slim. Our Yelp app told us our best option – nearby, good ratings, not too expensive – was Inakaya in the New York Times building.
Walking up, the place has the same industrial feel as the rest of the building, with huge windows and large steel supports. Inside it’s a little warmer, decorated with dark woods and soft lighting. We were welcomed by the very polite hostess and our presence was announced to the restaurant in true Japanese style – Irasshaimase! The restaurant was fairly full but we were able to get a table without a reservation.
Unfortunately there was no room at the grill/sushi bar where you can see the chefs in action. Normally I’m not too fussed about sitting at the bar, but the one they have at Inakaya is large with plenty of room to comfortably enjoy your food. It’s so large they serve everything to you by passing it on a wooden board with a long handle, something akin to a pizza board. The bar is definitely where you have the best view; even though there is a wall of windows facing the street the only thing to look at is a parking garage.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had a good variety of food. Authentic Japanese cuisine that is not ramen or sushi is something I find hard to come by. I learned after asking one of the servers that Inakaya is essentially a robata-yaki, or Japanese barbecue restaurant. I’ll just have to keep that in mind for next time, because on this night I couldn’t consider anything but sushi. We decided an a couple of maki rolls and some nigiri. There was the option of their Restaurant Week menu, but we opted for the a la carte.
Here we have some uni nigiri, Spanish mackerel nigiri, spicy scallop maki and soft shell crab maki. More nigiri came, but I forgot to photograph it. All of the seafood was wonderfully fresh and delicious. But I think what made the nigiri truly memorable was the rice. Cooked really well, with just the right amount of vinegar it held together beautifully and was the perfect base for the fish.
Now for the maki. In addition to the rolls already mentioned we had a Red Dragon roll – one of their specials that night. It was an avocado and cucumber roll topped with spicy tuna and tobiko. I know that spice can sometimes overpower the taste of the fish, but it’s just so good. And let me tell you, Inakaya does spicy right! No subtle hints here, their spice has a real kick.
Just as we were finishing up our meal, a little commotion started near the windows. Two of the servers came in with large marble mallets and started beating something in a bowl. Dinner and a show! Turns out they were making fresh mochi – very loudly. It was interesting to see, but definitely interrupted the evening. We had finished our dinner, but for those that hadn’t or were in the middle of a conversation I would say this was most certainly annoying. Here they are pounding the rice:
A little while after this was complete one of the waitresses came around with complimentary samples of the just-made mochi. One piece with a nutty-flavoured powder coating and the other with green tea. I have to say I am not a fan. But I did enjoy watching them make it.
Overall the food and service at Inakaya were very good. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was excellent, but for the price – $120 got us 4 maki rolls, 8 pieces of nigiri and a carafe of sake – we had a great dinner and would go back again to try the robata.
*apologies for the rubbish photos. had to use the camera phone. image of bar from yelp.com