Friday, March 23, 2012

Dinner | EN Japanese Brasserie

Last Friday, Erin and I made plans to go to EN Japanese Brasserie to belatedly celebrate my birthday! It had been on her list of places to take me for the longest time, so it was great to know that we were finally making plans to go together!

Opened in 2004, EN Japanese brasserie embraces the "rich traditions of Japanese home cooking" with "Chef Abe Hiroki's modern approach to washoku, a relaxed style of dining centered around a procession of small plates." This New York location has sister restaurants back in Japan as well, with which recipe ideas are constantly exchanged "to provide a transportive dining experience."

EN has a shochu bar as well! Also loving these display banner curtains.

The interior of EN was created by Ichiro Sato, who brought "Tokyo aesthetic to New York City" with "the restaurant's soaring ceilings and oversized windows" along with "warm woods and authentic, antique panels." All design aspects of EN were custom-designed and imported from Japan, including the furniture, the block-printed fabrics, and tabletop accessories.

Erin and I each started with the Red Grapes cocktail with "Rain" organic vodka. For someone who likes an even and enjoyable balance of alcohol and accoutrement (juice, soda, bitters, fruit, etc.), this was very watered down. Maybe there was too much ice. Either way, the ingredient ratio in this cocktail needs to be restored to the optimal balance.

As recommended by Lisa, I had to order the "mushroom dish" at EN (per Lisa: "OMGGG -- the umami sensation!). With that being said, I believed it to be the kinoko kiriboshi daikon ohitashi -- assorted Japanese mushrooms and sun-dried daikon radish with yuzu. I found it to be very refreshing and had very clean flavors. There were only little tinges of umami popping in every so often -- not at all what Lisa had described. Perhaps the "mushroom dish" she had in the past at EN was during a different seasonal offering or it was including with the kaiseki multi-course tasting menu. Have to go back and see if they'll have that again!

What has to be ordered during any meal at EN is its signature dish -- the freshly made scooped tofu served warm with wari-joyu, the restaurant's sweet mix of soy sauce and fish broth. The tofu is made regularly at 5:30, 7, 8:30, and 10 PM, respectively, and can also be ordered cold. Light as a feather and silkier on your palate than the smoothest of fabrics on your fingertips, this freshly made tofu is breathtaking. I don't believe I've had tofu this smooth before. Don't let its lightness in texture fool you -- shared between the two of us, it was quite filling already as our first course. Definitely great for sharing in a larger group!

We also had the clay rice pot with salmon and ikura roe. The clay pot was really hot, keeping the rice and the salmon nice and warm. Once it arrived to our table, our server scooped a mound of rice and salmon into smaller bowls, allowing us to top with however much ikura roe we desired. I liked that the rice had a lot of textural depth due to the high heat from the clay pot. There were parts of the rice that were a little harder (on the burnt side) and the remaining which was fluffy. The salmon, flaky and tender, was mixed very well in with the rice, enhancing its overall flavor. The pearls of ikura roe gave a nice salty-savory touch to it overall. If you like rice and salmon, this is another great course to be shared.

We also had the crispy fried chicken with aromatic rock salt. Lightly battered and incredibly crispy, these were so good! If we hadn't ordered so many other things or if we had a larger party, we would've been able to finish it, but we were getting so full from the freshly made tofu and the clay rice pot, that we had to pack it up to take home. If you're more of the adventurous stuff, I would advise passing on ordering this (even though it's great) and trying something a little more "outside of the box."

{1} Our last course was the kuroge washugyu yaki shabu -- thinly sliced washugyu Black Angus short rib from Lindsay Ranch, Oregon with a hot stone for grilling. We were instructed to take the piece of short rib fat (all the way to the left of the platter) and {2} run it along the surface of the (very, very) hot stone, ensuring the cooking area is nicely coated to prevent sticking. After cooking the washugyu cuts of beef briefly on the hot stone, we had ourselves some amazing pieces of marbled perfection. Its soft and mouthwatering touch along our palates was a lovely treat.

Findings: I think the most notable parts of our dinner at EN Japanese Brasserie were the freshly made scooped tofu and the kuroge washugyu yaki shabu. They were both completely different dishes that I've never personally had before in a Japanese restaurant, so it was nice to be able to experience that here. The tofu was amazingly soft and almost weightless, but as we ate more, it mysteriously filled up in our stomachs so quickly, so be sure to share this with more than two people if you're hoping to sample more things from the menu without sacrificing "prime real estate" in your stomach (as Lisa would say). The kuroge washigyu was also fun because we didn't lose any time from the beef leaving the cooking surface to reach our table -- it was as fresh, as aromatic, and as savory as it grew from raw to rare in a minute or two. I was only disappointed with our cocktails (too watered down), but the other courses we ordered were lovely. Even with those, we barely made a dent in the menu. Looking forward to returning, with more people in tow, to try more seafood dishes (lots of uni and hamachi options!) and possibly working up an appetite for the kaiseki tasting menu!

Thanks again to Erin for taking me out to celebrate my birthday! You're the bestest :)

Price point: $6 for each small plate, $11-35 for remaining larger courses, $13 for each cocktail.

--March 16, 2012

EN Japanese Brasserie
435 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

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