Wednesday, October 20, 2010
EN Japanese Brasserie: Style Over Substance
Tucked away on the corner of Hudson Street in the West Village lies EN Japanese Brasserie, the American outpost of this Japanese franchise. Serving upscale izakaya fare in a sleek space, decorated with Japanese motifs, its exactly the kind of restaurant which makes me skeptical. But having heard positive reviews of EN's homemade tofu as well as the their original cocktails, MW and I arrived with open minds and empty stomachs only to walk away unimpressed.
While having a relatively unassuming exterior, you are instantly transported to another world as you pass through the restaurant's main doors, and impressive space, complete with a soaring ceiling and oversized windows. While we waited for our table, MW and I decided to grab a drink at the bar. For MW, a Hitachino White Ale and for myself, a Ginger, consisting of Homemade Ginger Ale, Rice Sochu "Shiro," Lime Juice and Soda.
As we finished our drinks, the hostess led us to our table located in the massive dining room which featured an open kitchen and a seasonally-themed centerpiece. We ordered another round of drinks with MW ordering a Ginger Gimlet this time around.
Moving onto the food, finding the a la carte menu more appealing, we chose to pass on both of the restaurant's featured Kaiseki menus. Instead, we started with EN's signature dish, their freshly made tofu, made several times throughout the evening. The Uni Tomago Dofu, an Egg Custard in Dashi and topped with two tongues of Sea Urchin was first to arrive. The dish was silky smooth, accentuated by the briny sea urchin and kissed with just the right amount of seasoning provided by the dashi.
Next was the Freshly Made Scooped Tofu, served chilled with Wori-Joya. Admittedly, tofu is hardly an ingredient which people fantasize over, however, after trying EN's fresh version I'd be willing to make an exception to that rule. Cool and creamy, this tofu was unlike anything I've experienced, having a firm yet gentle texture that slide effortlessly in your mouth.
Being the lover of eel that I am, I couldn't pass on the Unagi No Shirayaki, Grilled Live Eel flown overnight from Shizuoka, Japan. Compared to other eel preparations served in most Japanese restaurants, this had an unparalleled meatiness to it but remained moist, flaking off in tender chunks. Along with the tofu, this was easily our favorite dish of evening, which, at $30 should have been a given.
Next were the Ebi Shinjo, Deep-Fried Shrimp Fritters which arrived pipping hot and were simply seasoned with a spritz of lemon and some salt. Surprisingly dense, the texture of the fritters was rubbery, like some really bad shumai.
The Crispy Fried Chicken also failed to deliver flavor-wise. Strips of juicy thigh meat lightly coated and nicely fried just lacked the proper seasoning and had me longing for my favorite izakaya snack, deep fried chicken cartilage.
Although neither of us were particularly set on sushi, by virtue of its main ingredient we decided to split an Uni Roll. The roll contained Sweet Shrimp, Cucumber and Shiso and was topped with Sea Urchin and flecks of Caviar. The roll was incredible looking, which made the disappointment all the worse. The dominating flavor of the shiso overwhelmed our mouths, clouding the flavors of the sea urchin and shrimp and even making the caviar seemed superfluous.
The last savory course of the meal was the Uni Don, a bowl of Rice, topped with Sea Urchin, grated Yama-Imo, Mekabu and Salmon Roe. Seasoned with a few drops of soy sauce and delicately mixed together, each bite delivered a taste of the ocean as the sea urchin and salmon roe providing briny notes and was a satisfying conclusion.
We paused our meal here, ordering more drinks. MW ordered the Pink Grapefruit which was made with Gin and Honey and I ordered the Oba with Shiso Leaf, Gin and Lemon Juice.
To finish our meal, we decided to split the Molten Chocolate Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream (I know, how very Japanese). Due to a slight mix-up, our dessert being given to another table, our dessert was comped and we were given two complimentary glasses of Yuzu Wine from Ibaraki, Japan.
Much like Ippudo, another Japanese franchise that has made its way onto our shores, EN Japanese Brasserie attempts to offer New Yorker's a taste of Tokyo without having to leave the island of Manhattan. But unfortunately, their best attempts fall short, ultimately dumbing down their menu in favor for a stylish ambiance. Perhaps a destination better suited for a cocktail or two with friends before heading out, EN Japanese Brasserie still pales in comparison to staples such as Hagi and Sakagura which are truer to form of your typical izakaya.
EN Japanese Brasserie
435 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
To see all our pics please click the flickr link.