By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Over the course of a couple of dinners we sampled two sakes, one expensive (Kasanui Kitaya, $54, from southwestern Fukuoka) and one not (Bunraku Nihonjin no Wasuremono, $16, from mid-eastern Saitama). Both were served chilled. The Kasanui was considerably smoother and a bit sweeter, but both tasted like the essence of mountain water distilled and rendered into alcohol — snowy cold, dry, refreshing, and very drinkable. Japanese sake makers know as much about the source, mineral content, and flavor of the water that goes into their brew as any California winemaker about her soil and rainfall. The sakes pair beautifully with delicate Japanese preparations, brilliant green baby bok choy accompanying "XO" sea scallops ($22), a quartet of fat roasted shellfish in a deep brown sauce fragrant with rice vinegar and peppers. It married well with the alternating crunch and moisture in a roll made from crab, cucumber, avocado, and spicy tuna (the Dirty Old Man, $10), and with one fashioned from eel, avocado, and crab with salmon on top (First Love roll, $10, and as fresh as the sentiment). The cool, clean sake made a foil for dense, earthy clam soup with shiitake mushrooms ($5), and a dish of littlenecks in their shells sautéed with fermented black beans, red and green peppers, and sautéed sliced onions ($10). This last was a particular favorite, recommended by our waitress, who had a knack for pointing us in the right direction: an appetizer of Osaka tuna ($12), battered and cooked tempura-style, sliced to reveal a cool, ruby center and drizzled with Yan's special sauce, made from wasabe, mayonnaise, garlic, and herbs. That was some rockin' tunafish.
Still, my favorite dishes were Chinese or pan-Asian. An appetizer of Mott Street roast pork ($9, entrée $16) was as velvety, complicated, and subtly infused with spices as any pork dish I've had in any Chinatown from San Fran to New York. Sliced chicken breast with ginseng and ginger ($18) energized the spirit with its hot yin and silky yang. Dinners come with soup or salad, a vegetable, and a choice of brown or white rice. Homey, attentive service and family-style dishes merge effortlessly into the place's chic style with its waterfalls, recessed lighting, and clubby beats on the sound system, balancing opposites.
Our waitress brought us a complimentary dish of mochi for dessert, ice cream wrapped in soft rice starch, the texture of the rice casing almost fleshy, in a good way, and her pleasure at our pleasure was just as palpable. One of the characteristics of true hospitality is that the evening passes effortlessly in a wash of good will.
You don't realize what's happened until it's over.