Teshigotoya: An Explosion of Umami

November 12, 2015 8:34 am Last Updated: November 12, 2015 3:16 pm

In America, bar food can get boring pretty quickly; the menus are a familiar list of burgers and fried foods.

The Japanese, though, have a rich, long-standing culture of pairing alcohol with a delicious variety of small plates at “izakayas,” the Japanese equivalent of pubs. The latest trend in Tokyo is standing izakayas styled after Spanish tapas bars, attracting crowds with food that blends Japanese flavors with European cooking techniques and presentation. In the East Village, Teshigotoya brings the latest on the Tokyo izakaya scene to New York.

The combination results in dishes that deliver an intense explosion of umami. At Teshigotoya, which opened in February this year, a large menu of over 100 dishes, which includes a changing list of seasonal specials, delightfully satiates hunger pangs.

The Boiled Egg Croquette is a marvel to behold and taste ($8.50). When the baseball-sized croquette arrives at your table on a sizzling plate, the server pours in a cream sauce mixed with dashi broth that bubbles and rises slowly to form a pastel-yellow pond. Cut into the croquette and you’ll see that a runny soft-boiled egg has been encased in mashed potatoes.

Forget about bacon or french fries: one mouthful of the egg and potato, dipped into the cream sauce, will convince you that croquettes are the fried comfort food we should be eating everywhere in America. The layer of crisp on top of the potato is just thick enough to give some crunch, while the potato mash is peppered with some dill to undercut the heaviness—and it’s the perfect vehicle for sopping up that umami bomb of a sauce.

Another burst of flavors comes in the form of the Grilled Scallop and Oyster With Sea Urchin Sauce ($16). Briny, toothsome seafood mingles with mushrooms, carrots, onions, and scallions, like a Japanese stir-fry. The creamy sea urchin sauce is what makes this dish so special: mildly sweet, tart, and buttery at the same time, it gives just the right flair to complement the sea saltiness.

Grilled Scallop and  Oyster With Sea  Urchin Sauce. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Grilled Scallop and Oyster With Sea Urchin Sauce. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Because this is an izakaya, beverage pairings are a necessity. Teshigotoya has an elaborate menu of small-batch “shochu” (distilled from rice, barley, and sweet potatoes), sake, and Japanese whiskey that rotate by season. Some of the whiskeys are produced in such limited quantities that one bottle can cost thousands of dollars. You can order them by the glass, or alternatively, Teshigotoya makes highball cocktails that are popular in Japan, such as the Iwai Highball with Japanese whiskey and club soda ($12); Hoppie, a drink with root beer and shochu ($7); and Namashibori, with shochu, fresh fruits, and club soda ($12).

Restaurant director Yuta Kobayashi, who is also a sake sommelier, recommends full-bodied sake, like the Goriki ($75 per bottle), a type of unpasteurized junmai sake, to go with the seafood dish, and a highball cocktail to pair with the croquette.

For those who are indecisive and want to try a variety of dishes, go for the daily Chef’s Omakase Small Bites Platter ($28 or $35, if including seafood). Executive chef Kenta Rosenfield selects five appetizer-sized dishes for you to sample. On a recent visit, the platter included pickled daikon; Iberico chorizo and manchego cheese, drizzled with olive oil; a potato and tomato jelly salad; a bluefin tuna salad with avocado and yuzu-pepper sauce; and yellowtail sashimi served Okinawa-style, marinated in a sweet soy sauce.

The daily Chef's Omakase Small Bites Platter, with ibérico ham, yellowtail sashimi, potato salad, and other goodies. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
The daily Chef’s Omakase Small Bites Platter, with ibérico ham, yellowtail sashimi, potato salad, and other goodies. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

All were delectable, beautifully decorated with microgreens and flower petals. The potato salad was arranged into square layers, sandwiched between slices of tomato jelly, so that the dish looked like a savory cake of sorts—certainly a creative way of presenting potato salad.

It is customary to end a meal at an izakaya with rice or noodles, known as “shime”—to better soak up all the alcohol consumed. Teshigotoya has a variety of Italian-inflected dishes such as Sautéed Noodles With Carbonara Sauce ($13). Made with Japanese noodles, the dish arrives in a hot stone pot, which the server mixes with sauce in front of you on the table.

“Teshigoto” means “handcrafted.” True to its name, all dishes are made in-house, including dessert. The Panna Cotta with Sweet Soy Sauce ($6.50), for example, uses a sweet-savory glaze that is often a topping for traditional glutinous rice dumplings.

It’s no wonder this mixture of European-Japanese cuisine is so well-received in Tokyo; Teshigotoya shows that the results are a fun marriage of flavors.

432 East 13th St.

Tuesday–Saturday 6 p.m.–11:00 p.m.
Sunday 6 p.m.–10:30 p.m.