Tokyo in New York
March 25, 2014
Talking to Colman Andrews always makes me hungry, so last night, after the "conversation" at Powerhouse Arena, I gathered a small group of friends and we went looking for something to eat.
How were we lucky enough to stumble into Yopparai? The tiny izakaya on Rivington Street is so hidden it feels like a secret; you walk up a narrow staircase, press a buzzer and wait for a disembodied voice to answer. Standing outside on the icy steps I was sure we had the wrong place, were intruding on someone else's evening. Inside, however, the tiny restaurant is so warmly welcoming, the sake list so long, the food so delicious that I was instantly happy. I can't think of a better place to spend a freezing evening. Or, for that matter, any other.
Forgive the pictures. After the first bottle of sake everything became a little fuzzy, and by the end of the evening I put the camera down and simply ate everything that landed on the table. It was so much like being in Tokyo, where we closed almost every evening in a little izakaya down the street from the hotel, that I was shocked to go outside and find yellow cabs whizzing past.
We began with cold homemade tofu, the texture thicker than anything commercially available, the flavor cleaner. With good soy sauce and shaved bonito, it was a refreshing counterpoint to the first bracing sip of sake.
Uni clinging to translucent squiggles of raw squid. I love everything about this dish, but in the end it's the texture I remember; it has a particular kind of slippery chewiness that I find endlessly seductive.
Japanese quenelles? Japanese gefulte fish? Yopparai calls these airy little dumplings "fish cakes." By any name these light, fluffy little orbs (they're made of minced rock shrimp and black cod) are a delight.
They call this dish "slimy bomb." Of course I couldn't resist it. Home made natto mixed with raw egg yolk and vegetables (in other versions I've had it with uni and yama imo – slime piled on slime). The point is to wrap the pungently fragrant goop into sheets of crisp nori. (How does the nori stay so crisp? There's a little heater in the bottom of that cedar box.) The result is something that goes crackling into your mouth and then disolves into sheer softness. It's a fascinating (and appealing) sensation.
More texture: a thin, crisp rice cake topped with marinated cod roe and a tangle of shredded seaweed.
Stewed tripe, a bit like Japanese menudo. And like menudo, reputed to be good at preventing hangover. Which, at this point in the evening, I badly needed. This is when I stopped taking pictures, but I remember that grilled eel, at the top, and more of those fantastic little rice cakes, this time topped with uni.
And, of course, a great deal more sake. When I go back to Yopparai – which I plan to do very soon – I want to try the kurobata pork belly scrambled with eggs. If I'm very lucky, they might even have mozuku on the menu…..
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