April 18, 2014
A couple walked into Donguri the other night. It's a tiny restaurant, it was freezing outside, and half the tables were empty.
"Do you have a reservation?" asked the young woman who greeted them.
They shook their heads.
"I'm sorry," she replied, "but we're fully booked."
They looked around, slightly baffled, and then walked sadly, slowly, back out into the sleet.
More customers drifted in, throughout the evening, and the tables began to fill up, but there was never a point when an extra couple could not have been accomodated. But this is Japan, where walking into fine restaurants without reservations is frowned upon.
Donguri is very Japanese. The menu is small and slightly quirky, but every offering is excellent.
The signature dish, above, is soba. It is topped with grated yama imo, the strangely wonderful mountain potato that resembles porridge when it's grated. And excellent uni, along with a scattering of scallions and a bit of seaweed. It's one of my favorite dishes in New York.
Donguri also makes its own tofu, denser than most, which is served in this severely pristine fashion, with just a pungent bit of broth and nothing else.
Ohitashi, rarely more than pressed spinach when it's served in the States, varies here. The other night the cool salad was made with broccoli raab, its bitterness nakedly pronounced, as if it was saying, "this is what I am. Love me or leave me." I loved it.
There is no sushi here, but there's always a selection of sashimi. The star on this particular plate was the wild pickled mackerel, saba. (The other fish were salmon, yellowtail and fluke).
Another signature dish:
Japanese seafood "risotto" made with squid ink and speckled with salmon roe. I've never tasted anything quite like it: rich, funky and very satisfying.
Donguri is an unusual restaurant. Small, brightly-lighted, rather expensive and very sedate, it's unlike anything else in New York. Each time I eat there I have the impression that I've somehow found a little corner of Tokyo on the Upper East Side.
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