"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Monday, April 25, 2011

Takashi - April 22, 2011

What is the purpose of eating in a restaurant? It is to eat good food cooked by someone else: meaning, the food had better be superior to one’s own cooking, and the dishes should arrive at the table ready to be savored. Therefore, it is not merely annoying to be served bad food, but it also doubly insulting when I am served something that requires a lot of bottle shaking, to say the least. For this very reason, I have been perplexed by the raison d'être of yakiniku restaurants (Japanese Korean Barbecue), where the diners are expected to cook – grill - their own food – meat - (leaving aside, obviously, those side dishes) and serve themselves- wrap the meats in raw vegetables. Thus, as it appears, each diner is ultimately responsible for the outcome of their grilling skill. Where is the real chef?
Beef Belly

However, what does cooking really entail? Cooking begins when a chef creates a menu and selects and sources the ingredients accordingly; he cleans and cuts them; then he cooks them; and finally, he plates the final products and presents them for the diner’s enjoyment. Of all of these myriad tasks and sub-tasks, however, a diner in a yakiniku restaurant is charged with only one job: Grilling. Therefore, in a sense, each diner is a chef de partie (line cook), whereas the executive chef, Takashi, oversees the whole production.

The meat at Takashi is already an almost complete and final product even before you grill them: Many cuts of the meat can be eaten raw. Most critically, however, grilling at Takashi is a fail-proof procedure, thanks to the special grill at Takashi. No, the grill at is not the traditional shichirin, which uses coal; instead, the grill at Takashi, uses far-infrared rays to cook the meat. Therefore, the ingredient can seal in its moisture better – less shrinkage – due to the fact that the far-infrared rays reach inside the food to cook them inside out. Hence, there is much less risk of burning; and as a result, no hardened surface on the meat. Furthermore, there is 50% less smoke compared to using shichirin or gas grills. Grilling meat at Takashi, then, is no more and no less than dipping your already perfect sushi into soy sauce or sprinkle a little bit of matcha (green tea) salt over the juicy tempura shrimp.

The Raw

Hatsu – heart (yes, you have guessed correctly) – sashimi was the special of the day. The light crunch of raw heart tasted nutty, which responded well to the sweet tare (sauce) and the citrusy, gentle kick from the lemon.

Namagimo, purple slivers of raw liver - drizzled with sesame oil and covered in scallions and sesame seeds - were dense and viscous; and yet as soon as it seemed to cling to your tongue, it broke apart and melted away, leaving a faint lemony tang to clean up the heaviness.

Yooke - the hand-cut long and square strands of beef tartare - were a novelty in terms of raw meat texture: the ropes of chuck-eye provided a sufficient chew, as opposed to the accustomed soft grounded meats as used in a French tartare – a bovine interpretation of “al dente” - due to the excellent quality of the beef. The sweet soy-based sauce bound all the toppings – the nutty Korean seaweed, egg yolk, shiso leaf (even dressed prettily with yellow flowers) - together into a miniature raw food heaven (I can stay on this diet for a while).

The Grilled Meats

Kalbi - the short rib cut without the bones - was tender without being overly fatty. The special of the day, the beef belly, was well-marbled without any clogging heaviness, and sweeter than kalbi.

The Tasting of Tongue – composed of tan-saki (tip), tan-suji (tendon) and tan-moto (rear) - were unexpectedly chewy for the human tongue used to the unrealistically rich and decadently marbled wagyu tongue. Each part of the tongue was cut differently for maximum enjoyment: The tip was cross-cut like a rose-colored chrysanthemum for being the chewiest; the tougher moto was sliced thin like a ravioli sheet, and the suji, laced with white tendon, was thickly cut for the ultimate mouthful blow of bovine chew. The simple salted and peppered sesame oil smoothed out the leaner American beef tongues.

The first of the Tasting of Horumon - akasen (fourth stomach) – proved to be the most resilient and elastic with a serious fight against your teeth. The earthy kimo (liver) became the consistency of a melted Mars bar on the hot grill with similar aftertaste of sweet muddiness. Conversely, hatsu (heart) was crunchier upon hitting the grill, compared to its raw, natural state. Mino, the mild, ivory-colored first stomach, was chubbily cut for the full mouthful sensation, to which a dollop of the yuzu-chili paste provided a lasting stimulant. Lastly but not the least, shibire (sweetbreads) transformed into deathly molten bombs of delectable creaminess.

Tetchan - the large intestines - must have been cleaned and washed and trimmed incessantly and insanely to attain such purity. Being extremely fatty and therefore flammable (warned by our waiter, although we did not witness such a spectacle to our disappointment), the outer layer was grilled over their special grill to a nicely browned and chewy crisp; while the inside remained liquid, yes, liquid.

But my favorite was harami, the outside skirt. The lean meat was nevertheless tender and bursting with full flavor. Perhaps, the particular cow laughed a lot - or hiccupped a lot – so its diaphragm was particularly well-exercised and flexible.

The Vegetables

The complimentary cabbage proved to be creepingly addictive: The interplay of sugar, miso, mirin and sesame seeds in the dressing seemed so simple and innocent before I had suddenly realized that I had consumed two whole heads, alone. Luckily, Takashi is considering selling this concoction at some point.

The Red Red Kimchi, although alarmingly red, took on the vibrant color and the mellow sweetness of the chili peppers in the gochujan (Korean red pepper paste), rather than the spiciness. The spicy Japanese Cucumber, despite its name, was more aromatic with sesame oil than spicy.

The fresh vegetables – companion to the grilled meats – were hailed from the Union Square Farmers’ Market and rightly proudly fresh.

The Dessert

The only dessert on offer was the home-made, soft-serve ice cream with shiratama (rice-flour dumplings), ground black sesame and roasted soybean powder and azuki beans, drizzled either with the roasted hoji tea or the green tea syrup. The cool creaminess and the flush of sweet milkiness were such a relief, although still bovine now that I come to think about it, after a hot carnivore feast. Each of the topping was well thought out and carried out; together with the savory hoji syrup, the soft-serve was elegant and sophisticated. Hence, we proceeded to order another one – of course, with all the toppings - this time with the subtly bitter green tea syrup.

Mutation, transmutation, adaptation and fusion: to which of these does yakiniku –Japanese-style Korean barbeque - belong? Had it always existed as the simplest means of cooking meats, or was it a culinary technique introduced by the Koreans? Whatever it is, I am content in having come to a conclusion of my own: No, I am not being cheated out by grilling my own meats in a yakiniku restaurant.

Address: 456 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212-414-2929


  1. Very observantly tasted, Au G. I love the descriptors.

  2. Takashi seems to be a decently trained chef from a well-known culinary school in Japan. His home-cooked meals show more of that skill, however, rather than the food served in his restaurant (it seems based on his blog at any rate).