Best restaurants of 2011

As the year comes to a close, TONY's Food & Drink team recalls the year's most memorable meals. What were yours?

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  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Robataya NY

    Robataya NY

Photograph: Noah Devereaux

Robataya NY

Robataya NY

Chris Schonberger, associate editor

Robataya NY
It sometimes surprises people to hear that writing about food doesn't preclude me from freaking out when guests roll into town, expecting me to deliver unto them the finest dinner of their lives. With so many ways to pitch a great New York meal—the timelessness of a bloody steak at Keens, the buzzy scrum of a newly minted hot spot, the adventure of a hole-in-the-wall in Flushing—the choices can be stifling. But damn, it feels good to get it right. Robataya has become something of a secret weapon for these occasions, and one that's served me particularly well this year. Open-hearth cooking may be trending around town, but no one works the flames with as much style as the robata servers at this festive joint, inspired by the rustic style of grilling that originated in farmhouses around Sendai, a city in northeast Japan. It's essential to snag a spot at the counter overlooking their agile theatrics, more Baryshnikov than Benihana. They leap in front of you to pluck raw ingredients from the bountiful, market-style mise-en-place—a whole red snapper, maybe, or earthy eryngi mushrooms—then hop back to their prep stations, where they work their minimalist magic. The finished dishes are handed back to you via a long wooden paddle—that fish delicate and flaky now, those mushrooms kissed with smoke and flecked with Japanese sea salt. Dinner continues in a procession of tastes and textures: pristine fluke sashimi with salted seaweed; a smooth and savory egg custard (chawanmushi) packed with bits of shrimp, chicken meatballs and shiitake mushrooms. But the highlight is always the meal-ending kamameshi: seasoned rice, slow-cooked in a traditional earthenware oven, then topped with luscious salmon and explosively salty orbs of salmon roe. It's a transporting dish at a transporting restaurant, and one that always reminds me—and my guests—of how good we have it in this town. 231 E 9th St between Second and Third Aves (212-979-9674)


Jordana Rothman, editor: St. Anselm
Chris Schonberger, associate editor: Robataya NY
Jay Cheshes, critic: The Dutch
Mari Uyehara, writer: Isa

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