Mon Dec 8 2008
Photograph: Jeff Gurwin
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Though Kyo Ya, the city’s most ambitious Japanese speakeasy, is marked only by an open sign, in-the-know eaters were packing this subterranean haven long before it snuck into this year’s Michelin guide. Yet the place, with a brick ceiling and polished wood walls, has so far escaped the notice of the major critics. You needn’t shell out for the omakase, a pricey commitment available only by booking ahead, to eat terribly well here. Instead, cobble together a small-plate feast from the voluminous menu, featuring dishes you’re not likely to find elsewhere in Manhattan. Daredevils will be drawn to the fugu—three meaty barbecued tails of the sometimes-fatal fish. The food, presented on beautiful handmade plates, is almost too gorgeous to eat. Even simple croquettes—the most delicate we’ve tasted—look more like art than Japanese pub grub: crispy orbs (one filled with diced chicken, the other with whipped sweet potato) balanced against each other like pebbles. Maitake mushrooms, meanwhile, are fried in the lightest tempura batter and delivered like gold nuggets on a polished stone bed. Though the restaurant is about much more than sushi, raw fish has its place. A daily-changing selection (we tried the salmon) is pressed with a hot iron onto sticky vinegared rice. The preseasoned fish (no soy sauce needed) is topped like a still life with its own microgreen forest. The few desserts—including an extra silky crème caramel—are just as ethereal as the savory food. Hurry in soon; word’s getting out.