A few months ago, before it was featured on Anthony Bourdain's new show "The Layover", a couple of friends and I went to Takashi in the West Village. We chose Takashi because we wanted something that was not only good, but somewhat interesting. Takashi is indeed a very interesting place. They specialize in yakiniku, the Japanese take on Korean barbecue. You grill the meats yourself on a grill built into the table. What separates Takashi from other places, however, is the quality of its beef and the variety of offal it offers on the menu.
One thing to note. They do not take reservations for groups smaller than 4 people. They also called to confirm my reservation 3 hours before my scheduled time, which I feel is a rather useless endeavor. I originally made a reservation for 4 people, but one of them ended up not being able to make it. So I gave them a courtesy call just before we headed out to let them know we would only be 3, and the person on the phone tried to cancel my reservation because we no longer had four people. After explaining to them, rather forcefully, my views on such a policy, they acquiesced and honored our reservation.
Once we got there, everything was fine. The food was very good, and definitely interesting. They offered a choice of simple seasonings or a marinated preparation for each menu choice, and we deferred to their recommendations.
A simple selection of banchan featuring cabbage, soybeans, and kimchi. These were quite good and we asked for seconds. They actually cost $2 each, which I didn't find out till the bill arrived.
NAMAGIMO (ultra-fresh liver with sesame oil and roasted rock salt)
We started with a couple of selections from the raw part of their menu. The liver definitely had a mineral tang to it, and it became more evident in the aftertaste on the way down. I imagine that some of the aftertaste was already muted by how fresh this raw liver was. The texture was similar to that of fluke sashimi.
NIKU-UNI (chuck flap topped with sea urchin and fresh wasabi)
We had been looking forward to this interesting combination, but were very disappointed. The piece of raw beef, while looking well-marbled, was devoid of flavor, and the shiso leaf pretty much dominated everything. I would think that this would have been much better if the beef was given a quick sear and if we had only eaten half or less of the shiso leaf.
BEEF SCHMALTZ CROSTINI WITH TRUFFLE OIL
This was a tasty combination of rendered fat with a noticeable but not overpowering hint of truffle oil. The crostini and greens provided a nice crunchy texture and balance to the warm and satisfying richness.
As we move onto the main grilled meat courses, please note that this dinner was a while ago, and I'm not completely sure if my description matches the photographed meat.
TAN-SAKI, TAN-SUJI, & TAN-MOTO (the tongue experience)
The tongue experience featured the front of the tongue, the back of the tongue, and the underlying connective sinew. I found most of the flavors to be similar, and felt that texture was the only real noticeable difference between the parts. As it turns out, the three of us each preferred a different part of the tongue.
Oxtails are usually slow-cooked to break them down. They sliced the pieces pretty thin, but the meat was still rather tough, and it felt like I was gnawing at the bone part of grilled galbi (Korean barbecue shortrib).
As can be seen here, there's really not much meat. I did not feel that this was the best way to enjoy oxtail.
U.S. KOBE MARBLED CHUCK-FLAT STEAK (6oz)
This was one of their specials of the night, and the only cut we strongly considered ordering seconds of.
They would not let us cook this piece ourselves, and one of the servers grilled it for us at the table.
This was probably one of the best pieces of US Kobe beef I've ever had. Well marbled with flavor and slowly melting with every bite. Sliced and pulled off the grill to each of our preferred doneness.
The belly was as rich with fat and flavor as expected.
It was, however, much tougher than say, pork belly, and offered quite a good chew. Probably one of the reasons they had to score the flesh.
After having eaten so much beef at this point, it was hard to detect any subtle nuances between cuts. All I can say is that this was very beefy, and the thin slices were a welcome relief from the bigger chunks we'd been eating till that point.
These were absolutely wonderful on the grill. A nicely charred surface gave way to soft, creamy innards. The cleanness of the flavor highlighted the freshness of the ingredient.
MINO (first stomach)
Not the typical stomach one associates with tripe, the flesh charred into a somewhat hard exterior and was very, very chewy. Honestly, that's all I can remember about this cut. Lots of chewing.
Home-made Madagascar vanilla softserve ice cream with azuki beans and green tea syrup. This was good, but it felt out of place for the meal. It wasn't rich and indulgently satisfying like all the previous courses of meat, but it wasn't a light ending that counteracted all that unctuousness either.
I'm pretty sure we also ordered the fourth stomach and the between-the-rib meat as well. But I have no recollection or photographs of those cuts. Honestly, after a few courses of meat, it all begins to blur together. Which is kind of the point. Takashi is a great place where both timid and adventurous eaters can come together, fall into a blissful meat coma, and marvel at the interesting cuts of offal on offer.