Even though NYC restaurant week gets much more press, we're also in the middle of Japanese restaurant week (month). Participating restaurants tend to do their own thing, and Hakubai is only offering their Miyazaki beef shabu shabu course menu from now till March 9th. The $135+t/t per person menu (2 order minimum) includes an amuse, two appetizers, Miyazaki ribeye (120g each) shabu shabu, dessert, and two small bottles of sake. Everything about the meal and the restaurant was excellent, and I enjoyed the beef much more than when I had the Miyazaki beef supplement ($100 extra) at Per Se last month (review here).
Atmosphere and Service:
Located in the basement of the Kitano hotel in midtown, the restaurant transported me away from NYC and into a serene environment that felt authentically Japanese. Despite it being very cold outside, the interior temperature and airflow was super comfortable and soothing. Service was well-prepared and well-rehearsed, and I only saw female servers, who all wore kimonos. I assumed it was the same for everyone, but my cell phone got no reception down there, which meant I could totally focus on the meal.
AMUSE: TURNIP TOFU
Simple but with great balance, the ikura (salmon roe) provided just a burst of saltiness to go with the mild tofu. The turnip was present in both the sauce and the tofu, resulting in an interesting texture that wasn't completely silken. As kaiseki cuisine places a good deal of importance on aesthetics as well as taste, I couldn't help but be drawn to the gorgeous dishware.
HAKKAISAN TOKUBETSU JUNMAI
Accompanying the amuse was our first sake. It was served chilled, and came with a business card that described the sake in more detail, even including acidity and the type of rice that was used. It also had a tasting note: "The signature ingredient of this sake is the fine local water giving a smooth taste and flavor." which was spot on, as it really tasted like I was just drinking some refreshing, crisp water with a mild sake flavor. I couldn't believe this had 15.5% alcohol!
APPETIZER: WATERCRESS, HERRING ROE, TAKO (OCTOPUS), JAPANESE RADISH
The first appetizer brought a nice assortment of tastes and textures. The watercress, with a sliver of mushroom and some very thin bonito shavings, was light and refreshing with a nice crunch. The Japanese radish was served cold, but was simmered till very tender. There was a light fresh umami to it, and it went well with the sauce which featured bits of cooked pork. The octopus was tender, but still had a good bite to it. I've had herring roe before from a top sushi restaurant that was pretty bitter, so I was glad the flavor here was pretty mild. Each individual roe had a good snap to it, resulting in an interesting mouthfeel in each bite. Once again, the presentation and dishware was beautiful.
APPETIZER: AMBERJACK, FLUKE, AND TUNA SASHIMI
I generally don't like fluke, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the fluke sashimi here, especially the texture. Both the amberjack and tuna were very flavorful, while the very fatty tuna was absolutely beautiful. There was an ample amount of fresh, high quality fish, even though the serving appeared on the small side at first glance.
HAKKAISAN JUNMAI GINJO
Served hot/warm in a uniquely-shaped carafe, this was a tasty sake that went well with the shabu shabu. More details and notes about this sake can be found on their website.
The hot pot arrived at the table already boiling, followed by the server opening the lid and removing a piece of konbu from the dashi. Communal utensils included a pair of chopsticks, a skimmer for the fat from the beef, and two somewhat shallow metal ladles, one with holes to drain the food while another without holes for the soup.
Condiments included their special ponzu and sesame dipping sauces. The sesame sauce really stood out, as it was delicious without being overpowering. Vegetables included plenty of aromatics such as carrot, onion, scallion, and leek, as well as mushrooms, lettuce, tofu, and grilled mochi.
The star of the night was the beautifully marbled beef, the meat and fat of which was melt-in-your-mouth. The beef had a delicate flavor with a mellow umami, and a light sweetness from the fat. The server offered to do the cooking for us, but we chose to do it ourselves after she put the first bunch of vegetables into the pot. While we were perfectly full by the end of the meal, additional plates of the award-winning beef were available at $60 for 120g for those who might want more.
There was a choice of udon noodles or rice, and we opted for the former. The server cooked the thin noodles in the remaining broth, and put together our final savory course by adding salt and pepper to our bowls, then broth, then noodles, and topped off with scallions. The noodles were delicious and the broth at this point had a lot of flavor.
DESSERT: GREEN TEA ICE CREAM, COFFEE JELLY, COCOA MOCHI
The coffee jelly was the real standout of the assortment of desserts. Hidden underneath a thin layer of (evaporated?) milk, the jelly didn't seem to have any flavor at all upon the first bite. But as the jelly melted, a rich dark coffee flavor began to diffuse in my mouth. The mochi had an interesting slippery texture that made it hard to pick up even with the wooden skewer. The cocoa sauce had a nice mellow chocolate flavor, and went well with the green tea ice cream. The scoop of ice cream was pretty sizeable, and while it was good it wasn't particularly memorable.
I had mentioned to the hostess when making the reservation that we were celebrating a birthday, and they gifted us a wonderful slice of chocolate torte. Three of the servers even came over to sing happy birthday. The torte was delicious and rich with chocolate flavor, and not overly sweet so you could keep eating it even though it was quite dense.
Overall, this was a fantastic meal highlighted by the special Miyazaki beef. I highly recommend making a reservation before the promotion ends. To me, this meal is indicative of what restaurant week should really be about. Even though the price point was not cheap, there was good value on offer when you consider the many courses and sake that came with the shabu shabu. The appetizers were also the same as those served in their kaiseki set, showcasing the kind of food that they do on a regular basis. Contrast that with many of the high end restaurants that participate in NYCRW but end up serving dishes they otherwise wouldn't in order to fit within the price constraint.
Kitano Hotel (lower level)
66 Park Ave
Extra pictures of the gorgeous dinnerware: