Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Cow Experience at Takashi (food)

It had been quite a while since I last visited Takashi , the West Village yakiniku restaurant focused only on beef. It seemed like as good a time as any to revisit when they recently launched both a cow platter featuring 16 different cuts which they dubbed "the cow experience" and a limited late night weekend ramen.

Doing both the cow platter and the ramen together seemed to me like an outrageous idea perfect for our foodie group, whose last few conquests included all the dim sum at Red Farm UWS and a whole lamb at Resto. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get a ramen reservation, and had to settle for the cow platter along with a la carte additions from the menu. In fact, I had a very unsatisfactory experience dealing with the front of house trying to sort out the ramen situation. If you're not interested, please feel free to skip the rant below and go on to the review of the food.

So it all started about 4 weeks prior to when I wanted to schedule our group dinner. I showed up in person before dinner service figuring that speaking to someone in person would get me all the information I needed. I spoke with the hostess, who basically told me that noone had tried to do both dinner and ramen before, and that she wasn't even sure if they would have to kick us out during service change. She gave me further details about the cow platter (although one bit of information was wrong) and basically told me that the only way to get a ramen reservation was to go through the email process outlined on the website. Not completely satisfied with that response, I tried calling the restaurant a couple of weeks after and asked to speak to the general manager. The girl on the phone (probably the same hostess) suggested that she could answer my questions instead, but in the end basically repeated the same information.

So I accepted that I was going to have to go through the email process. The website said to submit reservation requests after 5pm on the Monday of, so I sent my email in at 5:01pm, explaining that I was trying to combine the cow platter with ramen. I was hopeful but realistic that reservations like these tend to go quickly. What I didn't expect was that I wouldn't get my reservation request rejected until 6pm the next day! I emailed back my frustration at the whole process and how I was now left with a 10:30pm reservation (and a midnight time limit) and I finally got to speak to the general manager on the phone.

It was finally explained to me that the ramen was treated as a separate business and so the hostess wouldn't really know much about it. It was confirmed that they would indeed have to ask us to get up as they changed service. It was also implied that the Friday midnight seating that I was trying for was actually their most popular, whereas I might have still been able to get something on Saturday night. It was too late by then, but I was finally given all the information that would have actually helped me make a reservation if I had been put in touch with someone knowledgeable on the matter to begin with!

In the end, we moved the dinner reservation up to 9:30pm, and confirmed that our whole party of 6 would do the cow platter. But this story doesn't end until I finally got to Takashi and had an exchange that completely epitomized my front of house experience up till then. After confirming that we were here for our reservation, I asked the host, "Is [name of GM] in tonight?" to which he replied, "Yes." And nothing else. ~Awkward silence~ As if I was just doing a survey and had no interest in actually speaking with the guy. Then again, I never did get to speak with the GM in person that night.


THE COW EXPERIENCE (photos courtesy of Katie at www.donuts4dinner.com)
For $30 per person and a minimum of 3 people, the platter comes with 16 different cuts (1 piece per person) arranged on a platter that is the shape of a cow. I don't remember all the cuts, but there was tongue, cheek, shoulder, meat from in between the ribs, oxtail, sweetbreads, heart, liver, skirt steak, short rib, belly, two or three of the cow's four stomachs, and the large intestines. Like all of Takashi's offerings for the grill, you are offered a choice of Takashi's marinade or simple seasoning. Since we had 6 people, we actually had two of these platters, one with the marinade and one without. I don't know if they're willing to do it, but I would highly recommend the marinade for the chewier offal, such as the stomachs and intestines, while the meat and larger organs had cleaner flavors that worked well with simple seasoning.

While the cow platter had 16 cuts, it wasn't quite a complete nose-to-tail cow experience, so we added a few dishes. I will edit the photos back onto this blog post as soon as I have access to them.

The brain cream was very smooth and a bit mild in flavor. It was basically cream cheese with a very faint mineral beefy taste, and went well with the blinis and caviar. I did wish that it was seasoned more. I often find (in this case as well) dishes in restaurants where the chef assumes the caviar will provide enough salt for the dish but it ends up under-seasoned as a whole.

No whole cow (well, bull) experience would be complete without the balls. The garlic shiso butter was delicious, although I would have preferred a hint of brightness (citrus). The texture was like eating grilled scallop coral, although a bit chewier. I enjoyed this dish quite a bit, although some diners in our group took a pass.

No idea what about the sauce was "Hong Kong style", and I frankly didn't care for these. The crawfish flavor was evident but felt dull as opposed to fresh and sweet. Some of the diners in the group loved these, so it could be a matter of taste. I also thought they were very overpriced at $16 for two meatballs/dumplings.

This thing was more like a mini meatball than a mini burger. It was so small I was surprised they actually managed to stuff something in it. The flavors weren't bad, but the chocolate bbq sauce, which they poured all over the "burger", muddled the flavors. If the sauce had been applied sparingly to the foie, and allowed the meat to still stand out for contrast, it would have been much better.

This, to me, was by far the best of the small bites/appetizers that we had. The small pieces of sweetbreads had a perfect crunchy chewy creamy texture, while the rice was full of umami from the squid ink. I'd never had squid ink with such short grain rice, but it worked beautifully, all cut with a bit of citrus in the aioli.

This is probably the best cut of meat that they offer at Takashi, and a must get. The only thing is that they cook it and slice it for you at the table as opposed to letting you cook it yourself.

This was a special that night (they only started the night with three or four ribs) and definitely worth getting if it's available. I don't remember the exact cost, but we ended up with a 300g (bone-included) portion that felt reasonably priced. Just like the chuck-flat steak, they cook and chop it up for you at the table. The bourbon was very noticeable in the sauce, and once again I found the sauce ok but not necessary. At least this one wasn't poured all over it like the mini kobe burger.

Although I wasn't thrilled with my reservation experience, I did find service at the table to be quite good. The only issue I had was when we ended up with more calf brain cream than blinis and we asked for two more blinis. They brought them but didn't tell us the supplement cost for them. Not only that, they didn't even itemize them separately on the bill, but instead charged us $30 for the calf's brain cream (it says $28 on the online menu, which I assume is the actual price without extra blini).

It was a good thing that we managed to move up our reservation time a little. Despite the supposed two hour limit, we didn't end up leaving till around 12:30am. I do not recommend going with a group of 6 if you want a full yakiniku experience. You end up with the same grill as you would with 2 or more people, so while 6 people sat comfortably, they weren't all really able to grill their own meat. As far as the cow platter is concerned, it's a great way to try all the cuts they offer without spending too much money. But once you've tried all of them and have your favorites, I would recommend just ordering your favorites on subsequent visits. I found the appetizers/small bites to be very hit or miss, but the good ones were really good.

Overall, I would recommend Takashi to those who want to eat high quality grilled beef offal (either ordered separately or with the cow platter). I would also recommend them if you want high quality local beef for your yakiniku, but it probably works best if you have a small appetite or a big wallet (some of us ended up going to Grom after). By the way, since we left so late, we saw some of the ramen clientele. Most of them seemed to be Asian (Japanese specifically) and fairly chatty with the chef and staff as though they were regulars.

456 Hudson St
Manhattan NY 10014

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