We went to a new (as in one-month young) Japanese restaurant ROKI Le Izakaya. It’s a modern, spacious restaurant that is buzzing with activity ranging with people on dates (or at least pairs of people) seated and dining around the large square bar/open-kitchen. There were many six-top tables for groups around the main dining room and side rooms that were located toward the front of the restaurant. The music was audible to keep it lively but not blasting that I had to shout to my friend.
The main issue with any new restaurant that tends to be it overwhelmed with diners, especially on a very pleasant spring, Friday night and understaffed. We were unfortunate to be ignored for over thirty minutes after being seated immediately and served just water. The hostess and Executive Chef Koji picked up the fact we were ignored and told the wait staff about us. Who might be the maître d’ came up to us and apologized about the wait because of the aforementioned. Once he and a few others apologized, most of the smoldering anger within us has subsided and we hope when they start serving us food, it will make us be content enough that the wait was worth it. To cut the long story short, we did enjoy it and curious to come back again for a few other things (e.g. their sushi/sashimi and the large stainless steel bowls of nabe noodles for two.)
The chef first served us a small salad of hijiki seaweed, edamame, string beans and topped with a crispy lotus root chip. It’s a good start. Mild, sweet, savory flavors with a touch of nuttiness of the lotus root.
Next up was the truffled potato croquettes on a bed of mushroom puree. Normally, I don’t care for croquettes but what really surprised me was how light it was. It’s a crispy shell filled with an ethereal potato cloud and when my teeth sunk into the croquette and taken a look at the center, it’s coarsely chopped potato. Beyond the magnificent textures, the mushroom puree was tasty and the finely chopped black truffles had its signature potent, earthy aroma.
I have paired it with the Kikusui Funaguchi Aged Honjozo Sake that’s sweet, rich, full-bodied flavor but with a refreshing clean finish and it’s undistilled so there’s some delicate funk that I like and kind of work with this croquette.
The large slate plate of pork belly baos were sublime. The two thick slices of luscious, braised pork belly topped with pink peppercorns and on a pool of wasabi-tinged mayonnaise and almost caramel sweet, reduced soy sauce and a duo of in-house made fluffy, striped steamed buns. These pork belly baos may possibly be my favorite in Manhattan. The pork is beautifully cooked and the ratio of pork to bun is about 2:1, which I prefer.
Another great dish we really enjoyed with the shaved frozen foie gras over duck charsiu. This is a fusion type of dish where it’s sort of Japanese, Cantonese (charsiu), and French that manages to work out beautifully. Seeing the frozen block of foie gras grated before you was entertaining and the foie gras didn’t dominate the dish. It’s a lovely, delicately liver-y accent to the sweet-savory duck breast. The drops of balsamic vinegar and fresh, bitter arugula leaves were great foils to the richness of the dish.
We finished our savory portion of the meal with bowls of shoyu ramen and tonkotsu ramen. We liked both bowls of ramen, as it’s tasty and satisfying but it’s not mind blowing as certain ramen restaurants around the city. An interesting note, when we tried both ramens the bowl of shoyu ramen tasted so much more complex than the tonkotsu.
We have finished our meal with a parfait of black sesame ice cream, chia seeds soaked in passion fruit and topped with Japanese style sweetened silken tofu with a heavy tea pot filled with cold kojicha (thick) matcha on the side to act as a sauce for the dessert. It’s a dessert that has many different soft and silky textures that I adore as someone who grew up with eating and enjoy. In terms of flavors, it’s a mix of intensely, nutty black sesame ice cream (I wish more Asian restaurants serve ice cream like this), delicately sweet, floral and almond-y tofu. The kojicha matcha was a great foil to the sweet and I enjoyed the bitter, grassy flavors of the tea.
Despite of the rocky service we had during the early portion of dinner, the food made up for the wait and we are seriously considering to come back again for the dishes we didn’t have room for.
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