WHO TO TAKE: SOMEONE WHO REALLY ADMIRES JAPANESE CULTURE AND CUISINE OR HEAD HERE SOLO AND SIT AT THE SUSHI BAR
Shuraku, which means “a fun place to gather” in Japanese is, indeed, an intimate izakaya in the West Village that specializes in grilling. We ended up here after having an appetizer in a noisy, Meatpacking-area restaurant nearby and had to leave. Thankfully, we were immediately lulled as soon as we entered by the soft music and zen atmophere. What a welcome relief!
But the surprises were yet to come. We sat at the sushi bar and were privileged to watch the owner/chef and staff work their magic. They truly focus on the most simple preparation of seasonal ingredients, and yet their uncomplicated bites were mouthwatering nonetheless. It was truly impressive what could be accomplished in this tiny, open kitchen. We talked to Chef Joseph Conti, who told us he lived in Japan, and developed a love for the cuisine. His dishes are artful in a graphic, minimalist sort of way.
(photo at the top of this post) In addition to the food we ordered, we had a eyeful of what was being prepared for the other guests, who were doing the tasting menu. I believe this dish is the Third (Zensai) and featured Grilled Baby Ayu (Sweetfish), Spring Vegetable Gelée In Sakura Leaf, and Seared Sakura Masu (Cherry Trout) Sashimi. The sous chef is seen topping the dish with a mini crab, an imported delicacy. I would love to go back and try the 8-course tasting menu, seems like a great way to spend an extended evening with a small group.
The wine list here had some interesting items, including the Les Rocher de Violettes Chenin, Xavier Weisskopf. Certified organic, Xavier Weisskopf is one of the new generation of young producers buying appellations in the Loire that are less developed. Right, the salmon was marinated in white miso glaze, and the pickled accompaniments looked and added so much to the total.
This trio of bites might not look like much, but the meat was so tender and juicy, not an easy feat with chicken. The Yakitori 3 Skewer Set featured a Chicken Oyster with lemon, a Magret Duck & Scallion wtih Yuzu Kosho, and a Chicken Filet wtih Black Shichimi. The oyster is the ball of the chicken thigh, seen in the front. Right, Chef Joseph Conti adding a flaming-touch to a special marbled Wagyu beef.
Some of the side dishes: a fantastically-spiced and grilled corn on the cob was a special of the day. Right, we tried an order of Yaki Onigiri: two types of Grilled Seasoned Rice Balls, one a spicy miso and the red shiso. This had the texture of a very sticky rice, and the red shiso version was spectacular (as I am a big fan of shiso).
Although everything here was fantastic, I am saving my top credits for the house-made ice cream, which was to die for. I prefer more savory-leaning desserts and these fell into that category. Set between two wafers, it was meant to be formed into a sandwich and enjoyed that way. Both flavors were excellent.
Shuraku, 47 8th Ave (betw Horatio/Jane St)