Mon-Fri, 11:30am-2:30pm and 5pm-11pm; Sat-Sun, 5pm-11pm
1, 2, 3, 7, N, Q, R, S, W at Times Sq.-42nd St.; A, C, E at 42nd St.-Port Authority Bus Terminal
American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Typically, robatayakis are casual, neighborly places where patrons sit around a wood bar and nibble quietly on shreds of grilled meat, fish, and vegetables. But there’s nothing quiet or intimate about this setup, which is the New York outlet of a well-known restaurant in the Roppongi section of Tokyo. The main feature of the roomy, high-ceilinged hall is a wraparound, industrial-size dining bar made with acres of laminated wood. It’s manned by a squad of cooks wearing brightly colored traditional kimono costumes and latex surgical gloves. The cooks grill the food, then serve it to the diners at the bar on long wooden paddles, while keeping up an insistent call-and-response chatter with the voluble waiters, who are also dressed in elaborate costumes, like characters in some antic Japanese television food show.
Robatayakis in Japan don’t generally serve raw fish, but at this Godzilla robatayaki, sushi and sashimi are available in the usual mind-numbing variety. Within three minutes of taking my seat at the bar, I’d sampled passably fresh portions of uni, a decent piece of salmon-roe sushi, and some gummy Japanese snapper, amid much gesticulating and shouting. (“What are they saying?” I asked my Japanese-speaking friend after one deafening cry. “They’re saying your sushi has arrived,” she replied.) The raw fish at Inakaya isn’t quite on a par with the great midtown sushi parlors, but it’s not bad either. There are three grades of tuna on the menu, including a rich, if too small, piece of o-toro fatty tuna belly, which you can get as a sashimi tasting for the bull-market price of $70. The best deals are the maki rolls, which come in eighteen generally competent varieties, including spicy shrimp tempura, soft-shell crab, and a palatable dragon roll.
Despite the Disney-style atmosphere, Inakaya serves an array of dutifully authentic Japanese drinking dishes, like grated yams (yama-kake), helpings of squid seized in fermented soybeans (ika natto), and strips of dried stingray fins, which taste like fishy lemon rinds. My friend the Japan Snob considered her delicate teacup of chawan mushi (a kind of warm egg custard mixed with shrimp and vegetables) to be a respectable facsimile of the real thing. So was my bowl of chazuke, which is a soothing helping of rice and tea-flavored broth, dappled with seaweed and bits of sweet-and-sour ume plum or salmon roe. I don’t know if I’d pay $9 again for a sticky pile of okura kizami (cooked okra), but if you’re looking for a filling snack before boarding your Greyhound bus to Cleveland, you could do worse than the house version of kakuni (soft slices of pork belly, braised in soy) or a nourishing helping of sansai seiro, which consists of steamed bamboo and other so-called mountain vegetables served over rice in a simple wooden box.Note
The lunchtime bento boxes are a good deal, particularly the $25 take option, which includes sashimi salad, pork belly, and a grilled fish of the day.Recommended Dishes
Grilled chicken meatballs, pork belly (kakuni), salmon-roe chazuke, salt-grilled rockfish, green-tea ice cream.