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Friday
Feb032012

(Restaurant Week) Dinner at EN Japanese Brasserie

  • Restaurant  EN Japanese Brasserie
  • Cuisine  Japanese
  • Location  435 Hudson St. (between Leroy & Morton Streets), Manhattan
  • Phone  212-647-9196
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  grand, modern, spacious, tranquil, sophisticated
  • Attire  business casual
  • Ideal for  groups of all sizes, 1x1, traditional Japanese dining, foodies, bar scene
  • Price  moderate - expensive

EN Japanese Brasserie on Urbanspoon

I find Restaurant Week to be a lame rip-off that totally dumbs down the participating restaurants' food.  For a $35 prix fixe dinner, there's a strong chance that you will not be offered the establishment's signature item(s).  And I guarantee that you will end up spending more on a Restaurant Week meal versus ordering a-la-carte.  Don't let that $35 price tag fool you...

With all of that being said, I went against my own advice upon dining at EN.  That's right, folks, I succumbed to Restaurant Week.  <<shudder>>  Why?  Here goes:

From the address, I didn't put two and two together that EN is situated in one of my favorite neighborhoods - hovering on the border of the West Village and Tribeca.  There are so many fantastic places, within walking distance, to go for post-dinner cocktails!  Think:  Hudson Clearwater, Little Branch, Employees Only...just to name a few.

Although I arrived just minutes prior to Michelle, I made my way over to the bar to sample one of EN's highly-recommended shochu-based cocktails. 

As I plopped on to a stool, I couldn't help but dive right in to the tranquil aura and modern, sophisticated space surrounding me.  Spatially, especially by NYC standards, EN is very expansive.  The restaurant is comprised of various dining areas and private nooks that are divided by paneled glass walls reaching up to the mile-high ceiling.  Larger-than-life paned windows frame the perimeter of the space.

Breathing a sigh of calm, I asked one of the bar tenders to recommend a shochu-based cocktail - to which I ordered the "Ginger":  homemade ginger ale, rice shochu, lime juice, and soda.  A couple of delicious sips in, Michelle arrived. 

Once I closed my tab at the bar, the two of us formally checked in with the hostess and were promptly led to our table.

Photo: EN's interior space, courtesy of the restaurantUpon sitting, we were presented with cocktail, a-la-carte, and Restaurant Week dinner menus, in addition to chilled towels to wipe the "city" off of our hands.  How lovely and sophisticated! 

Our empty glasses quickly became filled with ice-cold water as our adorable Japanese waiter inquired about additional beverages.  Michelle followed my lead and ordered a "Ginger," while I decided to switch things up and try the "Seppun":  shiso leaf, grapefruit and yuzu juices, shochu.

As satisfied as I was with the "Ginger," the "Seppun" knocked my socks off.  The contrast of the muddled shiso leaf with the two citrus fruits was pure magic.  Sweet, sour, and herbaceous notes sung the most lovely chord, leaving me wondering if the shochu had ever been added in the first place.  After one more round, however, there was no doubt that the Seppun was one highly addictive and very deceptive cocktail (I could not taste the alcohol...but after two, I certainly felt it.).  In other words, it was perfect.

It didn't take Michelle and I long to know that we wanted to go the - gasp - Restaurant Week (menu) route.  Hell, it had me at lobster tempura, after all.

The first course to arrive was the Handmade Tofu.  Now, had I not read so many wonderful things about this dish, there is no way in hell that I would have EVER ordered it for myself.  To me, tofu has always seemed like a tasteless, gelatinous mess that is eerily formed in to a perfectly bite-sized square.  And it's white.  And it has human facial-like pores.  And it wiggles.  No thanks. 

However, what was presented before Michelle and me was the farthest thing from a stark-white square.  No, this was custard-like.  Hand scooped!  In the shape of a cloud.  Surrounded by a shallow pool of "wari joyu," a sweet/salty blend of soy sauce and fish broth, and topped with a light dusting of green onions.  

"Is this really tofu?"  I asked Michelle.  "I mean, it tastes more like a savory custard.  It's actually really good!"  Believe it or not, folks, I cleaned my "box" (see picture below).

First Restaurant Week, now tofu?  This certainly was making for a big night. 

We didn't have to wait more than 5-minutes for our next course, the O-Banzai, which is the chef's selection of two Kyoto-style appetizers, to arrive.  This was my least favorite portion of the meal, as we were presented - albeit beautifully presented - with two bowls of rather bland Japanese "mountain" vegetables.  Although hard to distinguish, I believe that one contained mushrooms and the other, some type of green bean.  Yawn.

As perfectly-paced as the prior two were, our entree course arrived within 10-minutes of our completion, if you will, of the vegetables. 

A bright red, halved lobster carcass was presented next to tempura-battered chunks of its own meat.  A single green pepper plus a small mountain of wasabi and yuzu salts accompanied.  As barbaric as all of that may sound, it made for quite an artful display.  All but a couple of chunks of the lobster yielded fresh-tasting meat; unfortunately, the pieces which came from the tip of the claw were very fishy and mushy. 

On a separate plate came flower-shaped onigiri, which was laced with sesame seeds and some sort of green.  Since we felt the need to dip, drizzle, and dunk, Michelle asked for a side of soy sauce.  In addition, a bowl of miso soup accompanied, though I couldn't tell you what it tasted like.  I hate the stuff.  

The final course to arrive was a single, perfect scoop of black sesame ice cream.  Unfortunately, I did not snap a picture of dessert, though I can tell you that it was fantastic.  Black sesame anything reminds me of Hong Kong, which conjures up very happy and delicious memories.  This particular flavor of ice cream tastes similar to peanut butter, with a texture almost like cookies n' cream, due to the sesame nibs.  It's truly one of my favorites.

To conclude:  what can I say?  I mean, I walked away from EN having done two things I swore I'd either never do again, or never attempt.  Ever.  The Restaurant Week experience was just as I thought it would be in terms of price, but with a menu that actually featured a signature dish.  In this case, the tofu.  Something I swore off until last night.  

With the exception of a couple of food-related misses (the vegetable course and some of the fishier pieces of lobster), I enjoyed every aspect of my experience at the beautiful and tranquil EN.  I look forward to returning, first and foremost, for that oustanding "Seppun" cocktail and, second, to try the a-la-carte menu.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

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