Decorated kaiseki chef Toru Okuda — who has a Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo — will debut his first U.S. concept this week in Chelsea.
The third location of his namesake Okuda opens on Wednesday at 458 West 17th Street near 10th Avenue, with a seven-seat counter-style dining room and a private dining room for six.
Here, the chef is offering for his nine-course kaiseki menu for $195 — a meal dedicated to the balance and purity of flavor in seasonal and local ingredients, two of kaiseki’s main pillars. It’s also a no-tipping restaurant, meaning the tip is not included in the price of the meal, yet the team will not accept any gratuity on top of that set meal price. “We want to introduce the real authentic Japanese kaiseki cuisine to the world,” Okuda says.
Kaiseki is considered Japan’s highest form of culinary art, and one that celebrates Japanese nature through rare ingredients that are sometimes only available for one or two days out of a year. It’s an ancient, multi-course dining style that’s the predecessor to what we today call a “tasting menu,” and it’s built around many intricate, small dishes hinged on balance in flavor, color, texture, temperature, and cooking technique.
Though it’s not as well-known as sushi omakases, it’s considered Japan’s finest form of dining. Recently, more and more restaurants serving this style have opened in New York, including Suzuki and Naoki.
With lofty ambitions, Okuda has brought to New York what he describes as his culinary “dream team.” Head chef Mitsuhiro Endo and sous chef Kazuya Hatta hail from two Michelin-starred Ginza Kojyu (on the World’s 50 Best discovery series) in Tokyo. General manager Moe Sakamoto joins from Okuda in Paris.
Although traditional kaiseki restaurants in Japan offer menus with local ingredients, the New York location of Okuda plans to offer a mix of good from Japan and ones sourced from New York and the greater U.S.
Endo is still finalizing the menu, which will change every month, but domestic ingredients will likely be fairly prevalent. Fluke will come from North California, arriving lightly salted and topped with bottarga. The prep is “[v]ery simple and the ingredients are not from Japan, but it is still a very Japanese dish,” Endo says. Uni will come from Maine, which he plans to serve with maguro (tuna) sashimi.
As for beverages, Okuda will mostly pour junmai (pure rice) sakes from Japanese microbreweries to complement the tiny eatery’s clean, ingredient-driven cuisine.
In the world of kaiseki, “bigger does not necessary mean better,” says Okuda. “It is better to have limited space and seats to serve highest-quality Japanese cuisine.” It’s why all Okuda outlets are equipped with just seven to eight seats within an intimate, minimalist space designed by Toshiyuki Sugiyama of Shizuoka-based Sugiyama Architect Design Works.
Okuda opens on Wednesday, November 15th. It will serve dinner only Wednesday to Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m., and on Sundays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Reservations accepted by phone only: 212-924-0017.