Manhattan’s latest high-end omakase, Yamada Chikara, opens tonight in Midtown East. But chef Chikara Yamada, a renowned Japanese chef who trained for years at the shuttered but seminal Spanish restaurant El Bulli, doesn’t specialize in sushi like many of the city’s luxe omakases. Rather, he serves kushiage, a type of deep-fried Japanese skewer that’s rare to find in NYC restaurants.
At Yamada Chikara, located at 249 East 49th St., near Second Avenue, the skewers come as part of a $180 per person omakase menu, luxe-ing up what is essentially fried food on a stick. Kushiage skewers will change seasonally, but the current menu includes deep-fried oyster wrapped with bacon, quail egg with truffle, sesame tofu and caviar, and salmon with pickled vegetables.
While Yamada’s Tokyo restaurant of the same name focuses on a Japanese-style tasting menu that, much like the late El Bulli, uses molecular gastronomy, Yamada’s first U.S. restaurant puts kushiage at the forefront, trading in molecular gastronomy for deep frying. Like kushiyaki, which are much more common to find in Japanese restaurants in NYC, kushiage are skewers of vegetables, meat, or seafood. But the difference with kushiage is that those skewers are then breaded with panko and deep fried, rather than grilled. Village Yokocho in East Village is one of the only restaurants already serving kushiage in Manhattan, selling them for $3 or less a skewer.
Given Yamad’s experience in Spain, there are some Spanish influences as well as other flavors from around the world represented by the kushiage. A representative for the restaurant says that Yamada was inspired by Spanish pinchos, small snacks, for his kushiago menu, which includes a tomato, mozzarella, and basil skewer as well as a gorgonzola, apple, and honey variation.
The meal starts with a rosewater and sake martini and a molecular gastronomy olive that taps into Yamada’s past experience. The olive is made with an olive puree that’s dropped into a liquid that turns it into a hard, round solid that pops when consumed. A small ceramic bowl of veggies follows before Yamada’s signature dish: his take on a Spanish omelet. Made with layers of potato foam, caramelized onions, and egg yolk foam, it’s served in a vertical glass, looking like a layered pudding. The potato foam is made with Japanese dashi and truffles. A flurry of 10 to 12 colorful kushiage come next, followed by a chirashi sushi box with miso soup. It all ends on the outdoor patio with Japanese desserts and matcha tea.
Yamada Chikara joins a slew of high-end restaurant imports from Japan that have opened in NYC recently, like Naoki and Noda. But it’s the first of these Japan-to-NYC crossovers to center on kushiage. There are 20 seats in the restaurant, and the omakase costs $180 per person.