The team responsible for New York City’s best poke has branched out with a new full-service restaurant called Chikarashi Isso, opening tonight in the Financial District.
Owners Jonathan Chu, Ivy Tsang, Selwyn Chan, and chef Michael Jong Lim opened their first poke-inspired shop Chikarashi in Chinatown in 2016, where they were applauded for taking an technique-driven approach to the fish-topped rice bowls proliferating around the country. Despite the fast-casual setting, Chikarashi’s bowls were made with top ingredients like whole tuna sliced in house and sauces made from scratch.
At Chikarashi Isso, the team is taking that same approach, offering an expanded menu in a sleek new full-service restaurant at 38 Rector Street, between Washington and West streets.
Here, chef de cuisine Atsushi Kono, formerly of acclaimed yakitori spot Torishin, and executive sous chef Teddy Kim join Jong Lim in the kitchen. Together they’ve created a menu that’s meant to be highly seasonal kappo cuisine, a Japanese style of cooking where the meal is left entirely up to the chef — though a style that’s less formal than kaiseki.
As such, the menu is expected to change constantly. “We’re trying to place about 12 seasons in a year,” Jong Lim says. The chef says he’s now using pumpkins, tomatoes, sesame, garlic, and soy sauce from his family farm in Connecticut. His mom is also providing the restaurant with soy-cured garlic to be used in different soups and sauces. There’ll be a focus on whole animal butchery throughout, with every cut of pig or tuna used for different purposes and dishes.
Unlike at an izakaya or yakitori restaurant, where diners pretty much know what to expect, kappo restaurants are more fluid, the chef says. “Kappo is more like a mixture of savory traditions,” he adds. “When an ingredient is out, it’s out. We’re not beholden to availability. We’re working with it.”
Chikarashi Isso’s opening menu currently offers fried blowfish, Sasso chicken yakitori, and wok-fried lobster with soft-shell shrimp and chile, plus noodle and rice options to pair with the small plates.
The restaurant will also serve a chef’s tasting menu. Available at $135 per person, it’ll be a seven-course meal with dishes like potato soup with poached oysters and caviar, or tempura lotus root with foie gras. For an additional $60, a beverage pairing can include beers, cocktails, and wine. Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer is behind the wine and sake lists, while head bartender Tetsuji Koshio created cocktails. Japanese whisky highballs will be available on tap.
Tsang and Chan say the full-service restaurant is not so much an exit from the fast-casual space as evolvement from Chikarashi, which has always wanted to offer a contemporary take on Japanese cuisine. At the hands of chef Jong Lim, Chikarashi’s bowls of Sichuan chile salmon, grilled unagi, and roasted cod — which brought together elements from Hawaiian poke and Japanese chirashi — were dubbed the best in the city by more than one critic. “It’s a very fine dining approach in a very approachable casual environment,” Chan says.
Starting in bowl format made sense for them at the time, but now that the team has successfully open two locations, they’re ready for their first full-service restaurant.
Still, the fast-casual roots won’t completely disappear here. The FiDi location will soon open for the lunch crowd as a to-go counter with a menu that matches the original Chikarashi. The full-service restaurant will open later in the day at 5 p.m.; it will be open until 11 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday.
“Moving onto a project like this is less of a jarring experience,” Chan says. “It’s really more of a natural progression.”
Update: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of the sommelier’s name and remove menu items that are not available.