After more than a decade commanding Kyo Ya, one of New York’s most respected kaiseki kitchens, chef Chikara Sono — who earned one Michelin star and an enthusiastic three star New York Times review during his time there — has decamped to partner with longtime friend Makoto Suzuki (Brooklyn Ball Factory, Bozu, Samurai Mama). They will first open BBF in a 2,000-square-foot space, located at 177 Ludlow Street in the former home of Black Tap on the Lower East Side, and in an adjoining space, Kappo Sono will open at a later date.
BBF, which stands for Brooklyn Ball Factory, debuts on July 21 and is the more casual of the two restaurants. A bright and airy, white-washed space, it is a 54-seat upscale tavern that proffers Japanese-Western fused dishes. In Japan, izakayas — tavern-like eateries whose menus are designed to pair with alcohol — can range from hole-in-the-wall gyoza joints to elegant engagements offering top-grade otoro and uni. BBF falls somewhere in the middle. The casual ambiance is matched with a menu that ranges from more approachable dishes starting at $7 to other seasonal dishes that cost up to $40.
Expect plates like croquettes stuffed with Australian greenlip abalone beside a creamy truffle sauce and kale chips; fried chicken with burdock chips; and grilled Magret duck with umami salt and wasabi mashed potatoes. Sono’s signature farm salad takes shape as more of a crudité dish, and requires guests to dip root vegetables into a side dressing. He’s also going to offer “sushi bombs,” rice that’s been shaped in mini spheres with a variety of toppings and fillings like flower-cut avocado and yuzu salsa, clearly inspired by his partner Suzuki’s restaurant Bozu in Williamsburg that highlight these round nigiri bites. Ultimately, Sono says that his menu represents dishes he loves to eat.
But it would be too simplistic to say BBF is simply serving Japanese bar food. After all, Sono hails from a longtime kaiseki background — he credits Fumiaki Totsuka, owner of Tokyo’s longstanding kaiseki fixture Nadaman — as his mentor, and it’s there he learned the craft before moving to New York for his decade-plus tenure at Kyo Ya. And his kaiseki background comes into focus here at BBF; diners will note attention to the seasons, along with various cooking methods (fried, grilled, steamed, raw, baked) that are requisite in kaiseki cookery.
As for the more formal eight-seat Kappo Sono, tucked away discreetly behind BBF and slated to open this fall, the chef will serve a seasonally-driven omakase informed by his kaiseki roots. And as its name suggests, the meal will run kappo-style: A dining format in which guests sit at a counter and watch as the chef prepares each course. Kappo dining centers on intimacy and close proximity between the chef and diner. And, typically, when a course is ready, the chef passes it directly to the diner.
For now, the attention is on BBF. With its long 14-seat bar and dining counter up front, plus tables toward the back, it’s clear that the attention here is on booze as much as it is on bites. The team hired Nana Shimosegawa, who was the first female bartender at the East Village’s lauded Japanese cocktail den Angel’s Share, to consult on a cocktail list that includes drams like the shochu-spiked Uncolored Garden with lemongrass, shiso, and tomato water; and a Japanese vodka number flavored with pineapple, matcha, and orange blossom. Meanwhile, the team brought on New York’s premier sake sommelier Chizuko Niikawa (who has shaped sake menus at some of the city’s finest restaurants, including Daniel and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare) to curate around 40 of the rice-based beverages to start.
To further emphasize the authentic Japanese nature of the restaurants, BBF and Kappo Sono are among the first restaurants in New York to use a new water filtration system called Cleansui. Sono describes the water in Japan as “soft,” adding that this kind of water enhances the umami in dashi and even green tea. Since dashi is the backbone of Japanese cooking, he decided to install Cleansui to capture “the true flavors of dashi, similar to those made in Japan.”
It all adds up to bringing New York one step closer to Japan.
Over the last decade or so, the city’s collection of tremendously authentic Japanese restaurants has exploded. The number of high-end omakase sushi bars is at its peak, Japan’s number one yakitori chef has opened a branch here, while kaiseki itself as a category is expanding. Old guards like Kajitsu and Hirohisa initially set the stage, while newer additions Odo and Tsukimi bring new takes on Japan’s highest form of culinary art.
For more than a decade, Sono quietly served some of New York’s most pristine and elegant kaiseki cookery in a cozy, subterranean space that felt wholly Japanese. He now switches that shokunin (craftsman) approach to BBF and Kappo Sono.
BBF will be open for dinner service five nights a week from Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. The restaurant will accept reservations through Resy.