Beyond a couple of Chinese places that served stereotypical dishes like chicken chow mein, fried rice, and spring rolls, there weren’t many Asian restaurants where I grew up. At some point sushi arrived, but again these were uninspired, westernized renditions of Japan’s most recognizable food. I was living in a dark culinary cave! So when I moved to New York a decade ago, I embarked on a mission to try as many steamed pork buns, bahn mi sandwiches, ramen soups, gyozas and pajeons as possible. What I’m getting at is that now I have an education in Asian cuisine and thus feel qualified to comment on the best Far East fare in the neighborhood.
EN Japanese Brasserie. This restaurant makes me think of expressions like “cream of the crop,” and “top of the heap.” It is just so good, so polished, so effortlessly charming – the Frank Sinatra of Japanese establishments. EN’s space is dramatic in a zen way, with enormous grid windows and beautiful blond wood throughout. As for the food, they make the tenderest, most perfectly cooked miso black cod I’ve ever tried, wispy-thin washugyu beef strips served on a hot stone with a side of sea salt, and perfectly battered vegetable tempura. Coffee may not be a Japanese specialty, but EN happens to serve the best French press coffee in the entire universe.
Red Farm. You wouldn’t expect a Chinese restaurant to look like a New England countryside tavern, but that’s what Red Farm looks like. Restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld, along with dim sum expert Joe Ng, have also taken liberties with the menu, which includes shrimp dumplings shaped like Pac-Man ghosts, and egg rolls filled with Katz’s pastrami. And yet despite these Western elements, the flavors are essentially Chinese- and very nicely executed. This place gets consistently packed and doesn’t take reservations, so expect a wait.
Cafe Asean. Opened more than 10 years ago, this friendly spot on West 10th Street had brick walls and weathered-wood tables long before the style was picked up by interior designers all over the nation. You may not be blown away by the food, but you’ll never be disappointed. Their Malaysian, Vietnamese, Thai and Indonesian dishes, such as seafood and egg noodles with yu choy greens in a spicy coconut soup, are diligently well made, simply presented and served by attentive staff.
Jinya. This ramen bar has been in business for less than a month and it’s already a hit, partly because of its very popular sister restaurant in L.A., and partly because they offer decent food in a modern, warm atmosphere. They have a long list of small plates that includes prickly shishito peppers and satisfying (but not earth-shattering) pork buns, plus a straightforward ramen selection: there are pork, chicken, beef, and vegetarian versions. Jinya is a bit of a step down from Ippudo and Momofuku, but if you’re not in the mood to travel east, it’s a better-than-average choice.