Robatayaki is a traditional style of Japanese cooking that has its origins in Sendai. Families gathered around an open hearth (“robata”) and grilled (“yaki”) fresh seafood and vegetables. The same practice carried over to restaurants, where today customers sit around a grill surrounded by a display of ingredients. They point out what they want, and the chefs pass them the grilled dishes on wooden paddles, a practice started by fishermen who cooked their catch on the beach over an open flame with only an oar for a utensil.
There are a handful of such restaurants in New York City, one of which is Inakaya. The offspring of a 40-year-old establishment based in the lively Tokyo neighborhood of Roppongi, Inakaya occupies a wide-open space on the ground floor of The New York Times Building.
There are plenty of tables, but Inakaya keeps true to the original restaurant with seating around the grill. Three chefs kneel behind the counter, baskets of fresh vegetables and fish resting in ice in front of them. Just as in the old days, they hand customers beer and grilled dishes on long wooden paddles, making announcements in old Japanese.
Inakaya has a prix-fixe course menu, but it’s more entertaining to order a la carte. Here is dinner-in-waiting, a beautiful Kinme-dai, or Golden Eye Snapper. It’s one of the pricier items on the menu, but each succulent bite is well worth every penny.
If the thought of having your fish okashira tsuki – with the head and tail intact – disturbs you, don’t worry. In addition to faceless chicken, beef, and seafood, there is an assortment of vegetables to please your palate. Oh, and for those of you who think Japanese cuisine means sushi and sashimi, Inakaya serves that as well.
What is your favorite robatayaki in NYC?