231 West 40th Street between Seventh and Eighth
$65 for two, with drinks, without tip
Inakaya is a good place for two kinds of dates: one, an awkward first date when neither have to nervously talk but still have a good time; two, a long-term couple date when almost anything can slip by and forgiven by the end of the night. For the first couple, they can’t really have a quiet conversation while dining at Inakaya because it’s a robatayaki, also known as robata, or an open grill where every few minutes a chorus of waiters and chefs shout and repeat customers’ orders. For the long-timers, they may be amused with the very lively setting and shrug off another date night out.
The Dr. and I belong to the latter. We were to meet midtown for dinner to eat sushi, but we didn’t want to spend too much money. I was at the new Muji store inside the New York Times building and noticed Inakaya next door. It was only a week old when we visited, but it was already packed with Japanese salarymen who perhaps wanted to support the establishment’s efforts. There were a few families as well and the younger kids seemed to enjoy all the screaming. Some of them even participated in the mochi-making presentation by the window where a giant pestle is used to mush up the soy.
The robatayaki‘s origin leads back to the city of Sendai in the northeast region of Japan. The chefs sit on their shins wearing ninja-like socks surrounded by carefully-selected fresh ingredients. At Inakaya, it’s orchestrated how they kneel and reach out for the produce and they use the same fluid moves to serve the finished dishes. Long wooden paddles are used so that the chefs can reach you from across the grill while the rest of your order is served by kimono-wearing waiters.
The food can’t get any better for something across the Port Authority bus terminal. The oysters came from the west coast, and even though they lightly touched the grill, they still tasted like the ocean. The day’s sashimi special came from Tsukiji Market that morning but I don’t remember it being out of our budget. We unfortunately skipped the beautiful marbled meats that were displayed in front of us–we weren’t in the mood for red meat–but we couldn’t say no to the buttery uni.
It’s nice to know that there’s a place to go to to escape the mediocrity of Hell’s Kitchen and the awfulness of fast-food kingdom at Times Square. Now I know where to eat if I ever find myself at the bus station or the AMC movie theater next door even if it means putting up with a little bit more of noise.