213 East 45th Street between Second and Third
$104 for two, with two drinks, without tip
There are two ways you can order your grilled food at Aburiya Kinnosuke. The robata grill is right at the bar where the Japanese chefs set skewers next to burning coals (not on top of) and take about 30 to 40 minutes to prepare. If you choose the shichirin grill, your meat will be served on top of a little clay pot and you can grill your food yourself. The portion is small you won’t be grilling like you do at a Korean restaurant. It’s all done that Japanese way: simple and understated.
When we reserved two seats at the bar, the fish of the night was yellowtail and the specials board noted that they were all flown in from Japan. The restaurant’s specialty is fish collar and because the yellowtail probably flew in style, it was priced at $30. We were interested to try it even at that price but thankfully, they were all out of stock by 9pm. We opted for the sea bass collar instead for $7. For collars, I don’t care if the fish came from another country. If it’s a cheap cut of fish, it really shouldn’t be more than $10. That said, we imagined our $7 sea bass collar was as good as how the $30 one would have tasted. It’s grilled the same way and it probably had the same amount of meat as the yellowtail.
But we started with the monkfish liver first. We never fail to order ankimo when it’s on the menu and Aburiya Kinnosuke’s is as delicate as they come. Another item we don’t skip at Japanese restaurants is the uni. The sashimi was served in a small woven basket with two kinds of kelp. I couldn’t help but order the fresh sea eel minus all the familiar kabayaki sweet sauce. They were served with the eel bone deep-fried with a dollop of wasabi. The eel meat was soft, yet very meaty, and it really had its own sweet taste without the dressing. The pork cheeks were delicious. They were chewy but tender enough to make us forget that cheeks, too, are considered cheap cuts. The offal taste was offset by the sweet seaweed and lemon juice. The fried chicken balls came with grilled peppers, something we’ve come to love after Barcelona, and powdered sea salt. They were crunchy without being too heavy. Next were the beef slices on the shichirin grill. They were atop a dried magnolia leaf and a handful of miso chiffonade garnished them. We cooked them for only a few minutes, rare and juicy enough to eat.
The servings were small so Aburiya Kinnosuke’s pacing was key. There were short pauses in between our dishes that allowed us to enjoy our Sapporo and plum vodka. Our dessert was one of the best things I’ve had since my visit to ChikaLicious: white sesame pudding with vanilla ice cream. The sweetness was so restrained and the nuttiness so addicting that I could have eaten another serving even though we were so full.
The crowd at Aburiya Kinnosuke is more adult and more moneyed. In fact, you can reserve a booth behind small curtains where a lot of the Japanese men probably conduct important businesses. (Since the initial reviews were published in 2005, they have employed English-speaking staff. The white girl who answers the phone is as fluent in Japanese as any of the chefs.) I understand that I have to go to midtown to have a real Japanese meal because of the proximity of the United Nations building. If I count how many times I eat Japanese food in a given month, I would group the restaurants in midtown as the best ones. Aburiya Kinnosuke is just one of them.
Desserts at ChikaLicious