EN Japanese Brasserie
435 Hudson St
(between Leroy St & St Lukes Pl)
New York, NY 10014
EN Japanese Brasserie is one of the first Japanese restaurants I had heard of when I moved to NYC. It is one of those places “everyone” has been to and deems to be a good place. I had never been because there have been so many cuter, smaller Japanese restaurants in NYC that always make the cut over EN. After a very long week at work, LAW and I finally made last minute reservations for a late dinner at EN. Our table wasn’t ready so I immediately got a drink to force myself to relax (is this how I know I’m getting old?). I had the Ginger Cocktail ($13), which was a mixture of homemade ginger ale, rice shochu “Shiro,” lime juice, and soda. The drink was very light, too light for my purposes, but pleasant. The homemade ginger ale was soothing and gentle. The lime juice added just a little acidity to the ginger and rice shochu. The drink was so light to begin with that they really needed to use one of those gigantic ice cubes because the mini crushed ice cubes they used diluted the drink too quickly.
The kaiseki starts with an O-Banzai, a chef’s selection of three small Kyoto-style appetizers. We had the Hijiki (hijiki seaweed and soy bean simmered in shoyu), Zenmai Piri-Kara (royal fern sprouts in a spicy shichimi togarashi) and Kinoko Kiriboshi Daikon Ohitashi (assorted Japanese mushrooms & sun dried daikon radish with yuzu). All three were chilled, delicious, and balanced. The hijiki seaweed was sweet and tasted slightly of miso. Unlike the typical green, flat, and crunchy seaweed salad you find, hijiki is cylindrical and chewy (super QQ!). Delicious. The zenmai piri-kara was my least favorite only because I tend to not like mushy things – the royal fern sprouts were quite mushy. My favorite was the kinoko kiriboshi daikon ohitashi. The assorted Japanese mushrooms were bulbous little buds and tremendously fragrant. I had never had sun dried daikon before. It tastes less bitter than fresh daikon. The yuzu was so light, slightly sweet, and slightly citrusy. I can imagine the sauce tasting great with a nice fillet of fish…
The next course was the Chef’s Sashimi Selection. Bear in mind that photos are only of one portion. We didn’t have to share (more for us!). The chef’s selection wasn’t exactly much of a selection because it included just the basics: salmon, tuna, and yellowtail. I love the basics so it wasn’t a problem. The sashimi was overall decent quality but since I have been going to Kura so often lately, very little can compare.
Saikyo Miso Marinated Grilled Black Cod was next. It tasted similar to the Robataya one that I love but was a smaller fillet and less fatty. Flavor was perfect but was lacking the crispy fatty skin that I also love.
The freshly scooped tofu is what EN is known for. Nobody comes to EN without getting the freshly scooped tofu, which is made fresh every hour and is served with wari-joyu, a blend of soy sauce and fish sauce. If ordered separately, you have the choice of having your tofu served warm or chilled. Our kaiseki meal came with the chilled version. The tofu was incredibly, extremely, tremendously, and outrageously fresh. It was soft, creamy, and mellow. After each bite, my mouth was consumed with an aftertaste of the natural flavor of soy bean. It was seriously pretty good. $11 is a hefty price tag for ordering it on its own (outside of the kaiseki meal), especially because I grew up with access to great tofu like this everywhere (in all Sichuan restaurants and in our local food market where tofu is made fresh all the time).
Next up we had the Stone Grilled Chicken with Garlic Shoyu. It came on a sizzling piece of stone, hardcore whetting my appetite. This was the grease my body was lacking from all the light dishes from before. It was super flavorful … sweet and salty with lots of garlic. The exterior of the chicken was crispy and the center was juicy, just like fried chicken. This would’ve tasted great over a bowl of rice. Without the rice, after a few bites, I felt that the chicken was a little too salty.
Just as all balanced meals should end, in my opinion, our last course before dessert was a little bowl of carbs. We were served warm soba noodles in a dashi broth. Nothing outrageous here. It was just a simple bowl of buckwheat noodles to wrap up our meal, just what I wanted at the time.
Overall, I had a very enjoyable experience dining at EN. It was fun not knowing what to expect and to try new dishes. I didn’t like the ambiance as much because there was so much space. The design is like what you would expect to see at a hotel – unhomey and extravagant, both not traits I would ascribe to Japanese food, even less to Kyoto food.