Review: Chikarashi Isso Opens As A Pinnacle Of Japanese Precision

Kendyl Kearly | April 8, 2020 | Food & Drink

Chikarashi’s new formal concept has plenty of particularities, but maybe we should lean into them.

yakitorichicken.jpgThe flavors of chicken thigh yakitori are enhanced by egg yolk.

The yakitori arrives perfectly aligned. Each of the three cuts of chicken rests delicately on its own plate and comes with instructions: Gently pierce the egg yolk and swirl the thigh in it; try the pot of seasoning with the oyster, etc. Dining at Chikarashi Isso is a process, like a tea ceremony. Although this sort of presentation is arguably a bit fussy, when chef Michael Jong Lim puts such deliberation into his food, I feel compelled to match it while eating.

Take, for example, the amuse-bouche of shrimp bathed in a frothy potato liquid. The instruction was to eat the shrimp first, but it ended up being good advice—that first bite of warm shrimp was the perfect way to start off the meal.

The hotate scallop served on the shell was a top dish with its bite of finger limes and asatsuki chives. A5 Omi wagyu gets elevated even beyond its prime cut with Kaluga caviar and a wasabi creme.

333831.jpgUni risotto with carnaroli, honshimeji and shiso

In addition to its proud yakitori program, Chikarashi Isso boasts a solid tempura section of the menu, which contains everything from fried foie gras to lotus root. Overall, the only dish I didn’t care for was the monkfish, apparently a new addition. I love monkfish and was excited to try it, but these slices took on an odd, gelatinous consistency. Much more inviting was the uni risotto, cooked perfectly with carnaroli, mushrooms and shiso.

IssoMelissaHom2.jpgBeyond the soapstone-topped dining bar, a partition screen is opened at night to reveal the formal dining room.

This is all worlds apart from the restaurant’s vibe during the day, when it transforms into a fast-casual poke spot that has two other Manhattan sisters. But despite the brand’s informal reputation and its small, nondescript space, Chikarashi Isso succeeds at fine dining. Architecture firm MNDPC used an eclipse­like acrylic circle to elevate the simple interior. The beverage program is strong with a curated wine and sake list from master sommelier Fred Dexheimer, as well as deliberate cocktails such as the Kissu, which appropriately translates to “kiss” with its palate-tickling hibiscus, yuzu, gin and egg white.

gojira.jpgThe vibrant Gojira cocktail is a blend of Roku gin, lemon grass shochu, cucumber, ginger and mint.

Surprisingly, the desserts might have hit the highest notes of all. Instead of the frozen mochi I’m used to, this was grilled, made of kinako ice cream and served with caramel that whispered of whiskey. The creme brulee arrived in its own pot. When the lid was lifted, a cloud of steam floated out and hinted at the smoky cherries within, which ended up being the very best use of Jong Lim’s rigid and thoughtful presentation style.

mochi5.jpgA trio of grilled mochi

Editor's note: Oceans is currently closed due to New York City's mandate that all restaurants, bars and cafes close themselves to dine-in service.

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Photography by: Risotto photo courtesy of Chikarashi Isso, all others by Melissa Hom