My sake friend Nell works at an amazing robata grill restaurant on the east side called Aburiya Kinnosuke (213 East 45th, 212-867-5454). After many promises to visit, I was overdue to give Nell’s workplace a try. Once I found out Aburiya was owned by the same folks that run Torys and Yakitori Totto – two of my favorite restaurants – it was on!
Suffice to say, this place is off the hook!
When I first heard the term “Robata Grilling”, I thought it was some high-tech Japanese robot machine that grilled your food and brought it to your table via conveyor belt -kind of like those sushi making machines. I soon learned that it is actually quite the opposite of high-tech and much more of a primal cooking method. The food is grilled in an open brick pit by attaching it to a stake or wooden paddle and leaning it in towards the fire. I found this description of robata grilling online:
In Japanese, Robata means “by the fireside,” and refers to the centuries-old country style cooking of northern Japanese fishermen.Evenings in coastal villages found fishermen cooking their catch over an open fire, then sharing among themselves by passing food on oars from boat to boat.
When Scott and I arrived, Nell seated us at the bar and the first thing I felt was a wave of heat from the robata grill. It was the best seat in the house! Scott and I watch in amazement as the chefs tended the fire and kept perfect tabs on every piece of food propped up and slowly grilling around it. Everything we had to eat was grilled to perfection and so delicious. It takes longer than direct heat cooking but it’s worth it.
The next great treat that awaited me at Aburiya was the sake menu. This was a menu with personality. It wasn’t the same usual 10 sakes you see at every regular Japanese restaurant in town. These were unique! Unusual! Intriguing!
After much debate, I ordered the Houraisen Wa (Sekiya Jozo Brewery, Aichi Prefecture, Seimaibuai 55%, ALC 15.8%, SMV -5, Acidity 1.5) This was the winner for sure. It was slightly sweet with light acidity. A bit delicate but oh soooo smooth. really enjoyable, soft and drinkable.
This sake is a Daiginjo in ginjo’s clothing. This sake was also served in a fancy blue cut glass tokkuri. I will order this one again.
Scott tried a small carafe of the Kikuhime Yamahai Junmai (Kikuhime Brewery, Ishikawa Prefecture, SMV +2, Acidity 2.0, Seimaibuai 60%). This Yamahai didn’t really ring my bells.
It was kind of an over-the-top yamahai style. To me the flavor was unbalanced and too earthy. Note the super high acidity. I think that may be what tastes out of wack here. It wasn’t awful, but paired up side by side with the Houraisen Wa, Kikuhime didn’t stand a chance. I don’t think this flavor profile will appeal to a broad range of sake drinkers out there.
If you get a chance, do not pass up an opportunity to try Abuiya Kinnosuke. I can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed our meal and sake.The atmosphere is wonderful, too and you can’t help but feel that you’re on a mini vacation to Japan.
The open hearth style of cooking is a natural fit for winter weather. As the temperature outside starts to drop, I know I’ll be back to warm up with some toasty Robata and then Chill out with some cool sake.
It’s that unique sake list that makes this place one of the best — even without a grilling robot and conveyor belt. Special thanks to Nell for all the hospitality and turning us on to such a great restaurant! Domo Arigato!