Location. It makes or breaks a restaurant’s fortunes. Unless you have achieved fame among food lovers or starred in culinary television programs, your restaurant best be accessible.
Location. The demographic of foot traffic must match your style of cuisine. You either give the customers what they want, or tell them what they want.
Location. In the heart of Times Square next to a gentleman’s club. You can literally go next door for a lap dance. Flashdancers, great name (as opposed to this one).
Mr. Robata is a bizarre restaurant, and I’m not even talking about the name. Authentic Japanese sushi and robatayaki in the middle of Times Square is a curious business decision. If my plan was to feed tourists, authenticity would be the last thing I’m worried about. Just look at Ember Room. Then there’s the wonderful gentlemen’s establishment next door, I doubt there would be much cross selling and synergy.
Overlooking the fact that there’s constantly someone trying to hand me pamphlets to go next door, we shall focus on the positives. Mr. Robata is the brainchild of Masaki Nakayama (Sushi Yasuda, Corton) and Kenichi Ogawa (Sushi of Gari), two chefs with solid credentials both in traditional cooking, and modern creativity and flair. Soon as you step into the restaurant, the environment actually feels quiet and comfortable. If you weren’t surrounded by tourists, you’d not think that you’re in Times Square.
From the Tapas part of the menu, I do not know what’s Japanese about “Japanese French Fries”, but they were tasty, well seasoned, and a great appetizer. Wagyu sliders were also fantastic little bites. Simple presentation and seasoning to showcase the flavor of the beef.
For all of its achievements in bringing me steakhouse favorites, the sushi and robatayaki were very solid. Nigiri sushi looked like the intersection of the Yasuda zen-simplicity with Gari’s aggressive seasonings. It worked. I was slightly disappointed that they were out of sea urchin at 6PM on a Saturday. Where’s the discipline that Yasuda-san taught you about sourcing supplies?
Robatayaki featured 3 dipping sauces, I suggest none of them. The natural flavors with a tad of sea salt is still the best way to enjoy the skewers. There’re better in the city (think Robataya), but this is quite good.
A times square Japanese restaurant with a bizarre name and back-lit logo showing a gear, next to Flashdancers. Yes, I’m recommending it.
From the notebook: Had high hopes before I visited, until I saw Flashdancers. Meal genuinely surprised me. Apologies to the kind waitress who was quite in shock when I threw a mini tantrum about there not being uni.
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