Take the concept of Geisha, the original Upper East Side Japanese restaurant, add a table as the centerpiece of your restaurant, and you have Geisha Table.
The original Geisha was positioned at the crossroads between traditional and innovative Japanese cuisine. To quote the original NYTimes review by Amanda Hesser, “The sushi is prepared competently, but the fun lies elsewhere on this menu”. As the craze for fusion Japanese food gradually died down, and tastes went towards the more traditional methods, Geisha was left in an odd place, charging premium prices for a style of Japanese cuisine that was no longer in fashion. Late last year, it closed and was looking to relocate down the block, as part of parent company Serafina Group’s round of musical chairs.
Perhaps to keep the Geisha team’s knives and skills sharp, a tiny version of Geisha popped up next door to Serafina in the Upper West Side. On the very eastern corner of the sprawling restaurant, a room was carved into the space and a sushi bar installed. Stereotypical Japanese decorative items, like small cultural figurines and even Super Mario were brought in for the shelves. The space is still connected to the Italian restaurant, which makes it a bit of an oddball layout.
I usually chose to sit at the bar. At Geisha Table, I felt obligated to sit at the table. With pivoting chairs that swing out from underneaths, it’s quite a fascinating design, with just one minor drawback: the tiny surface area of the seats themselves. The are smaller than the average bar stool, smaller than some kids seats, you get (or hopefully try not to) the picture.
Back to the food. Despite the tiny footprint of Geisha Table, the menu is both expansive and expensive, looking like the greatest hits of New York’s popular Japanese food items today. In addition to the sushi, sashimi, and other cold plates. There’s an excellent selection of yakitori, cooked by a chef presiding over a tiny yakitori grill. There’re also a few entree you can choose from, which will come out of the kitchen. (I’m guessing the same kitchen as Serafina?)
The appetizers are pretty much what you’d find in any Japanese restaurant since Nobu proliferated the fish plus jalapeno concept. Ordinary as they may be, there’s good reason why everyone serves it, it’s quite tasty. The ponzu, red snapper with a thin slice of pepper never gets old.
The tartare that followed was way overdressed. Combined with the crunchy fish roe on top, and the wasabi sauce in the bottom, I could barely taste the fish.
Ordering basic nigiri sushi is perhaps the best way to judge the skills of a Japanese sushi chef. The chef’s plate was good, but fails to stand out by Manhattan standards. The chef picks the roll, and I was pleasantly surprised when we were served hamachi and shiso leaf, an excellent choice.
The cooked miso salmon with shitake mushroom was a complete letdown. I had high hopes for the dish, for the whole miso infused fish was another glorified concept from Nobu. Despite the recommendation from the wait staff, and popularity among other guests at the communal table, I thought the fish was overcooked and showed no trace of miso.
Yakitori was the redeeming element at Geisha Table. All the ingredients were fresh, and seasoned lightly to let the flavors show through. It’s perhaps still not as good as those Yakitori specialists like Totto or Tory Shin, but the prices for skewers were quite reasonable.
I don’t know what Serafina plans to do with this space after Geisha returns to it’s full glory in the Upper East Side. Geisha Table is good enough, but restaurants that are good enough seldom stick around in Manhattan. Maybe they ought to turn it into Geisha Grill that serves Yakitori only, now that’s a name.
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New York, NY 10024