Dinner at Robataya, a restaurant in the East Village specializing in robatayaki (a method of cooking food over hot coals in front of customers), often means a meal and a show. All the ingredients are on display before you, and upon placing your order, the robata chefs grab the ingredients (at times comically crawling on their hands and knees on the counter), grills up the food, and then presents it to you from behind the cornucopia of proteins and vegetables atop a paddle resembling a pizza peel. It’s immense fun, and highly recommendable if dining out with out-of-town guests (as long as they aren’t from Japan), but is the food on par with the entertainment value?
Unfortunately, on my visit, it wasn’t.
I loved that the Ebi (langostino; $18) was full of roe, but the meat itself was borderline overcooked and needed a tad more salt.
The Hotate (scallops; $10) was more flavorful, but the texture was a little spongey.
The giant Kaki (oyster; $10) was also slightly overcooked. At its meatiest it was fine, but as it tapered out, it was tough. Also, shockingly, even though I read online it’s quite common, there was a tiny worm squirming about on the side of the shell. BF said at least we know it’s fresh, but it’s something I rather not see. Even I have my limits. Luckily, it was the last of the grilled dishes and not the first.
From the kitchen, BF ordered the Gindara Saikyo Yaki ($13), cod marinated in saikyo miso. The flavor was nice, salty and not too sweet as miso cod often tends to be, but the texture, perhaps due to too much marinating, was a little slimey.
The best dish of the night was the simplest, Uni Sashimi ($15). The sea urchin was creamy, sea-buttery, and extremely generous in size. There was also grilled uni on the menu, but thankfully, the waiter had recommended the fresh over the cooked. After everything we ate, I understand why.
The food doesn’t quite live up to the fun of the show at Robataya, but for the first-time, it’s forgivable. Go again, and the blame’s all on you.