Chasing umami – Review of Aburiya Kinnosuke

BY ELENA MANCINI

213 East 45th St.
Midtown East
212-867-5454 /  aburiyakinnosuke.com/

Sashimi Don and vegetable tempura don Lunch combination at Arubiya Kinnosuke

Sashimi Don and Vegetable Tempura Don Lunch combination at Arubiya Kinnosuke

Aburiya Kinnosuke introduces a welcome gamechanger  to the stalwart sushi power lunch standard, and its strengths  extend well beyond merely resisting the well-honed formulas of Americanized Japanese fare–the fact that it goes by name that is as memorable as an airline confirmation number for non-speakers of Japanese is a mere peripheral symptom of its authenticity.

Once passed the odd, green and pink pinstriped discreetly marked doorway, one descends into a large, sexy cavernous space,  with generous seating and beautiful, dark fir furniture.  The main dining space gives way to a multitude of private dining nooks that comfortably seat six. Despite the sizeable lunch crowds–at least 50% of Aburiya Kinnosuke’s clientele is Japanese–a gracious host attends to welcoming and rapidly seating incoming guests. While this places sacrifices nothing to laxity–quality and attention to detail govern it in every fundamental aspect–there is a relaxed and even calming vibe about this candlelit, tastefully decorated space.

As enjoyable as the elegant, soothing decor and the swift and efficient service may be, they are not the main attraction at this no run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant. That title is reserved for the inspired robata specialties and other fish and meat dishes featured on its menu. Offering a changing daily menu, the kitchen avoids any cookie-cutter approach to catering to its guests. Getting there early can be rewarding as the lunch menu features daily chef’s choice option made to accommodate the first ten or twenty guests, for $13. Lunch specials however extend to larger quantities and in varying and appealing combinations and price points.

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Sweet Soy Simmered Pork Belly and Salmon Flakes and Salmon Roe Don at Arubiya Kinnosuke

For anywhere between $16-$18 gets you the fish or the meat of the day special. Depending on your mood, your lunch can be accompanied by the choice of an array of shochus (distilled rather than brewed sakes), or Western wines, exotic cocktails or a more salutary beverages such as grapefruit juice or green tea.

My recent visits have been at lunch time, and each time I found myself unable to resist the $16 two don special. The combination special consists of  two freshly prepared, rigorously executed dishes  of choice with a bonus extras that include: densely flavored, seaweed strewn miso soup, a bowl of shredded Japanese radish,  a green salad and a bite-sized dessert. Beyond being well worth the price, these combinations make for a filling, umami-laden lunch indulgence indeed.

The softer than cashmere pork belly is moist, rich in flavor and an all around winning don. The same goes for the pristine cuts of sashimi over a perfectly cooked, lightly seasoned vinegar rice. The vegetable tempura cakes  merrily  defy the commonly known Americanized Japanese incarnations of tempura. The salmon roe and salmon flake dish stood out with flavors both light and distinct that they evoked a distant sea breeze. Finally, an absolute must is the grilled eel. The don is an outstanding expression of the robata technique of grilling with binchoutan charcoal for which Aburiya Kinnosuke is known–This thick, fleshy, glazed strip of grilled eel is divinely loaded with mouthwatering umami that it has quickly become the flavor expectation standard that keeps me coming back to Aburiya Kinnosuke for more.

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