Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Sakagura - 211 E. 43rd Street #B1 (2nd and 3rd Avenue) - Japanese
Marked by only the smallest, least obtrusive of signs, most people walk right by Sakagura, and never even know its there. What advertising exists has been largely through word of mouth - with fans of the restaurant praising its ambiance, authentic Japanese fare, and its vast, varied selection of shochu/sake.

Not that Sakagura is easy to find. Located in the heart of midtown east, the restaurant lies in the basement of a plain office building; the lobby decorated in standard corporate decor, with a small sign pointing down a flight of stairs. When you finally reach the restaurant, the sudden change of atmosphere comes as a bit of a shock. Because beyond the stairwell and its white, concrete walls is a true Japanese enclave - decorated with bamboo, muted lighting, and a clientelle that is overwhelmingly Japanese.

The overall effect of Sakagura is one of elegance...completed by a menu filled with small, carefully arranged plates and entrees.
Fans have referred to the dishes as "Japanese tapas", and the description is apt. At Sakagura, the focus is on presentation--not quantity--with lots of authentic (read "un-Americanized") dishes available. While there is no sushi, there are plenty of traditional offerings such as soba, sashimi and Oyako Don (chicken and egg over rice.) The menu pairs each plate with an appropriate shochu, and further recommendations can be gained from the knowledgable, attentive waitstaff. Then there are the specials, such as Omakase, and tasting dinners with shochu (running approximately $65.00 a head.)

During the Gaijin Girl trip, the dishes included duck, cold tofu/ginger salad, Saikoro steak and grilled eggplant flavored with three types of miso sauce. Though not awe-inspiring, the vegetarian dishes proved satisfactory....and definitely gorgeous. My husband scored higher, raving about the duck, and enjoying his diced steak entree. The prices at Sakagura are standard for mid-town, ranging around $7-$15 (for both appetizers and entrees). So despite having room for more, we went straight to dessert. And that's where Sakagura truly shined. Despite its reputation, the black sesame creme brulee proved the least amazing - especially next to my husband's choice: a small chocolate souffle paired with ice cream and aged shochu (perfect together.) And then there were the signature truffles - available in green tea and black sesame flavors. If you try nothing else at Sakagura, you should definitely treat yourself to a black sesame truffle. The little tidbits are amazing - and well worth the trip to mid-town. You can even get them to go.

The overall experience? Certainly favorable - though with a rating that depends somewhat on one's priorities. Perfect for a first date, Sakagura offers class, style and service - and the chance to be transported out of Manhattan and into Toyko (without that bothersome plane ticket or day long flight.) Yet--despite it's artful appearance--the food seemed somewhat ordinary. Not quite in the same league as the lesser praised Sharaku in the East Village..and somewhat more expensive. So is it an unqualified success? No - but Sakagura is a good place to know. And you absolutely have to have that truffle!

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