Yamada Chikara New York | A New Kushiage
Located in Midtown East, chef Chikara Yamada brings to New York City his first U.S. restaurant, Yamada Chikara. He has trained for years under Ferran Adria at the now closed but influential three-star Spanish restaurant, El Bulli. As a renowned chef and one very into techniques like molecular gastronomy, his NYC restaurant serves up a luxurious omakase menu of kushiage, one that is very different from your typical Japanese omakase and rather rare across all NYC Japanese restaurants.
Kushiage, or kushikatsu, is Japanese style deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables.
Walking into the restaurant, everything about it gives off a relaxing and comfortable feeling, very Zen-like, including its simple yet elegant and modern interior design. In the middle of the twenty-seat counter is the deep fryer where everything on the menu is made.
The meal starts with a sake martini and rosewater paired with their house-made olive, made through the process of molecular gastronomy, an olive puree placed in a liquid that transforms it into a solid but pops when consumed. The usual olive that sits in your martini is now siding with your sip of martini in your mouth. Following, there’s Chef Yamada’s signature dish, his own interpretation of a Spanish omelet. Like a deconstructed omelet, it is served in a glass showing the ingredients in layers. Layered from bottom to top is the caramelized onions, egg yolk foam, potato foam made from dashi and topped with slices of white truffles. With your spoon running through the glass for a scoop, you are basically putting the layers together into a bite of an omelet. Every bite creates a wide range of flavors and amazing aromas that leaves you wanting more.
Before serving the deep-fried portion of the menu, a small bowl of colorful vegetables is served with the purpose of cleansing the mouth and taste buds between each fried skewer. Four sauces are also placed in front of you to pair with your upcoming skewers: a Japanese soy sauce, house-made tartar sauce, house-made ponzu sauce, and salt with yuzu sauce made from green hot chili peppers.
Currently on the menu (changes seasonally) is shrimp, oyster wrapped in bacon, tomato with mozzarella and basil, sablefish, tenderloin, quail eggs, mochi, chicken meatball, gorgonzola, sea urchin, asparagus, and salmon. Even though everything was deep-fried, it didn’t alter the quality and freshness of the ingredient itself. The shrimp was superbly bouncy and firm in the texture of each bite and it created a contrast to the crunch of its fried exterior. The mochi, a sticky pounded rice, bursts through its crunchy exterior after the first bite. The sablefish wrapped in seaweed was still perfectly juicy and moist and yuzu sauce gave it an extra kick of flavors. The quail eggs topped with truffle slices and truffle oil explode in your mouth, immaculately blending each ingredient together. What stood out a bit more was the usage of tomato and cheese and certain toppings after it has been fried, something that has been inspired by Spanish pinchos, small snacks.
In between the chicken meatball and Gorgonzola skewers, a small bowl of exceptionally smooth sesame tofu topped with caviar and flooded with a cold flavorful dashi was served. It was a great refreshing break from the omakase menu. Following the series of kushiage, there is a chirashi sushi box and an akadashi miso soup. The chilled hojicha, roasted green tea, served at the end was a great contrast and revitalizing finish to the fried courses. It was quite surprising because the material of the cup did not reveal the temperature of the tea.
Kushiage differs from kushiyaki in that the skewers are breaded and coated with panko and deep-fried, rather than grilled. Ultimately, it is essentially deep-fried food on a skewer stick, but what does makes it stand out is chef Yamada’s experience and Spanish influences, definitely putting a twist to the ingredients and flavors to his kushiage menu. He also thoughtfully does all the wine pairings and picks out the tea from local farmers to guarantee the best products and ingredients are being used and presented. Chef Yamada’s restaurant of the same name in Tokyo focuses on a Japanese-style tasting menu using molecular gastronomy, similar to that of the late El Bulli. So, the idea of using kushiage as a vanguard along with modern techniques in his first U.S. location definitely shows the innovative and masterful side of him. He sees kushiage as a much more approachable technique to bring a delightful meal to everyone. Another restaurant location in Hawaii is on its way.