Chef Isao Yamada trained at an authentic kaiseki Michelin three-star restaurant in Kyoto, and has recently opened a 14 seat counter in Times Square. My brother stumbled passed it and it will likely get Michelin attention, making it a more difficult reservation in the future. We decided to get in early.
The greeting and service upon entry piqued my interest. It was formal, warm and open-armed, making me think "Whoa. They're in it to win it." I was excited. The service continued at a very high level, including recommendations of wine which were spot on and excellent. The delivery of dishes was awkward, with the chef handing the dish over the counter to the waitstaff, who were standing behind you, reaching over to you grab it and then set it in front of you. This should definitely be improved. But they were on top of things, even clearing the small paper binding for the chopsticks as we opened them up.
The food here was excellent. It is difficult for me to truly comment on kaiseki, which involved immense history and meaning. The food was delicious and varied, with some dishes far more complex than I expected in a kaiseki meal. The opening scallops had a high number of beautiful ingredients. and plenty of acid/citrus. (Too much if you ask me.)
The sashimi was a standout - fresh and gorgeous, served with 3 custom soy sauces which were out of this world. The 2nd uni bite (in the picnic basket) was stellar and the dessert may have won the day. The final rice post was really well put together and the offering of unlimited refills was generous, though it felt a little "American".
Other bites were really good. I didn't find them incredible, just really well done and likely similar to what you could receive at any number of Japanese restaurants in NYC. The biggest surprise was the wagyu beef. As he cooked it, I thought "That can't be the wagyu." It was gray, not red. Delivered, it also looked gray. And tasted as you might think with that color - dull and just "off". It was a shocking misstep in an otherwise great meal with stellar ingredients.
This is a solid 1-star experience. I would not argue 2 stars, though the 2nd star wouldn't come from me. It was delightful though. The chef clearly loves his craft and the waiter/host was terrific.
I'm glad I came, though I'm not sure I can recommend this $300 kaiseki when others mostly as good are likely available throughout NYC for half the price. It will be interesting to see how Michelin and the New York Times weigh in when the time comes, which they surely will.
Replying to Steven Smith