As usual, full review with photos on the blog:
As it is mainly a residential area, I find Murray Hill/Kips Bay to have many overpriced neighborhood restaurants that don't really stand out. So I was very happy to discover Momokawa through Chowhound. Momokawa is a small, intimate Japanese restaurant that can be a bit hard to find. The restaurant is located on the second floor, but you actually have to enter the building by going down some stairs outside, through the basement door, and then back up some stairs inside to get there.
Here are some of the reasons I think it works very well as a date spot.
1. It is walking distance to the Kips Bay cinemas, for those who like to do dinner and a movie.
2. It is quiet and intimate. It is easy to hear your date and converse.
3. The food is reasonably priced. They have some prix fixe options (2 ppl minimum) ranging from $45 to $60 +t/t per person.
4. The signature items here are shabu shabu (hot pot) and sukiyaki. Having to cook and share your food is a good way to get closer to your date.
We chose the $45 prix fixe option, which consisted of an appetizer plate, a sashimi plate, a choice of sukiyaki or shabu shabu, and dessert.
The appetizer plate that night featured some soft tofu, squares of sauce made into gelatin, and slices of braised duck marinated in red wine and soy sauce. The tofu tasted very fresh, although it was so soft that I couldn't pick it up with my chopsticks without it breaking apart. I don't quite remember what the gelatin was made of, but it had a nice spicy kick to it. The duck, also served chilled, was cooked very well.
Two slices each of cooked octopus and yellowtail sashimi then arrived. I'm not a big fan of octopus sashimi, and while the yellowtail was good, it wasn't anything special. I think if you talk to the server when you order you can have some say in the sashimi options.
SOY MARINATED FRIED CHICKEN
This was ordered separate from the prix fixe, and was a good value at $7. The coating was thicker than I usually associate with karaage, but it helped to keep the meat very juicy.
While they are similar in concept, a lot of people know what shabu shabu is, whereas many have never experienced sukiyaki. As opposed to a hot pot filled with boiling broth, sukiyaki is served in a shallow pot, with a base sauce of soy, sugar, and mirin that is used to simmer the meat and vegetables.
SUKIYAKI - VEGETABLES
The sukiyaki comes with a bowl filled with a nice assortment of vegetables, including mushrooms, tofu, and cabbage. Underneath the vegetables is a sizeable mound of what I think was thick vermicelli.
SUKIYAKI - BEEF
The star of the sukiyaki is the protein. For the prix fixe, you get to choose from beef or pork, while there are more options if ordering a la carte. We went with the beef which had pretty good flavor. For sukiyaki, the beef is dipped in raw egg before eating, and they break and whip the raw egg for you.
SUKIYAKI - UDON
When ordering the sukiyaki, they offer you a choice of udon or rice to come at the end of the meal. We chose udon, and cooked it in the remaining sauce in the pot, coating the noodles in the slightly sweet sauce that has absorbed some of the flavors of the stuff we cooked in it. While the udon was pretty good, and fairly substantial in portion, we would probably have gone with rice had we known that there was already a mound of vermicelli in the bowl of vegetables.
ICE CREAM MOCHI WITH RED BEANS
Dessert was a simple vanilla ice cream mochi served with red beans. Pretty much what you would get from an Asian supermarket.
Momokawa actually has an outpost in Japan, even though they started here in NYC first. I find that pretty interesting, since it's usually the other way around.