Some days you eat the gator, and some days the gator eats you. My luck held Friday and Saturday, when I visited Natori.
The weekly paper Japion recommended the wani shogayaki (alligator in ginger sauce) at this tiny restaurant at 58 St. Marks Place (1st and 2nd Aves.), (212) 533-7711. Turns out this is one of three alligator dishes that lead off the appetizer list. So how did this swamp-dwelling reptile wind up on a Japanese menu in New York City? The owner was won over, I'm told, by tasty samples from a friend in Louisiana who's in the alligator meat business.
The shogayaki ($5.50) is sliced thin, broiled and tossed with a lively soy-ginger sauce. It comes with a salad of shredded cabbage and carrot, sliced tomato and cucumber in a sprightly dressing of mayonnaise, vinegar and white pepper. The meat is mild in flavor and terrifically tender, but on Friday the ginger was overwhelming, in your face even before the plate reached the table. (You can also get this in an entrée portion for $13. If it's always that powerfully seasoned, bigger may not be better.)
Wani umeshiso ($5) is broiled, sliced thin, wrapped around a bit of shiso leaf and gently seasoned with ume paste.
Wani kara-age ($5), marinated in ginger and soy, is tender, light and deftly fried, though a couple of pieces were a tad dry on Saturday. A slice of lemon comes with it.
I'd recommend all these dishes, giving the edge to the umeshiso. It and the kara-age, both restrained in seasoning, best showcased the alligator, with its liver-y undertone and a flavor something like lean pork (and no, not much like chicken).
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