In Tribeca, Japanese-Italian fusion is out and upscale izakaya fare with soba noodles is in. Daruma-ya opened a month ago in the former Greenwich Grill space and is already drawing favorable comparisons on Chowhound with downtown destinations like SobaKoh and Yopparai.
“This is one of the best spots in town for simple, well-made Japanese dishes,” says foodwhisperer, who suggests a few must-orders among the izakaya dishes: live scallop with yuzu and sea salt; house-made tofu with uni and ikura; and shrimp tempura that might be the city’s best. Another ‘hound, nomadmanhattan, singles out buttery, perfectly cooked gindara saikyo yaki (grilled black cod in Kyoto-style miso). Other good bets are sweet corn tempura, takowasa (octopus with wasabi), and high-end Washugyu beef, sliced thin and served with peppery yuzu kosho. As for the soba, it starts with high-grade Kitawase buckwheat from Hokkaido, stone-ground then rolled and sliced by hand. Uni soba is “as good as it gets,” foodwhisperer reports; nomadmanhattan recommends the signature seiro soba, served cold with a soy-based dipping sauce.
Daruma-ya’s dual focus required its owner—the Tokyo company behind the shuttered Greenwich Grill as well as the highly regarded Sushi Azabu, which remains open in the building’s downstairs space—to enlist two chefs. Nobuhito Dosei, a veteran of LA’s Mori Sushi, is in charge of the izakaya menu, while Shuichi Kotani, a buckwheat master who teaches the craft to other chefs, presides over the soba. In a town currently besotted with ramen, Kotani’s specialty is the other Japanese noodle, but he relishes the challenge. As he told the Village Voice, “Buckwheat is very hard. Ramen is easier.”
Like other izakaya, this one’s about drinking as well as eating. The sake and shochu lists are solid if not stellar, but likely to expand—one standout is silky, lightly creamy Kotsuzumi Rojo Hana Ari (“Bloom on the path”), a sake from Hyogo prefecture. What sets Daruma-ya apart from the city’s downmarket Japanese watering holes is its refined atmosphere. “Quiet, upscale, simple, with very attentive service,” as foodwhisperer describes it. “You just get the feeling of a special meal coming.”
Photo of seiro soba and tofu with uni and ikura from Daruma-ya / Facebook