Every so often, you discover one of those hidden gems in NYC; a restaurant that challenges your already overstretched pallet, but does so in a sincere and subtle way, without being showy or ostentatious.
What might make this experience even more rewarding is finding a place that succeeds in expanding your pallet with a new style of "comfort food" served in a simple, yet clean setting.
And what takes the experience over the edge from "should visit one day" to "must go as soon as possible" (in this city at least), is knowing that the establishment is new, relatively unknown and unimpressed with itself - meaning you can leave the need for attitude armor and long line chit-chat at home.
Chiyono is such a place. It is located at 328 East 6th Street, which means you'll have to dodge the curry and sitar pushers lining the block to get to this island of japanese modesty set in a sea of indian excess. But that is half the fun, and adds to the experience as you step into the oasis that is Chiyono.
The food at Chiyono is not for the meek-at-heart just got in from Idaho via the Toys R Us at 42nd Street crowd. I've eaten Japanesed food for most of my 44 years and hardly recognized most of the menu. Not a speck of sushi or a tip of tempura will be found within these walls. But if you are ready to go beyond the familiar, you will be RICHLY rewarded.
Chiyono, the owner/chef, creates every dish from scratch - using as her base of reference regional japanese cooking with some (very minor!) north American influences. We had a wide array of dishes and each one was spectacular, from the Salmon Collar (literally the head of a salmon in a succulent miso-based sauce, an egg custard (Chiro-Mishu) laden with oysters, scallions and small nuts which I call Japanse Chestnuts because they have a similar consistency, a delicous seafood soup, 3 kinds of seaweed appetizers, a "pulled pork" dish which my brother calls Japanese Pernil - served with Japanese Mustard sauce, lotus root, pan fried pork and shrimp dumplings, and a sesame milk custard and hot banana creme crunchy crepes with ice cream for dessert.
Some of the ingredients (like pickled plums) come from Chiyono's mother's garden in Japan. Many of the ingredients are organic and Chiyono is happy to accomodate individual dietary guidelines. It felt like I was dining in my long lost Japanese family's home somewhere in the countryside in Japan. Which is pretty amazing since I am a european jewish man born right here in NYC.
Go before the buzz hits - she's only been open about 3 months and the menu changes daily - it's all wonderful. Not a drop was left on our plates.
Mon - Chiyono's only day off! When she gets to shop for the restaurant and pay bills, apparently.