My friend Sneakeater is spot on in describing kyoya as “lovely.”
The servers are adorable. The space is soothing. The ceramic serviceware is beautiful. And the food, which is very good, leaves you feeling charmed and peaceful.
Tucked away below street level in a townhouse in the East Village, kyoya could elude even the keenest eye.
There’s no sign or marker. Indeed, other than an unassuming set of stairs and the glow of the restaurant coming up from the side of the street, you’d never know it existed there. There’s no website either (that I am aware of).
Kyoya is essentially a very refined kaiseki-style restaurant modified just enough to accommodate the confused expense accounts that might wander in.
Here, you will find a menu of mostly authentic Japanese foods partitioned in four sections: Chef’s Seasonal Dishes, Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers, and Main Courses. There’s also a menu of sashimi from which I ordered uni from the East Coast. The generous stack of fresh little sea urchin “tongues,” more briny than sweet, was served with crisp sheets of nori and light soy sauce ($18). A rarity, this was a true treat for me.
But kyoya is probably more well-known for its kaiseki, which have to be ordered a day or two in advance. There are three kaiseki menus (10 courses $95/11 courses $120/12 courses $150).
I had been told by friends who had been to the restaurant that the kaiseki menus overlapped heavily with the a la carte menu. In a large group, ordering a la carte might make more sense.
But this was not the case when we arrived.
Very little, if anything, from the kaiseki menus was offered on the a la carte menu. That didn’t really concern me as there were plenty of appealing choices on the a la carte menu.
My friend Clark got a call from his gal Lois that she was arriving early on the train from Boston and could make it to dinner a touch late. So Ms. Toidy Toid & Toid (a.k.a Wizard of Roz), Mr. RBI, Clark, and I started our dinner, saving a spot for Lois.
With the exception of a few requests (all of the main courses, in fact), my friends largely left the ordering up to me.
To see all of the photos from this meal, CLICK HERE. Or, click on the course titles for the individual photos.
Uni (Portland, Maine)
Chef’s Seasonal Dishes
Spring Onion Salad
Served with onion vinaigrette. ($11)
Grilled Bamboo Shoot
Soy Sauce Flavor. ($16)
Fried Tile Fish with Bamboo Shoot in thick broth. ($16)
Seasonal Julienne Vegetables with House Dressing. ($12)
Homemade Dried Mullet Roe Served with Charcoal Grill. ($24)
Cooked Tajima Beef Tongue, Miso Marinated for 3 days. ($14)
Homemade Smoked Tokyo Bay Sea Eel. ($14)
Famous Sweet Potato Tempura
Served with Soy Sauce and Mongolian Salt. ($11 x 2)
Steamed Egg Custard Cup with Seafood, Chicken and Vegetables. ($9)
Bite Sized Shrimp Mousse Balls and Vegetables in Thick Broth. ($15)
Black Cod Miso Glaze
Broiled Tsubu Miso Marinated Cod. (3oz $16/8oz $32)
My favorite dishes were the more comforting ones, like a fantastic tempura-fried wheel of sweet potato. It’s so fantastic, apparently, it’s become “famous,” as the menu proudly announced (“Famous Sweet Potato Tempura,” $11). The molten-hot potato was ringed with an emerald necklace of fried greens and served with dipping salt and a tiny clay kettle of soy sauce.
There were bowls of deliciously rich, viscous “broth” served piping hot, one with deep-fried slices of madai and slices of bamboo shoots (“Amadai Kara-age,” $16), the other with fluffy balls of shrimp mousse, various vegetables, and clusters of rice puffs (“Ebi Shinjo,” $15). Those shrimp balls were phenomenal. Gently deep-fried, they were far superior to the rubbery, pale-white commercial products that seem like all filler and no shrimp.
And the “Chawanmushi” here is unusually delicate, the curd practically dissolves into the broth ($9). Also served extremely hot (the hot food here is never lukewarm), this one contained an especially unique list of ingredients: chicken, seafood (crab and shrimp), and various vegetables (including mushrooms).
The stand-out of the night for me was a “Grilled Bamboo Shoot” ($16). What I call the artichoke of East Asia, it’s one of my favorite foods. Glazed with soy sauce, the meaty wedges were served over a bed of hot stones. I love peeling back the thick husk and eating out the tender hearts. These were excellent.
By comparison, the cold dishes seemed almost refreshing, even the strips of “Smoked Anago” ($14), which were surprisingly firm, having a pleasing bounce to them.
And this is what I appreciated most about the colder dishes: they highlighted textures.
“Gyu Tan” ($14) offered three different cuts of cow tongue, each with a different degree of tenderness, grain direction, and flavor. The amount, marbling, and flavor of the fat was a notable difference among them, a brilliant illustration.
The “Inaniwa Udon Noodles,” chilled over crushed ice (this dish could be ordered either hot or cold), struck a simple and satisfying balance of tender and elastic. They were served with a light dashi for dipping and a plate of condiments (marinated shimeji caps, scallions, grated ginger, burdock, etc.) ($14). It would be a perfect summer dinner on a hot, muggy day.
And “Spring Onion Salad” ($11) compared and contrasted a tangle of crisp, thinly-shaved raw onions with quartered bulbs of softened, roasted onions. A bowl of sweet, velvety caramelized onion dressing seasoned with soy and ginger tied everything together nicely, marrying especially well with the bonito shavings that blanketed the salad. It was all surprisingly mild, surprisingly lovely.
Could the “Black Cod Miso Glaze” have been more buttery, more refined (8 oz. $32)? Not likely. Or the “Karasumi” ($24) more pungent or satisfyingly salty? No. Grilled over hot coals until slightly blistered and sweating, those slices of dried mullet roe were flavor-filled umami bombs.
The “Kyoya Snapper Chazuke” ($24) had too many moving parts to be enjoyed as a group. This was our mistake. Each of us got bits and pieces of it, but no one really enjoyed the entire experience as intended.
The slices of snapper sashimi, surrounded by a thick sesame-chili sauce, was served with a bowl of rice and condiments, a sort of do-it-yourself chirashi. Hot hoji tea is provided for you to pour over it all. But the tea arrived late. Like, ten minutes late. That was their mistake. We ended up eating rice with tea after all the fish was gone. It was good fish, however.
But the servers here are so adorable that you really can’t get too frustrated, even if they charge you for a forgotten order.* But we didn’t notice the mistake at the time, partly because the total bill was surprisingly reasonable. Divided by four (Lois really just nibbled, having come late), our tab, with a carafe of sake, a bottle of water, and a dish we never got, worked out to be around $75 per person including tax and tip.
Asian faces dominated the dining room, with a few “foreigners” here and there (our table having the largest contingency). The front dining room seats about 14 (3 deuces, 2 four-tops), 15 if you add a girl running late from Boston. A strip of counter, which seats about ten, leads to the back, where there’s a tatami room,** which I believe seats up to 6. The restaurant was fairly full the entire night. Most seemed to have reservations.
Nothing on the dessert menu looked terribly convincing, even if I’m positive that kyoya would only be capable of making excellent green tea ice cream.
The five of us toodled down to chikalicious, only to find that they had closed prematurely (update your website, please). We continued down further to momofuku ssäm bar, where Mr. RBI and Ms. Toidy Toid & Toid signed off for the evening, leaving Lois, Clark, and me to catch a late-night sweet cap.
Overall, a Michelin star well-deserved in my opinion; definitely for the food, if not also for the service, which wasn’t perfect but entirely lovely.
To read about the other meals I had on this trip to New York, CLICK HERE.
94 East 7th Street
New York, New York 10009
* We reminded our server toward the end of our meal that we hadn’t yet gotten our order of the “Beef Maki Rice Ball.” She looked confused, ran over our order on her hand-written tab, and apologized that she had failed to write it down. We told her not to bother about it. But, even though the order was never recorded, somehow, it made it to the final bill. We failed to catch the error at the time (I noticed the charge a few days later while reviewing the receipt).
** Request ahead. We were told that both the kaiseki and a la carte menus are available in the tatami.