There is a new restaurant opening up in NYC almost every week. The best time to try them is when they are just starting up, before they get too popular and too busy. I found this new Japanese restaurant, without the name up on the awnings just yet. It is called “Chochin” and is an authentic Japanese restaurant, just the way I like it.
It used to be a sushi place, so it is still set up like a sushi restaurant. It is quite small, has a typical counter setting for sushi restaurant, no table seating, with an old refrigerated window counter at the end for keeping fresh fish cold. Since they don’t serve sushi here anymore, they don’t keep any fish there for sushi either. What do they have, is a nice courtesy called hangers. There are several hooks and couple of hangers each, for coats and whatever else you want to hang on the wall while you enjoy your dinner. They also have some authentic Japanese decor on the top of kitchen area, and little nook at the top of the door.
The counter goes all the way around, from the entrance to the back of the room which is not that big. There are only about 10 seating at the counter total, which is not that much, but it is about all that this place can handle. We have been there three times, all around 7pm, and there was only one guy working there, Mr. Kouga, doing everything from cooking, serving, taking orders, etc. and he does a great job at it.
One thing to note is that they are cash only, but there are banks nearby, so its not hard to find ATM machines in proximity. And he has a good system when it comes to water, he has several Thermos pots, filled with iced water withe lemon on the bar, and plastic cups for water as well, so that customer don’t have to ask for water. This is really helpful to us, since we like to drink lots of water, it is easier and faster when we have the Thermos to ourselves. Very efficient.
So far, we visited this place three times already in a short period of time. They have such amazing menu there, we wanted to try them all, so, naturally, we kept going back to order different items each time. They have many a la carte items, like an Izakaya, but also they have many set menus, as well as some donburi menus.
Over the course of our three visits, we ordered several small plates to share, so that we can taste little bit of everything. We started with Maguro Yamakake ($5.99), which is ground Japanese mountain yam over tuna tar tar. Drizzle just a little soy sauce and wasabi, and it was super awesome! Fresh, high quality, totally delicious! It is not a big amount, but it is satisfying.
Then we had Karaage ($6.25) which is Japanese style fried chicken. They had smaller sized fried chicken, about 6 of them, and they were all very tasty. Lightly fried with great seasoning, it was packed with flavor. It came with a side of Japanese mayo, which was awesome.
One of our favorite was their Fried Oysters ($7.99), which comes with 4, perfectly fried oysters with tar tar sauce. They were lightly fried, crunchy outside, in uniform cylinder shape, and great flavor. It was not “fishy” and came to us steaming hot. They were delicious!
Chochin Omelette Rice ($9.50), which is their version of classic Japanese comfort food, Omurice. Their version was interesting, it had simple brown rice without any meat or seasoning wrapped in an egg, topped with ground meat sauce with ground beef and cheese. The meat sauce was very flavorful and cheesy, it was awesome. I still like the rice itself to have favor, as traditional Omurice would, but it was till a good, solid dish. It also was bigger than “small plates” or “tapas” type, it was nice and filling.
Homemade Croquette ($7.50) was very creamy, comes with 2 nice size croquette. They are traditional kind, with potatoes and ground beef, lightly fried and served super hot. It was another one of those comfort food, as most of their offerings are. It was so creamy and velvety that it melts in your mouth… This one and some other a la carte dishes can be turned into a set, which comes with rice and miso soup.
Another good-old comfort food (or more like street food) is Takoyaki ($4.75), also known as octopus balls. Yep. Takoyaki is essentially a ball-shaped Japanese snack, made with wheat flour-based batter, filled with octopus. It had 5 Takoyaki, topped with lots of bonito flakes, Takoyaki sauce which is sweet and tangy, and served with a side of Japanese mayo. Again, served super hot, as everything is cooked to order, delivered to you as soon as it is made. Soft, tasty, great snack.
Aji Fry ($6.99), which is a fried horse mackerel, was another great dish. It is a true home-cooked style dishes, kind of like grand-mother cooking style. Pretty awesome. It comes with just one piece, feels a bit pricey for the amount, but the quality was excellent. Everything he fries, he does it so lightly, without getting them greasy, and have that perfect crunchy exterior. The fish was nice and moist, nice seasoning, and the side of tar tar sauce was really nice also.
On one of the 3 visits, we ordered a special menu for the day. It was a three sticky ingredients put on top of each other, which were natto, okra, and grated Japanese mountain yam ($5.50). It was recommended to have with rice, which I agreed, so we got a bowl of rice ($3) with it. This is for a true Japanese food lover, not everyone can handle natto, but for us, we absolutely loved it! And it did go great on a brown rice. It was so fresh and refreshing, we didn’t need to have any additional seasoning like soy sauce. Amazing!
Another special menu that we ordered was Shauessen ($3.50), which is a Japanese sausage made by Nippon Ham which is a huge, well known meat company in Japan. It is a really nice, good quality sausage, has that crispness when you bite into it, with super juicy inside. It is simple but yet super tasty. It came with side of ketchup, mustard, and Japanese mayo. I don’t know what kind of mustard he has, but it was a serious mustard, very spicy!
Cream Stew Gratin ($7.50) was really great on a cold night. It was a creamy stew that was baked in an oven, with huge chunks of veggies and chicken, it was so good. It was the kind of dish that warms you up from the inside. It was not overly salty, just the right amount of seasoning. Chicken chunks were tender and moist, cooked just right.
Takana Fried Rice ($8.99) was pretty good too. Takana is pickled mustard greens, and has really good, refreshing flavor with that good, deep pickled flavor. The price tag was higher than some other dishes, but it was larger portion and again, good quality. Since it just had eggs and Takana, and no meat or much of anything else added, I still felt that it was a bit pricey, but I enjoyed the dish a lot.
Buta-Shogayaki ($6.99) is a ginger pork, which is basically stir-fried port with ginger. It is another good-old, traditional Japanese home-cooked dish. This would also be really good with a side of rice. And a glass of nice cold beer.
The one item that has always got my curious was called Whole Tomato Soup ($7.99), with cheese and egg. When it was delivered to us, I was so surprised! I was imagining some sort of tomato soup, you know, that red, velvety liquide soup kind. This one took the tomato soup to a whole new level. It had a huge, I mean humongous tomato, super hot, sitting in a delicious soup of gold… It had cheese everywhere, melting all over and around the tomato.
The tomato had soaked up all the goodness from the soup, and it was delicious! The tomato itself was not too soft or mushy, so that it won’t fall apart with a slightest touch. it still had certain hardness to it, without being it too hard. The soup with cheese and egg had nice saltiness to it, mostly from the cheese, and it was really awesome, perfect item on a cold night.
Another interesting item we have been wanting to try was called Champolitan ($10.50). This is another creative dish, original to the chef here. He combined a traditional Japanese noodle dish called Champon, with Italian spaghetti dish Napolitan. Champon is made by frying a pork, seafood and vegetables in lard, then adding broth made from chicken and pig bones, then at the end, adding the noodles to the soup. With this dish, he uses spaghetti and tomato based sauce with it, and no seafood. It did have pork and lots of veggies. It was very interesting dish, very flavorful and tasty. The amount is large enough to be a main dish, hence the price. Mr. Kouga is really creative chef!
We also tried one of the Donburi menu item, Pork Cutlet Curry Don ($10.50). All the Donburi menu items come with miso soup. I was very happy to see that they make the miso soup here, not one of those “instant miso soup” out of a bag. It had a nice broth flavor and real tofu, again, not one of those, instant dried tofu. The curry was really great, packed with flavor, we couldn’t get enough! The pork katsu was cooked perfectly, tasted great, and the curry itself was so deep, with nice amount of spiciness. It was a nice size also, it was filling and very satisfying!
If you are wondering just how much food did we have??? Well, you are not alone, I was thinking the same thing… But, again, these are food that we consumed over several visit, not all at one sitting. And, this is the last item I want to share with you. It is their Chochin Chazuke ($5.99). This had another great uniqueness to it. It had plum and bonito, topped with shredded seaweed. Then, instead of pouring hot green tea over it, we were given hot broth! Another creative thing is that the hot broth was served in hot sake containers! It is also good portion, enough to share, and very filling, comforting, and delicious!
Needless to say, we will be going back for more awesome, authentic, and creative dishes there. We were told that it gets pretty busy after around 9pm, with people wanting to get some drinks on with those small plates that go so perfectly alongside sake or beer. No matter how busy it becomes, each dishes are prepare with love and care, Mr. Kouga does a really wonderful job. Atmosphere is cozy and warm, kind of a place you can go alone and relax, or go with your loved ones and share some delicious creations!
Chochin – 310 East 93rd Street, New York, NY 10128