When a restaurant has been around since the late 18th century, you know it’s doing something right. When it’s been around that long in Japan, home to more Michelin-starred restaurants than France itself, there’s a good chance said restaurant holds icon status. But how does it fare in New York? For those who are looking for Japanese food in NYC, here’s the review of Sarashina Horii.
Sarashina Horii is an outpost of the famed Japanese restaurant established in 1789. The restaurant is family run, now the ninth generation. The New York location is the first outside Japan. The core identity is true to Japanese standards in terms of atmosphere, food and service. For those looking for authentic Japanese food in NYC, Sarashina Horii is a cultural experience.
Well, this is not an Americanized version of Japanese food, like Nobu. But it’s also not a hushed environment like Nakazawa. The New York outpost is a slightly less austere but yet still formal like traditional Japanese restaurants you would find in Tokyo. The decor is elegant and contemporary Japanese, with natural wood throughout. Of course the room is livelier because it’s filled with a bunch of New Yorkers in New York. But you will find that native Japanese business people and couples are at least 50% of the clientele, so you know for NYC, Sarashina Horii is legit.
Sarashina Horii serves authentic Japanese food in NYC. The restaurant is known for its famed white soba, which is the finest, inner part of the buckwheat plant. This accounts for the white color of the noodles. You have the option of cold or hot renditions of the soba, as well as toppings of tempura or meat. The cold version, which requires you to dip the noodles in a sauce, is the most pure way to eat it. Quite honestly, there isn’t a lot of flavor to these finer noodles. Maybe my palate isn’t evolved enough, but I wasn’t as wowed as I wanted to be by the white soba. There’s also the traditional Mori soba, which has the more robust flavor that I am used to. The way to go is hot, for my personal preference, with tempura on top.
Which brings us to the tempura. While the soba is what Sarashina Horii is known for, the star for me was the shrimp tempura, which was a beautiful and generous nest of jumbo shrimp and tempura flakes, with flecks of what I think were fried shiso. I would come back just for tempura, and maybe a bite of the matcha tiramisu for dessert. The cocktails also shine; the Momotaro was a beautiful whisky rendition with sake and bitters. It’s high on presentation value, as it comes out smoking.
There’s a tasting menu that gives you very generous servings of canapés, sushi, tempura, soba and dessert. It’s a lot of food for an average eater but allows you to taste all the food Sarashina Horii is known for. The cod is nicely done and presented wrapped in a bamboo leaf that’s unfolded when it arrives on your plate. I wouldn’t order it again, but it’s good on the tasting menu. If you’re ordering à la carte, the sushi is uneventful in my opinion, so I would stick to the cooked dishes.
The service at Sarashina Horii is traditionally Japanese. Based on this barometer, the service is excellent. The style is deferential, so while you may not feel it’s necessary, it does mirror the Japanese culture. What it may lack in vibrant personality and interaction, it makes up for in formality. The dishes come out perfectly timed, and there are servers always on hand. In the case that something may take longer, like our cocktails slightly did, the manager immediately came over. The first round was on him and the meal from there was flawless on service.