Takashi Lets You Grill Your Own Tongue
Hudson Street at dusk is a good place to watch people walk their dogs, but if you're eating in Takashi, the dogs might be looking back. One night, we sat at a window table in the all-beef restaurant, grilling sweetbreads and trying to avoid the incredulous, begging stare of a Weimaraner who had his nose pressed up against the glass.
Takashi, a new Japanese-Korean grill-it-yourself spot in the West Village, distinguishes itself with a focus on offal—or horumon, meaning something that's thrown away. "Yakitori-horumon" (basically, grilled guts) is a restaurant style invented by Korean immigrants shortly after World War II in the Kansai region of Japan. Chef Takashi Inoue describes himself as a third-generation Korean immigrant from Osaka. He stands behind the bar, deftly slicing liver or mixing his signature dipping sauce. The meat in question is solely beef, from intestines to tongue, served raw for grilling, raw for eating, or flash-boiled. A handful of sprightly vegetable dishes provides what passes for balance.
The beef comes from high-quality, sustainable sources like Dickson's Farmstand in Chelsea Market, Kansas's Creekstone Farm, and Japanese Premium Beef. It shows in the prices, from $24 for rib-eye to $12 for heart. The portions are fairly small—two people need at least three, probably four, dishes between them. The tab mounts quickly. On the other hand, if you're going to eat raw liver and tripe, you should probably spring for the good stuff.
You can sit either at the small chef's bar or claim one of the wooden tables. Both arrangements feature built-in grills, which have futuristic hoods that roll down from the ceiling looking like they're going to dispense an alien egg. A cartoonish mural occupies the back wall. It depicts the various cuts available and their respective benefits, instructions on how to use the grills, the history of yakitori-horumon, and some chipper beef propaganda. "Do you think meat is fattening?" asks the mural. "That is a misunderstanding." It goes on to claim that beef consumed with vitamin C has a calming effect. You know what really has a calming effect? Reading about beef's healthfulness while you consume copious amounts of it.
Start with a cold dish or two before progressing to the grill. Many of these items are studies in texture. One night, we ate raw tripe (third stomach, to be exact) that was finely sliced and plated in a towering pile with scallions and a lemon wedge. This compartment of a cow's stomach is made up of many folds and fluttery bits, where nutrients are absorbed. Its consistency also makes it perfect for swabbing up the spicy miso sauce that comes alongside. Flash-boiled Achilles tendons are enjoyably elastic strips, moistened with a brick-red sesame oil and chile sauce.
Raw liver's silkiness makes a nice contrast against all that chewiness. The wine-dark organ arrives in a puddle of sesame oil, cut into bite-size pieces and showered with sesame seeds. It slips and slides in your mouth, releasing its mineral richness. For the goopy side of the spectrum, order a dish of natto—the slimy fermented soybean mixture—and diced raw chuck with roasted chile paste. Mix it all together and it's like tartar gone wild with the natto's funky, cheese-like flavor.
But those who do not relish such slippery delicacies will still find plenty of good stuff to eat. Niku-uni, for instance, involves a square of seaweed topped with a neat rectangle of well-marbled raw chuck, in turn topped with a quivering blob of sea urchin. Roll it up and eat it in one bite. This is how surf-and-turf ought to be: the urchin's buttery brine gushing into the meat's clean earthiness. However high quality the ingredients, though, that dish feels vastly overpriced at $24 for four small pieces.
To start grilling, the server will come over and turn on the heat and lower the hood. When the three heating elements glow red, you're ready to cook. The list of innards available is an embarrassment of riches, but there are also plenty of easy-to-love items, like kalbi (short rib), rib-eye, cheek, and skirt steak. No matter what you order, you have a choice of a sesame oil, salt, and garlic seasoning, or the mysterious "Takashi's sauce," a thicker, orange-ish, salty-sweet marinade and dipping concoction. Both are tasty, and your server can recommend which cuts go best with which preparation.
I bypassed the expensive short rib and rib-eye for the slightly less overpriced nakaochi kalbi ($18), the meat from between the ribs. Cooked briefly over high heat, it sizzles beefily and spurts juice. Shoulder comes in long thin slices, lean and bovine. But the offal is really the point of the place, and also much less expensive.
Tongue makes for a good intro variety meat, tasting like good roast beef. The "tongue experience" (wow!) will get you all three parts—tender tongue tip, tougher tongue sinew, and good old regular sliced tongue. Nuggets of heart muscle have an intense, beefy savor, with a tinny hint of blood. Or try the milky, bulbous sweetbreads: On the grill, the glands brown and become firm but creamy.
The vegetables are not an afterthought. Each table gets a trio of free salads to start—cabbage in miso, kimchi, and sesame-oiled sprouts—but the others are worth paying for. We hunted through a bowl of seasonal namul (pickles), popping tiny beets and cherry tomatoes into our mouths, and carefully shared out a plate of beautifully diminutive raw vegetables: white turnips the size of cuff links, carrots like a newborn's pinkie. Refreshing cucumbers get dredged in Korean chile paste.
As good as those are, this is definitely not a vegetarian-friendly eatery. Once finished with the meaty (and apparently healthy!) debauch, we exited out into the genteel quiet of Hudson Street licking our chops and feeling on top of the food chain.
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