The futuristic facade of the Yotel stares down at Tenth Avenue right at the corner of West 42nd Street.
When I heard about a sumo-themed restaurant in a futuristic hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, my initial response was, “So what?” I knew that theme restaurants often let the food lag, since they know the theme will be the draw. Boy, was I wrong.
Are you going to let this thing mutilate your bag? His name is Yobot, and he’s no R2-D2.
Despite the Japanese-sounding name, and a few other Japanese flourishes to the concept and the premises, Yotel is an English hotel chain. The gimmick is that consumers will want to save money by putting up with a smaller rooms (under 200 square feet), in a hotel package that offers, instead of gyms and pools, a pseudo-hip ambiance in which you find yourself in a sci-fi landscape. Actually, this landscape feels more like you’re stuck in The Jetsons or Lost in Space, thrall to a cartoon futurism that sputtered out in the ’60s.
Upon entering the hotel, you see a bank of computers allowing you to check yourself into the hotel, where the rooms are known as “cabins.” On the opposite side of the lobby, a robot called Yobot will take your suitcase and stash it in a designated squirrel hole. There’s nothing picturesque or interesting about the robot — it’s all armature, like something installed in a car factory. Some tourists are easily impressed.
Beam me up to the fourth floor, Scotty!
This disturbing apparition greets you at the door of Dohyo.
The layout of Dohyo features a raised area in the center with Japanese-style seating, said to represent a sumo-wrestling ring. The tables flip over, and spectacles are said to occur there late at night.
Aside from a hotel clerk or two in badly matched sportswear — who look like they were just swept off the streets of Williamsburg — the lobby is eerily empty. To do anything you’ve got to go up the elevator to the fourth floor. There, your dining and drinking options are front and center, including a restaurant intended to evoke a sumo-wrestling ring called Dohyo (the name mispronounced sounds like a Midwestern state we’d forgotten about). The theme of the restaurant is rather lightly worn. While I expected waitresses with extra padding dressed as wrestlers, and walls hung with memorabilia, all I saw was a raised, ringlike structure in the center of the beige room, with Japanese-style low tables, with a reservoir underneath for your legs.
There are two other seating areas, too: a drafty hallway of further tables with the same menu, and an outdoor space that’s really quite splendid, tree-studded and surrounded by oddly shaped condominium towers. But we’re not in New York, we’re in Bloombergville.
The food at Dohyo parallels the room-price relationship of the hotel’s cabins — that is, the prices seem reasonable for small plates, but when you find out how small the plates really are, not so much. The food is described as Latin-Asian fusion, but what that means in reality is basically Japanese fare with a few Latin and further Asian twists. Many of the twists are things you’ve seen many times before, but the quality of the raw materials is astonishingly high, and many of the dishes are delicious.
The seared black cod in the style of Nobu was excellent, but, at $12, the portion was comically small.
The iconic halibut sliders
The dishwatery miso soup was a rare dud at Dohyo.
The halibut sliders (two for $9), dabbed with an agreeable remoulade, do indeed slide right down the throat. Another triumph, and the best deal on the menu, is a heap of wok fried cauliflower ($5). The generous serving is soaked in ginger and Thai chiles, and it might be spicier than the average diner wants. The seared black cod (a dish invented at Nobu long ago) was excellent, and the house-pickled artichoke garnish thoughtful, but the piece of fish was so small at $12 that my companion burst into laughter.
There were so-so dishes, too (pork and foie gras gyoza), and some outright duds (an unaccountably tomato-red miso soup with shredded vegetables and pozole), but most of the eight things we tried were totally on the money. Need I mention that the alcohol is on the expensive side?
Still, the food is perfectly plated and attractive to look at, the flavors pungent and often sweet, via chef Richard Sandoval. Would I go back? Yes, for a drink and a snack on the wonderful terrace, which was only half full when we were there, but probably not for a whole meal. Trying to put a meal together out of so many teensy-weensy dishes, and then paying $50 or $60 per person including a single drink, is way too exhausting.
The Thai-spiced cauliflower may have been our favorite dish.
Ramen with pork belly and a poached egg — pretty good, but a little greasy
And don’t miss the sticky toffee pudding …
… or the wonderful outdoor terrace, with its glittering skyline.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2011