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Like a settlement-winning divorcee, Otafuku (220 East 9th Street, 212-353-8503), the city’s premiere destination for down-and-dirty takoyaki, okonomiyaki and taiyaki, has gotten a facelift and moved into roomier digs. Gone is the worn wood-paneled interior, the sliver of a space that only held three people at a time, and the single griddle that practically heated the entire room. The move took place in mid-January, and the new interior is all blonde wood and white walls, with a much larger workspace sporting an expanded display of griddles.
Once forced to wait outside until their numbers were called, patrons can now wait by a fridge holding soft drinks and sweet red bean daifuku cakes. There’s even a spacious shelf to dine upon running along the back wall. It’s positively luxurious compared to the original kiosk down the block, even if it’s lost some of Otafuku 1.0’s charm. No matter, the extra square-footage should serve everyone well except for those who enjoyed the shop’s now-missing yakisoba. The corn, squid, and beef okonomiyaki options are also unavailable, leaving only shrimp and pork (both excellent). Juicy and sweet, the shrimp add texture, while thinly-sliced pork imbues the whole pancake with with its porcine perfume.
Otafuku isn’t the only place to find the Osakan batter-based snacks in New York, but its versions are undeniably soulful, doused in their respective sauces (takoyaki sauce is less piquant and thinner in consistency than okonomiyaki sauce) and buried under a deluge of kewpie mayonnaise squiggles, aonori seaweed powder, and a lifelike mound of dried bonito flakes which practically undulate in the air, mimicking seaweed underwater.
On a recent visit, the griddle-seared cabbage pancakes were fried crisp and quiveringly soft within. Six takoyaki were plucked from a warming cabinet that helps to keep the glutinous, boiled octopus-filled wheat balls from getting soggy (they’re that much better when plucked fresh from their signature half-sphere pans). Puffy, red bean paste-filled taiyaki round out the offerings. The nutty, fragrant fish-shaped cakes are a fitting end to an already starchy meal.
As far as late-night foods go, fried batter, savory fillings, and umami-rich toppings are hard to beat, so it’s a shame that this spot only stays open until 10 p.m. on weekdays (11 p.m. on weekends). Still, we can’t really complain. With trendy single-item and micro-focused restaurants showing little sign of fading, it’s a pleasure to see an old-timer (in NYC dining years, anyway) like Otafuku prosper.