Japanese “Robata” style cooking (or Robatayaki) originated centuries ago by northern Japanese fisherman near Hokkaido. While at sea, the fisherman would cook rustic meals over hot coals encased in a stone box. And since the boats were typically made of wood, this was a genius way of creating hot meals without burning down the vessel. Eventually this communal style of cooking made its way into the restaurant scene, and in the 1960s became hugely popular.
We’re all familiar with the teppanyaki / yakitori style of cooking, to the point where they have become Americanized. So there’s something still old school and unfamiliar about Robata, which is why a visit to Robataya in the East Village becomes a transportive experience.
In the casual, rustic, izakaya style vibe, Robataya keeps to the tradition of having the chefs sit front and center. Reserving a seat by the counter is a must to see the action and theatre. Since the cooking style is subtle – with a little smoke and glow from the hot coals (not blazing fire), fattier meats and fish work really well. We started with the house made tofu, sashimi, then treated ourselves to wagyu beef and a special Japanese medai. The beef and fish were both buttery and melt in your mouth. The meal was capped off with a traditional kamameshi – kettle rice with king crab. Each dish coming from the robata chefs are handed to you from a large paddle, which represent the paddles for the fisherman.
Robataya is a fun spot to sit side by side, enjoy some freshly flown in treats. For a nightcap, head across the street to the grungy underground Japanese sake bar speakeasy Decibel, which is dark, intimate and graffiti filled. Are you in Shibuya or New York? Hard to tell, but that’s part of the adventure. Great spot!
231 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10003
T. 212 979 9674