This $180 Tasting Menu Explores the Japanese Art of Deep Frying
Yamada Chikara is the only Manhattan restaurant that offers a luxurious take on "kushiage."
It’s no secret that fried food has long been the specialty of every state fair, and at one point or another, most of us have splurged on one of these modestly priced, calorie-rich confections like fried Oreos or Twinkies. Now, Americans may be ready to splurge on fried food of a different sort called “kushiage.” Coming to us by way of Japan — because, what other country knows how to perfect something like the Japanese do? — this cuisine reimagines everything we know about frying up various edible items and elevates it to new, luxurious heights.
The recently opened Yamada Chikara, located at 249 East 49th Street, is currently the only restaurant in Manhattan that offers a deluxe take on kushiage cuisine. Like most five-star sushi eateries like Nobu or Sushi Nakazawa, the restaurant’s interior is full of slate and oak, and is anchored by a 20-seat bar built specifically for an omakase dining experience in which each small course is presented to diners by the chef himself. The similarities stop there.
“Simply because I love New York. I visited so many places, while I lived in Japan and in Spain, and New York always leaves a strong impression,” Chef Chikara Yamada told RealClearLife. “This place has a special magic and energy, which I am so attracted to. It was my dream to to open up my restaurant in such a place, a city where all different cultures meet.”
With a fryer in full view, guests are treated to a show of sorts where delicate skewered ingredients like soft-boiled quail egg painstakingly hand peeled individually and salmon with pickled vegetables are dipped in a secret panko breadcrumb mixture that ensures each course is ever-so-lightly fried, allowing the qualities of the ingredient to shine through. Some are topped with luxe garnishes like caviar and shaved truffle, and paired with thoughtfully selected drinks like sparkling sake.
It all comes from the mind of Yamada, who cut his teeth at Star El Bulli, the now-shuttered three Michelin Star restaurant located on the shore of Catalonia’s Costa Brava where he was taught the ins and outs of molecular gastronomy.
His new eatery, a play on his own name reversed, marries his experience in Spain with his Japanese heritage. This is made visible in other, distinctly less Japanese dishes like a skewer of tomato, mozzarella, and basil, and drink pairings like a full-bodied glass of Pinot Noir.
“I worked in a Spanish restaurant in Barcelona first when I moved to Spain. My version of kushiage is Japanese, but is inspired by the pinchos that I enjoyed during my time in Spain,” Yamada said.
The 18-course tasting menu balances out with far lighter accompaniments like a small box of fresh sashimi and a Spanish omelette. Spanning just over two hours and ringing in at $180 per person, it all comes to a close on the eatery’s back patio where a selection of desserts are paired with tea from Chef Yamada’s own family tea farm.