Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, January 9, 2017-12:29 pm
New Yorkers are a curious crew. Some of the best restaurants in the world stand on our shores, and we still often find fault with them. Yet when it comes to our local, everyday eateries, we frequently treat them as we would a beloved teddy bear, caressing them as we whisper in their ears how sad we’d be if they leave us … and how we adore them no matter what kind of foibles they have.
Such is the case with Kitaro Sushi, a modest Japanese spot on Amsterdam Avenue that seems to defy all attempts by the hipster contingent to turn this part of the Upper West Side into Greenwich Village Part II. Small and utterly informal, with a compact sushi bar by the wall, deep-grained wood throughout the interior and traditional motifs serving as decor, it’s not the kind of place one would expect to have a following on this stretch of the boulevard. Yet denizens of the region have found their way here—in part because of the reliability of the cooking, as well as the friendliness of the service, which makes folks feel at home. What a pleasure to have in this age of “you don’t have enough likes on Facebook to be dining here,” right? Sometimes, it’s a relief to visit a place that doesn’t judge.
Starting with a bottle of hot sake will further that sentiment; it’s refreshing and though not truly distinguished, it makes a big difference. You may need it to enjoy the beef tataki, which comes to you splattered on a bed of lettuce like a sunburst, the inelegant meat tasty but slightly overcooked and not as rosy as this type of thing should be. Much more delectable is the salad you may receive with your meal: Again, it’s not a refined dish, but the dressing is savory, the greens full of crunch. Hey, you’re not here to judge. You’ll take it as it is.
Rolls are one of the specialties of this place, and so opting for one of Kitaro’s offerings in this vein is a no-brainer … particularly as they’re mostly well crafted. The Big Daddy Roll, for example, is stuffed with crispy soft-shell crab, while any selection made with octopus is a probable good bet; the mollusk is chewy but not so much that you can’t sink your teeth into it, the flavor mild and sealike. Similarly toothsome are the sushi and sashimi—if you order the combo, you’ll get a California Roll with it, and the fish is soft, accessible, the rice dainty and pleasant. Maybe the fish isn’t the highest-quality ever, but it’s definitely satisfying, and the presentation is fine. Judging, as always, is out. Accepting, of course, is in.
That’s an easy course of action when it concerns the bento boxes, which may feature savory shumai dumplings, light and not too oily tempura and an appealing teriyaki main—the salmon being especially delicious, owing in part to its hearty char. Dessert is less complicated; if you order the green tea mochi, you’ll get a couple of minuscule packages, the ice cream filling sweet and familiar, the outer skin dull but sensible. So it’s not the most exciting thing in the universe. You’ve certainly had worse.
Still, however, we’re not judging. A place like Kitaro rises above that, and with prices for its mains often ranging from the teens to the low-twenties, there’s plenty of room for toleration. Plus, the service is agreeable, so you probably won’t leave frustrated. As is so often the case with spots like this eatery, you might treat it like a teddy bear, forgiving and supportive and always, always lovable. You’re just happy it’s around. And we are, too.
Because an everyday eatery that offers so much doesn’t come around often. We gotta like the fact that’s we’ve got one so close by.