Anyone who has read my reviews would know that I have big admirations for Japanese cuisine. The clean and refined flavor, dedication of chefs to their craftsmanship and emphasis on fresh ingredients are some of the attributes that make the food of Japan so memorable and satisfying. When I heard a new Japanese comfort food restaurant opened up in NoHo neighborhood, I already knew I had to try this place. When I stepped in at the front of Bessou with my girlfriend on a Saturday evening, though, I was feeling less optimistic that this would be a special place. The size of Japanese population in the U.S. is not as large as the Chinese or Korean counterparts but there is still good number in NYC, and I was shocked that I couldn’t see a single Japanese diner at the dining space (the diners were mostly Caucasian with some Asians like me and my girlfriend sprinkled in between). Even more surprising was the fact that I couldn’t see a single Japanese cook at the kitchen. Is Bessou trying to sell itself as a charming downtown Japanese fusion place that caters to Americans’ expectations of taste rather than showcasing truly authentic Japanese food? My worries turned out to come true, and the meal at Bessou felt underwhelming overall.
One thing I always love about Japanese food is judicious use of seasoning to make sure the ingredients really shine on their own. The food at Bessou overall had too much in flavor going on that quickly overwhelmed our taste bud, whether it was the shisomaki (excruciatingly salty miso and peanuts paste inside shiso leaf) or the soy ginger branzino that I had hard time finding any redeeming quality due to the overly sweet soy ginger broth. Sometimes the ingredients were not cooked properly; octopus a la plancha we ordered accompanied by cucumber, harissa and tomato salsa felt oddly undercooked and the texture was quite off compared to all the awesome octopus dishes I’ve had elsewhere in the city.
Other dishes were more successful but by no means perfect. Uni crudo was tasty enough with nice level of freshness, but I felt it could’ve stood on its own without the layer of rice underneath. Bone-in sweet soy braised short rib with daikon, rainbow carrots and chickpeas was also delicious with nice texture of short ribs working well with the other ingredients. Overall, I could tell that Bessou’s audience is just different from someone like myself who has had more exposure to authentic Japanese cuisine; that doesn’t always guarantee less than satisfying experience (I’ve had fantastic Asian fusion style meals in other places), but the overall level of execution and consistency still left something to be desired.
Getting a reservation was pretty manageable, although the dining space started to fill up quickly during the course of our meal. I liked the artsy décor of the dining space, but there was weird odor akin to the smell of wet woods that was bothering my girlfriend throughout our meal. There is full menu with concise sake selections as well. I was really hoping that Bessou would be that soulful Japanese restaurant that flies under the radar but displays a ton of heart in its cooking; unfortunately, my expectations were not quite met. It was really a function of target audience of the restaurant which I can’t blame them for, but I suspect there was a reason I couldn’t spot a single Japanese diner on my visit.
- Creativity 7.5/10
- Execution: 6.5/10
- Ingredients: 7.5/10
- Flavor: 6.0/10
- Texture: 7.5/10
Address: 5 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 228-8502