My wife Jun would often say how fried food is universally so difficult to mess up, and there is a lot of truth to it. On the other hand, it is also not easy to pull off a memorable fried food either. Tempura, the Japanese version of battered and deep fried food, has taught me in Tokyo (where I had this life-changing tendon lunch) that if perfectly executed, it can elevate to become the fried food on Earth. The level of dedication by Japanese chefs in preparing food at the ideal level of thickness and texture can be unparalleled, but other than Tempura Matsui in Midtown East Manhattan (which I have yet to visit), there hasn’t been a Japanese restaurant in New York City with a tasting menu that focuses on tempuras. When Jun and I had visited Okonomi in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago, the owner there suggested that we check out this obscure restaurant in the Alphabet City. I have had heard about Secchu Yokota before and been meaning to check it out, but an endorsement from one of the best restaurants that we had visited this year tipped the scale to make me book the place as soon as I got a hold of their reservation line. Our recent dinner at Secchu Yokota showed plenty of proof that you can experience fried food beyond the level of quality that you are used to at an ordinary fried chicken joint.
Secchu Yokota only offers tasting menu options (one for $65 per person and the other for $95 per person, the only difference between the two being that the latter adds a few more fried pieces with more pricey ingredients). We went for the former and didn’t feel like we were missing out on those extra pieces; in fact, even though the price might seem steep, the omakase meal we had still felt like a great bargain compared to other expensive Japanese restaurants in the city. There is only one counter seating (open only twice a day at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.), which was a good sign from my view as this means that the two chefs working at the open kitchen would be able to give more individual attention to the diners.
The appetizers gave me more hope that the meal at Secchu Yokota would be excellent. Striped jack sashimi salad with daikon was expertly prepared with the fresh sashimi and daikon working harmoniously together. We didn’t expect to see a pate dish at a Japanese restaurant, but didn’t complain when the kitchen brought out Berkshire pork pate accompanied by Parmesan crostini. Neither of us are much of a pate fan because its texture can get a bit too stuffy at times, but this one had quite a nice balance of texture. Now on to the main event. The tempuras at Secchu Yokota were battered at just the right level to give life to each ingredient that was being fried, instead of burying them under the deep fried layers. This means that each ingredient still displayed its unique attributes in flavor and texture without being compromised. We certainly saw that in a variety of seafood such as white shrimp (which came separately in head and tail) and the Spanish mackerel. The vegetables were also quite deliciously fried, from Japanese summer pepper to shiitake mushroom to sweet potato.
My favorite of the night, however, clearly belonged to Hokkaido scallop. Jun, who is more sensitive than me with the freshness of raw shellfish, exclaimed that this was a wonderful piece, and I couldn’t agree more, with the silky smooth texture of scallop that was just so heavenly, while at the same time the fried layer gave something extra without compromising the freshness of scallop. We finished the savory course with green tea soba noodle with duck breast, another standout dish that was at first too beautiful to eat and displayed understated elegance with the way it tasted without overpowering seasoning. Finish the meal with a dessert of black sesame cake with passion fruit sorbet on the coffee tables nearby the entrance, and we both enthusiastically agreed that Secchu Yokota was definitely one of the more memorable restaurants we had visited this year.
The restaurant accepts reservations by phone, and given the limited number of chairs (only eight) at the counter, I suggest booking as much in advance as possible. The dinner experience, in addition to the excellent food, was quite pleasant because of its cozy and interactive atmosphere and the welcoming attitude from the chefs. Secchu Yokota serves beer and sake, and there are some pretty interesting sake selections at fairly reasonable prices. When I visit a Japanese restaurant, I first look around to see how many Japanese diners are eating because I do believe that Japanese people truly have a greater sense of appreciation with their cuisine than other countries’ diners do in respect of their own counterparts. When Jun and I visited Secchu Yokota, there were four out of eight people who were speaking Japanese so if you are not still sold on checking this place out, hopefully this will convince you that this restaurant is truly a hidden gem you should not miss.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
- Value: 9.0/10
Address: 199 East 3rd Street, New York, NY 10009
Telephone: (212) 777-1124