Today should have been the first day of the 2020 Olympic Games in this year’s host city: Tokyo. But the Covid-19 pandemic has re-written every calendar of events this year—from the intimately personal to the enormously public. Boarding a plane for the 14-hour journey to Japan feels impossibly out of reach right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find creative ways to commemorate the opening ceremony that wasn’t and celebrate Japanese culture.
While sidling up to a satiny smooth hinoki counter also still feels a long way off these days, there is still much Japanese food to be had around the city, and most of it can be delivered straight to your doorstep. It won’t replace the joy of travel, and it certainly won’t be a replacement for that trip to Tokyo you were supposed to take, but maybe one of these MICHELIN-recommended restaurants can serve as a proxy for a not-too-distant future when the world can gather on a global stage once again.
As the only Three MICHELIN-Starred sushi restaurant in North America, Masa is a rare indulgence. These days, that indulgence can be enjoyed in the comfort—or confines, depending on your quarantine status—of your own home with Chef Masa Takayama’s temaki box to go. The box is priced at a hefty $800, but can feed from two to four people and is packed with a selection of the very best quality seasonal fish. The meal also comes with rice, cut nori, and house-made condiments for an incredibly luxe DIY hand roll experience. Wagyu beef and caviar supplements are available for an additional cost, along with alcohol. Orders can be placed via Tock.
In SoHo, Chef Hirohisa Hayashi is offering a robust menu of sushi and cooked dishes along with a collection of house-made condiments from soy sauce to ramp pickles to ketchup spiked with yuzu. Though a bento box of nigiri is hardly a substitute for the intimate sushi counters in Tokyo, Hirohisa’s top-quality fish and excellently cooked and seasoned rice enjoyed at nearby Washington Square Park will have its own, unique charms. Not convinced sushi can endure the delivery trip? Handmade soba noodles (to be cooked at home) and soy-braised eel over rice are sure to spark joy. Orders can be placed via Caviar.
Japan’s temple cuisine is a study of creativity and restraint. Fortunately, New York’s top destination for shojin ryori cuisine is open and operating during the pandemic. The townhouse that houses Kajitsu in Midtown is now a commissary for a range of bento boxes (including non-vegan options from the café downstairs). Each box is carefully composed and comes with a serving of rice. Chilled hand-cut soba or udon are an excellent way to keep the summer heat at bay (to be cooked and assembled at home). Look for seasonal ingredients, a selection of sake to-go, and wagashi desserts. Order via Caviar.
Soba-Ya has been one of the city’s few dedicated soba shops since 1996. The restaurant is serving a lengthy menu of hot and cold noodles made with the signature hand-cut buckwheat dough, boiled to order. The restaurant currently has limited outdoor seating available, but call in advance to reserve a spot. Otherwise, order some soba to-go and while you’re at it, stock up on the restaurant’s soba kits so you can make a tangle of noodles dipped into chilled, umami-rich sauce the dish of the summer. For pickup or delivery, order directly through the restaurant's website.
Tokyo is a dreamland of ramen. From underground food courts dedicated to regional variations to casual neighborhood ramen-yas, there are hundreds of amazing options to explore. Luckily, a handful of Japan-born ramen restaurants have established outposts here in New York. The latest, Tonchin, was founded in Tokyo in 1992 (it arrived in New York in 2017). Here, Tokyo tonkotsu takes the American favored pork-boiled broth and loads it with thin house made noodles and myriad toppings. The ramen, small plates, and even a shaved ice dessert are available for pick-up or delivery although we recommend enjoying this food at the newly minted outdoor seating in both Manhattan and Bushwick, Brooklyn locations. Order via Caviar.
In Tokyo, so many of the city’s top restaurants are hidden—tucked away on residential side streets or concealed within glossy sky-high towers. You have to know about them in order to find them. Secchu Yokota is similarly located on a quiet street in the far reaches of Alphabet City. This thumbprint-sized dining room is the perfect venue for a cozy chef’s tasting of Japanese- and French-inflected dishes. While that experience is on hold for now, Chef Atsushi Yokota and his Chef De Cuisine Nicholas Seider are busy preparing a menu of pleasing, takeout-friendly dishes from seasonal chirashi to beef ribeye katsu to chilled somen noodles. Order via the restaurant's website.
Japanese curry is a ubiquitous fast food in most households in Japan, often made from mass produced bricks of curry roux. Suki is a return to the artisanal method where Chef/owner Kelly Cho transforms a rich selection of fresh spices and other ingredients into a thick and pungent sauce served alongside a mound of white rice. Here, the curry comes with pork or chicken katsu, beef, or as the sauce for udon noodles. With a new, expanded space in the East Village, the kitchen’s capacity is sure to grow. Order via Seamless.
So much of New York’s great sushi is clustered around Japan’s expat communities in midtown and downtown Manhattan, but Sushi Daizen offers residents of Long Island City, Queens a chance to enjoy some excellently prepared fish. The takeout menu is limited to a chef’s assortment of nigiri, a chirashi bowl, and a crowd-pleasing uni + ikura + toro bowl but the fish is sure to be fresh and seasoned appropriately. Beer and sake are also available. Order via Seamless.
The specific pleasure of sitting at a cramped counter with spent skewers poking out of a cup, a frosty, golden lager at arm’s reach and the scent of chicken fat wafting in the air cannot be beat. Japanese yakitori is one of the many culinary treasures that simply must be enjoyed right away—along with sushi, tempura, and ramen. Tori-Shin makes a handful of popular meat and vegetables skewers over rice available for to-go orders; best ordered for pickup or nearby delivery in Midtown West and enjoyed immediately. Or go for chicken cooked a different way—fried into karaage or simmered in dashi-soy-mirin and served with egg over rice in a satiating oyako don. Orders can be placed via Seamless.
A thoughtful neighborhood sushi counter is sometimes the most prized gem of all. Pre-pandemic, Uotora in Crown Heights was just that—an everyday option for fresh fish and carefully cooked dishes. Today, chefs Atsuomi Hotta and Hiroyuki Kobayashi are preparing a handful of appetizers, teriyaki dishes, and sushi rolls to sustain their neighborhood through these trying times. The popular daifuku dessert along with a selection of sake are also available. On sunny days, a socially distanced bento box picnic in nearby Brower Park is a new way to enjoy this neighborhood spot. Order via Seamless.
Hero Photo: Restaurant in Tokyo. Photo by Dovile Ramoskaite on Unsplash.