At Elevate Restaurant & Lounge, located in the Wyndham Hotel Downtown, chefs Leo Lai and Spencer Truong draw from their own upbringings, blending Japanese and American flavors to create an upscale medley of seafood, sushi, and hearty meats. Before Elevate, the pair worked separately at renowned restaurants: Lai was executive sushi chef at Mizu, and Truong honed his skills under James Beard Award–winning chef Patrick Connolly at Bobo in the West Village.
The duo’s dishes have garnered a devoted following—popular items include crawfish tempura served with Cajun aioli and pan-roasted free-range chicken in teriyaki jus. The kitchen rethinks classics such as the cuban sandwich, made here with Japanese ingredients including pork belly, housemade pickles, and wasabi mayo. After sampling the fare from the sushi bar, raw bar, and kitchen, guests can transition to overstuffed leather booths in the lounge to enjoy the house’s signature cocktails.
When Akiko Thurnauer was a girl, her globe-trotting father's international business trips were always a source of delight. She missed him while he was away, of course, but she also anticipated the treasures that he'd back to Tokyo. Luggage packed with unique ingredients from far-flung countries transformed into delectable, eclectic home meals that filled Thurnauer with love for adventurous cooking and comfortable, at-home dining. Now at the helm of her own restaurant—aptly named Family Recipe—she invites diners into the familiarly cozy communion of imaginative comfort food that she enjoyed as a girl. Gently sloping wood of the ceiling and elegantly curved metal lamps conspire to create a familial atmosphere, accentuated by the bustling open kitchen and servers who refuse to say how proud they are of your career no matter how many hints you drop.
Once at their tables, diners dig into meals from a menu that was praised by the Village Voice for letting "meat-free dishes take center stage." Dishes such as tofu hijiki rice bowls delight veggie palates with smoky tamari and sunflower seeds while organic edamame transcends its ubiquity with seven spice, garlic, and lime. Meat eaters need not feel neglected, though; the menu often incorporates proteins including succulent heritage pork buns, roasted beef marrow, and smoked duck ramen.
Hailed as the city's best soba joint in 2011 by New York Magazine, Corcoron currently occupies a tiny space with just a handful of custom-made tables. It's not unusual to see patrons lined up on the sidewalk, eagerly awaiting their turn to delve into a bowl of the delicate, buckwheat noodles, served in hot soups with savory broths or cold, with various dipping sauces. The only thing harder sought than a seat is the highly praised yuba soba¬¬––made from thin ribbons of tofu skin that take so long to craft, the kitchen only produces around a dozen or so portions each day. At each meal's end, staff present diners with a small teapot filled with the vitamin-rich water the noodles were cooked in. Patrons can then pour the water into their leftover dipping sauce and drink the delicious concoction or pour it over their head to grab the room's undivided attention.
Situated on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Jin leans toward the latter in presentation. Except for the welcoming Buddha and a few bamboo plants, the space instead prefers a cool, stylish vibe more appealing to the hipster-heavy neighborhoods nearby. Exposed brick, kitschy Asian pop music and low lighting set the tone, but the mood remains lively, especially during the nearly day-long happy hour on weekends, famous for its everything-for-$3.50 menu, the house sake included. The regular menu stays on the border as well, with classic tempura and rolls mixed with a few adventurous choices like Black Angel (crab and black fish egg) and Godzilla (deep-fried spicy tuna, with avocado and cream cheese).
The chefs at Hachi Restaurant & Lounge accessorize the simple, straightforward presentations of Japanese cuisine with flourishes of pan-Asian and European flair. Cinnamon-coated orders of seared tuna arrive with a piquant dab of wasabi aioli, and grilled clams fist bump taste buds with their bacon-truffle butter. Even the sushi pushes its traditional bounds with a dollop of mango salsa or yogurt sauce lining rolls of spicy salmon and hand-peeled grains of rice.
Much like Paul Bunyan's cummerbund, the dining room spreads across two stories, creating the ambience of a lounge with its intimate lighting, S-curved couches, and rich wooden floors. Circular sconces cast sunburst patterns of light across the walls, and blue and purple fiber-optic lighting dangles over the bar.
Tucked behind an unobtrusive downtown storefront, diners devour fish-fueled feasts at Mika Japanese Cuisine & Bar. Aquatic fare nestles in sashimi and specialty sushi, such as the shrimp-tempura-and-avocado-stuffed roll topped with black pepper tuna and onion salsa. Beef, chicken, and seafood broiled and marinated in gentle teriyaki sauce entice taste buds, as do steaming bowls of tempura and udon noodles. Larger parties can retire to the eatery's private karaoke room, which features a floor laid with tatami mats, and nibble on festive platters while singing into microphones or unguarded hand rolls.