St. Mark’s Place, NYC – Japanese restaurants hopping and review!

My brother and I were in NYC for two days to run some errand; and since it is summer vacation, this gives us plenty of time to waste (just kidding) explore the city!

Like most Thai people, the both of us are foodies. Hence, my brother decided to take me to explore St. Mark’s Place and satisfy our hunger for Japanese/Korean food. St. Mark’s Place is known as Manhattan’s tiny Japan town.

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St. Mark’s Hotel – St. Mark’s Place street sign

So here we were at the beginning of the avenue.

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Another view.

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It was around 8 pm. There were lots of lights from the many retail stores that lined both sides of the streets in the area. The atmosphere was lively and bustling – though not quite as much as Thai night markets’.

There were stores selling cheap sunglasses, t-shirts, tattoo stores, and lots of (mostly – I did see one or two Western grills/BBQ) Asian restaurants. None of the stalls were of any interest; it was the restaurants that drew more attention.

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Oh! Taisho Japanese restaurant

We passed by Oh! Taisho yakitori, the place we wound up at.

Forgot-the-name Japanese restaurant
Forgot-the-name Japanese restaurant

Many of the restaurants had very interesting exterior decor, with strange ornaments such as these. Almost all were crowded – filled with mostly Chinese college students… At least at the restaurant we went to!

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Another entrance of the Oh! Taisho
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Brother lining up at the entrance

There was no cue, and as soon as a waiter attended to us, we got a bar seat.

Interior of the restaurant, view from the bar seat near entrance
Interior of the restaurant, view from the bar seat near entrance

I must say that the atmosphere was pretty great – it was lively, the waiters were courteous and attentive despite the busyness of that night, and there were no annoyingly loud drunk people.

The interior and seats/tables were also pretty clean.

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Further inside, just in front of the restrooms; there were photographs of customers on the wall

We sat out near the entrance, at the bar (Japanese izakaya style!), where night breezes cooled us down from the New York summer weather.

However, personally I preferred the further interior seats of the restaurant where there were a few interesting decors, the tables were much larger, and there was cool air-conditioning. Too dim for my liking though.

Nevertheless, there were also larger 4-6 people tables near the entrance and just outside – if one prefers more lighting and the calm night air.

Brother browsing the menu
Browsing the menu

I really love Japanese-style menu as a component of Japanese dining experience. They are just filled with high-quality images, bolded, colorful words, and little notes that makes picking out dishes so much more fun!

As you can see here, we had a pretty good view of the kitchen and the head chef. This added more to an atypical dining experience.

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A look at two of the most popular signature yakitoris

Obviously, were not going to finish the party set by ourselves, hence we opted for the b-set. Both consisted of similar ingredients save for the Asparagus bacon, pork, squid legs, and pepper.

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Hentai – nope, ‘mentai’ potatoes

I just had to include this in. I had a weird thought and mistook this menu name for “hentai potato”. We all know what hentai means. Turns out the word mentai comes from mentaiko which is Japanese for marinated cod or pollock roe. In this case, the mentai/cod roe was mixed in in mayo sauce, used as fries dip.

Try searching images of mentai on google (then following the recommended food combinations that comes up) – guaranteed delicious saliva-inducing images…

Agedashi or deep-fried tofu
Agedashi or deep-fried tofu

I saw a couple sitting a few seats away from us eating this dish. It looked soooooooo good. Even though we did not have enough funds to also order this; highly recommended just based on looks. Japanese tofu, especially deep fried, is known for being superbly tasty anyway – soft, crispy on the inside, with the addition of sweet soy broth and fish (bonito) flakes.

Looking smug with his Japanese beer.
Looking smug with his Japanese beer.

Unfortunately, I didn’t note down the beer brand. But be assured for good taste and quality.

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Here is the B-set! Yakitori!

Chicken, beef meatball, scallion, shrimp, beef yakitoris (skewers) with 2 pieces each (10 in total) for $14.50. And also, the raw cabbage at the bottom (What is it with the Japanese and cabbage? i.e. okonomiyaki, shredded cabbage in almost every salad, especially with deep-fried foods)

In my opinion, I believe the pairing of cabbage and meat is (in terms of taste, not nutrition) to alleviate the fatty/meaty taste, which allows us to eat more of these kinds of heavy/meaty/oily foods. The same logic can be applied to Thai-style skewered meats/sausage – cabbage and chili is the usual combination for those.

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Adding chili and soy sauce

Perhaps not salty/spicy enough?

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Eating commence!

The verdict: the beef meatballs, although a tad bit overly salty, tasted the best of all – with a crispy and salty exterior, and sweet and chewy interior.

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Destroyed one-by-one

The rest? The beef skewers were too dry and salty, the chicken was soft, but tasted average, the shrimp and the negi (or scallion) were pretty tasty.

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Japanese chili flakes makes everything better

Overall, the dish was not bad – but not impressive (despite the fact that a Japanese chef cooked it).

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Close-up

I took this image of the couple next door (who were eating delicious agedashi before), to capture images of their okonomiyaki.

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some Chinese couple’s food – (pictured) b-set and okonomiyaki

Why did I stalk other diners’ okonomiyaki? This is because this dish seemed to be another of the restaurant’s signature. I saw quite a few customers ordering okonomiyaki. It looked really delicious too – dense, soft, packed full of fillings and toppings.

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Here’s a zoom-in

Other seemingly popular dishes include other kinds of yakitori, grilled foods (i.e. pig trotters which was super affordable at less than $5 per two trotters), deep-fried foods. The menu had a huge range which also included sushi, although I didn’t see anyone ordering those.

Bonus:

Sriracha and ramen??
Sriracha and ramen??

We found a white guy sitting next to us ordering Sriracha to eat with his ramen. Americans really can eat this sauce with anything… Next it will be Sriracha cake…

Final verdict:

Although their signature b-set was not super great, I’m sure their other dishes must be pretty tasty (at least they all looked really good!). How else could the restaurant be so packed on a Sunday night?

*Out of 5 stars

Taste 3.5 stars – still many other menus to try

Atmosphere 4 stars – Japanese-like atmosphere with the decor, setting, and Japanese ordering calls.

Service 3.5 stars – Attentive and courteous despite the busyness of that night.

Cost 3 stars – Most of the dishes were quite expensive, save for some i.e. pork trotters (cheap part of the animal)

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Afterwards, we went for Momofuku Noodle Bar, which was about 15 minutes walk from where we were, however, we were lost so that could probably account for the time frame.

A few blocks away from Momofuku, we accidentally came across this Thai restaurant. This was only because some strange liquid had dripped onto my eye from an apartment by the sidewalk. Hence..? We had to find the nearest shop to go rinse it off.

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“Ngam” Thai restaurant and bar

Then, just before exiting we overheard a female Thai chef speaking in Thai to someone else. At that time we finally saw that the name of the restaurant was “Ngam” or “beautiful” in Thai.

If we have time, will try pay a visit. It looked like a high-quality restaurant.

By the time we got to Momofuku it was probably 9 pm (since the yakitori took 30 minutes to cook) and it was so dark that the image I took of the restaurant entrance looked incredibly hazy.

Therefore, I will just describe the restaurant in words instead – the entrance was simple, with a large window allowing passersby to look into the restaurant, vice versa. The door is inscribed with the simple characters: Momofuku with their peach logo. The interior is clean and chic, mostly covered in pale-coloured wood. There were bar seatings and proper table seats. Since I am at it, let me just mention that the toilets were also pretty nice (better than Oh! Taisho which was small and kind of dirty).

So, here is the momofuku menu:

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momofuku menu

Momofuku’s way of rebelling against the sriracha craze:

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Momofuku own home-made ssam sauce – their own version of Korean chili sauce

It pretty much tasted like your typical Korean spicy sauce (hence much more different than sriracha whose main flavors are spicy and sour). This is sweet, spicy, with a hint of orange (?).

They also had this special frozen beverage that was popular amongst diners. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask what it was, nevertheless, looked very delicious in a glass. Like an orange-coloured milk shake.

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Momofuku frozen beverage

Here is the main dish – spicy miso ramen:

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Momofuku spicy miso ramen

It contained smoked chicken, poached egg, incredibly chewy and delicious Korean-like noodles, seaweed, and refreshing raw baby spinach which worked well in balancing out the heaviness of the dish. $15

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ssam sauce with noodles

Unfortunately, the soup was too salty. So, we were only left to enjoy the meaty and noodle-ly parts of the dish. Ssam sauce tasted great with the dish.

Noodles-slurping
Noodles-slurping

We caught a waitress measuring alcohol with a conical flask.

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Drinking alcohol in flask

Final verdict: 

The miso ramen was not the best. I don’t know what their other dishes was like, but I also caught a glimpse of their “bun” range or mantou that comes with all sorts of fillings. From the look of it, the mantou looked kind of hard, perhaps the fillings are super tasty to balance this out?

Anyway, the restaurant was very crowded, owing possibly due to the fact that Momofuku is such as big name in NYC. The food was okay; the atmosphere, nevertheless, was very nice.

Taste 3.5 stars – the miso ramen was average, however, we have not yet tried other dishes.

Atmosphere 4 stars – Chic interior designs, non-rowdy diners. Although, for me it looked a bit too simple and lacked the charms of Japanese/Asian restaurants. I would prefer the atmosphere of Oh! Toshio.

Service 3.5 stars – Pretty good service, no negatives.

Cost 2.5 stars – Expensive, for the amount of meat or other ingredients (aside from noodles) that they gave us.

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About 40 minutes or more later, we visited the Momofuku milk bar which was about 10 minutes away from the noodle bar.

The shop was pretty much about the size of an office room (at least the serving space) and there was a line even late at night. Inside, there was only a small counter to chill for a few minutes before heading out since the space is so limited. On the outside, however, they have recently installed brand-new sitting benches where customers can sit around before heading off.

The shop is not easy to spot, but it has a neon sign with the sole word “milk” that makes it stand out.

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Waitress serving customers

The restaurant was cutely decorated with posters and little black message boards. They also had a rack selling popular biscuits, products, and even dog food..

Waiting in line
Waiting in line

Momofuku milk bar sells the famous crack pie (which I caught a glimpse of in the display! I had read a biography of the founder a few years ago, hence, was very excited see the aforementioned food. In fact, the very same book was also on display on the rack), crazy layered cakes, other desserts, and soft-serve $4.50

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soft-serve

The soft-serve was incredibly milky, and most impressive were the crunchy and cheesy cornflakes which they generously coated on all sides.

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close-up of the milky soft-serve

Final verdict: 

We have ever only tried the soft-serve, which was already very delicious. Undoubtedly, the other desserts must also be very tasty, for the milk bar to earn such world-wide recognition!

Taste 5 stars – Hokkaido-style milky taste, and uniquely delicious cornflakes crunch.

Atmosphere 2.5 stars – Despite the cute interior, the shop overall doesn’t really have a “restaurant/bakery shop environment”.

Service 3.5 stars – Normal service, no rude cashiers. It is a ‘grab and go’ sort of shop.

Cost 2.5 stars – pretty expensive for a single soft-serve whose proportion was also pretty small.

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So, that is pretty much it for our St. Mark’s Place adventure (we did get off the area for the last two reviews…) and food review. I hope you readers enjoyed my new restaurant review star system rating! I believe I will keep this up, if it works.

And make sure to at least give this place a visit whenever you are in New York! Good food awaits you!

– Izzy

P.S. Next post will be another NYC restaurant review – Mother Burger and Grand Central Concourse!