A discerning hopper must always balance the City’s delicious offerings with the opportunities and limitations that the average paycheck presents. While we have hopped with the best of them, visiting some of New York’s most refined izakaya, we thoroughly enjoy a good deal. Which is why our discovery of recently opened Wokuni brought us great hoppie joy and mirth—great flavors are on offer here, at very reasonable prices. Would that more Japanese eateries took a page out of the Wokuni book.
The cavernous, moody space on Lexington Avenue keeps things dim, polished, and riven with a techno backbeat that lends the place a bustling, frenetic energy even when largely empty. Gleaming bottles of shochu and sake climb the walls to nearly 20-foot heights, making this hopper wonder about sturdy ladders for late-night imbibing, but we didn’t have to scale a thing to get our drinks—delicious cocktails infused with ginger and lemongrass.
One thing these two hoppers don’t do nearly enough of is give ourselves over to the omakase menus of the various eateries we have tried. It is well and good to hunt and find individually selected treats on any given menu. But at Wokuni we decided to let chef Kuniaki Yoshizawa lead the way, and what a wonderful decision that proved to be.
Course after succulent course arrived at our table, sometimes spare in its plating, other times adorned with an extravagant, almost comical, aesthetic. A wedge of sea bream came paired simply with a chunk of corn on the cob, a single roasted tomato, and a smear of a luxurious ginger sauce.
Yet our bowl-boat of sashimi arrived surrounded by a swirling exhalation of dry ice. Our waiter presented the bowl and then poured whatever needs to be poured to make dry ice do what it does best—spook the fish and give our dinner some Halloween vibes. We amused ourselves by plucking out fresh pieces of toro and salmon from the bowl, but accidently dropping a slice of fish into that mystery murk proved stressful. Maybe next time we will be lucky enough to leave the presentational theatrics aside and let the drama emerge from the flavors of the fish itself.
Fish is indeed the big-ticket item at Wokuni, which flies the goods in on a daily basis from Tokyo’s Fish Market. Anywhere else, and such importing would translate into sky-high prices. But Wokuni, which also features a small, rare fish market at the front of the restaurant with some unusual offerings, is dedicated to showcasing the best of Japan’s seafood at prices any hopper will appreciate.
While not many izakaya embrace sushi, Wokuni doubles down on the stuff and our omakase meal featured wonderful examples of clean, simple sushi at its best, including a luscious wedge of uni and clean hunks of yellowtail.
The multiple courses of our omakase left us feeling beyond sated, if a little stuffed, and we found ourselves—in an unusual Hoppie Hopper move—asking how many more courses there might be? We hadn’t paced ourselves and the bounty had started to feel like a glut. But at only $75 per person, what a wonderful problem to have!
Our waiter assured us that the last course—dessert—was on its way, and soon arrived with a platter of assorted treats, including mochi, chrysanthemum cheese cake, and a green-tea infused crème brulee. It was a delicious, well-rounded conclusion to a magnum opus of a meal that left us breathless with satisfaction, not sticker shock.
327 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY
Mon – Sat, lunch and dinner
Sun, dinner only