Jukai is a New Hidden Japanese Splurge
I love Japanese food, especially when the source is a hidden little restaurant in Midtown. So I was super excited when we got an email alerting us to a relatively new spot called Jukai. I was even more excited when I arrived at the address and discovered the restaurant was housed in a semi-secretive tranquil subterranean space. Many of my other favorite Japanese joints are hidden like this (Sake Bar Hagi, Yakitori Totto, etc.), so I had high hopes here.
Aside from a few Japanese men at the bar, the restaurant was strangely empty. The waitress told me they’ve been open since April and do a steady dinner service, although they have yet to acquire a liquor license. They also have a few lunch specials, so I think they’re trying to lure some Midtown Lunchers down their stairs.
But the lunch menu is limited and nothing is cheaper than $13, which is technically out of ML range. However, three lunch items are $13 and since they include lots of extras I couldn’t help but make an exception. The guys at the bar were eating the bento box, which was beautifully presented and looked like a nice array of food. But that cost $20 and that’s just too much for lunch.
So I settled on the Three Kinds of Broiled Fish (the other two items for $13 are Chirashi and Grilled Chicken). To start, all lunch specials come with a choice of salad or pickles. Since I already had a salad this month, I chose the pickles. This little amuse was nothing special. The two cucumber slices were reminiscent of a half sour pickle with a wonderful cold crunch, but an underwhelming amount of flavor. I think there were pieces of pickled ginger in the salad as well (although the waitress told me the yellow pieces were jalapeño and not ginger) that gave the crisp lettuce and cucumbers a much needed bite.
Then the broiled fish arrived with a bowl of rice and a miso soup, which were both unlimited. That’s always appreciated. If this meal didn’t work out, I could always get my money’s worth from rice and soup. The miso soup didn’t have any tofu and had a less cloudy appearance than most. It was a little too light on the miso flavor for my tastes and was perhaps overwhelmed with chewy scallions.
The trio of fish (Chilean Sea Bass, Salmon, and Bluefish) were grilled, not broiled (you might say the grill marks were the giveaway) and beautifully presented with a vegetable garnish for each. The sea bass was slightly tough and very bony. The bluefish was much more flavorful with a wonderful char on the exterior of the tender fish. And finally, the salmon was aggressively salty and was also full of little pinbones. I spent most of the meal picking the little bones out of my mouth. Shouldn’t the chef have done this for me (from the fish, of course, not from my mouth)?
The meal ended with a complimentary dessert, which changes frequently. I received a little ceramic cup of strawberry cheesecake (although I uncovered a few blueberries as well). It was light and sweet and a nice way to end the meal.
Jukai is probably a great place to come for dinner. The ambiance is comfortable and romantic and the menu looks promising. But for lunch, it’s not much more of a deal than some of the other cheaper Japanese options in Midtown, unless you really want to gorge yourself on white rice and miso soup.
The + (What somebody who likes this would say)
- This is a hidden spot so you don’t have to deal with crowds
- Service is fast, friendly, and efficient
- Unlimited rice and soup
- Free Dessert!
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The menu is limited and nothing is under $10
- There are dangerous, little bones in the fish
- You might have to fill up on soup and rice
Jukai, 237 East 53rd Street (between 3rd and 2nd Avenue); (212) 588-9788