Not only must we stand up for our beliefs in these fraught political times — we now must stand up for our steak, too.
That’s the upright approach at new Ikinari Steak, the first US outpost of a Tokyo-based chain that has 100 outlets in Japan. Consuming beef on one’s feet is billed by their publicity material as a “fun, interactive, communal and brand-new experience for New Yorkers.” It’s definitely a way to sell tons of meat to pack-’em-in, turn-’em-out eaters who’ll spend less than at a normal steakhouse.
It can also be tiring if your tootsies ache after standing, especially when you have to wait nearly an hour just to get a space at one of the communal tables — and then have to stand for the duration of the meal as well. No reservations are taken and, since Ikinari opened in the East Village last week, there have been lines stretching out the door and down the sidewalk.
Japanese restaurants in New York are often big on stunts, like the “flavor concentration booths” at Ichiran, a ramen house in Bushwick. Stand-up sirloin would be another gimmick good for stand-up comedy, but — drat! — the meat at Ikinari is seriously delicious.
A hostess assigns you to one of 40 stations at tall, seatless table tops in the brick-walled, clean-lined room. She takes your side-dish and drink order (tea, water, wine, beer) and gives you a number that you take to a grill in the center of the room.
There, you tell the friendly chefs which cut you want (boneless ribeye, sirloin or filet) and how you want it cooked (they recommend rare, I much prefer medium rare). You also specify size, and the meat is priced by weight: $.08 to $.11 per gram, depending on the cut. The minimum ribeye order, 300 grams (10.6 oz.), is $27. You go back to your station and a few minutes later, the steak arrives on a sizzling platter that “cooks” the meat a little bit more. All the beef is 40-day wet-aged Angus from Aurora Farms in Illinois.
My favorite was the ribeye, which was more than a half-inch thick and boasted real sear marks. While it didn’t pose an immediate threat to Peter Luger, it was fatty but well marbled, juicy, tender and flavorful throughout. A squirt of the house soy-based “J” sauce with miso, apple purée and garlic added moisture and a sweet-and-salty complexion.
The sleeper hit is pepper rice, a $6 side dish topped with black pepper and garlic chips. Corn niblets, beef fragments and J sauce lurk in the rice. Mushing everything up with a fork unleashes a flavor torrent that nearly eclipses the steak.
Possible arch pain aside, cutting into a ribeye on your feet is pretty pleasant. It makes it easy to strike up conversation with strangers and there’s more elbow room than you often get with cramped seating.
We’ve all had enough of gimmicky restaurants where food doesn’t live up to the shtick. But Ikinari delivers the goods and I’ll happily take a stand for it.
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