by Crystal Chan-Long
Just steps away from the Chambers Street (1/2/3) stop in New York City’s Tribeca lies Ninja New York, a unique Japanese fusion restaurant like no other. When we think of theme restaurants, images of overly decorated interiors, subpar food, and dollar sign after dollar sign comes to mind – not at Ninja New York. We were pleasantly surprised at how great the experience was at the ninja-themed restaurant. (Even with the hoards of screaming children that inevitably comes with theme restaurants).
If there is one thing that westerners know about the bad-assness of Japan, it’s ninjas. This American branch of a Tokyo-originated restaurant lets you submerge yourself in medieval Japan’s ninja-culture once you enter the surprisingly mysterious doors: after being taken underground by an elevator and walking through a narrow and dark tunnel with a drawbridge, guests are greeted by a “ninja village” – a maze-like dining space adorned with faux stone walls, dark little crannies, and well, ninjas. Each party gets their own dining “jail cell”, which was quite spacious and offered a bit of privacy (if you didn’t count all the ninjas sneaking up ready to scare the living daylights out of you – and of course little jumpy me was constantly on edge.)
After being seated in our own jail cell, our waiter Ninja Ninja (yes, that was actually what he said his name was, no joke!) rolled out the drinks and food menu scrolls in two swift flicks. Already excited by the theatrics, I went ahead and ordered the Ninja Star Martini ($15), a jet-black cocktail concocted with peach vodka, grenadine, and cranberries, and coming with your very own ninja star. The cocktail was sweet, delicious, and well balanced – leaving me wanting another one. Starving, I ordered the Sarutobi Set ($68), just one of the four set dinners along with a wide selection of à la carte items on the menu (um, I mean scroll). The first course of the four-course meal arrived in ninja speed: the Miso Lobster Bisque, a creamy miso-flavored soup made with big chunks of lobster meat, succulent bay scallops, and large shrimps – resulting in a smooth and delicious bisque bursting with flavor, a piece of yellowtail miso toast topped with micro-greens also accompanies it. Next came the Deep Fried Calamari, served with a mango chili sauce (yum!) and a gazpacho sauce, the popular seafood dish is presented in a two-leveled dish with dry ice fuming from the bottom level. Adding to the superb presentation, the dish is also served “batto style” (meaning the craft of drawing out the sword) – requiring the diner to draw a SWORD out of the block, hence releasing the dry ice “fog.” Presentation aside, the calamari itself is oh-so-good. I love calamari, and I can safely say this one is one of the best calamari dishes I’ve had as of yet. The squid rings were perfectly cooked, and the batter coating was incredibly light and crispy. Mmm just thinking of it makes me drool…
Next served to us was the Mango Salmon Rolls. The presentation of this dish was, needless to say, remarkable as well: the sushi rolls were surrounding a glowing green tube with dry ice “smoke” billowing out. The combination of, what it seemed, a LED light submerged in water with a cube of dry ice made it look, um, mystical. The rolls were quite tasty – cucumber, avocado, and rice rolled up with rice paper and topped with fresh salmon and mayo. However, the real star here is the sauces drizzled on top; the mango chili and eel sauces elevated the flavor of the whole dish. Just a tip: smother a roll in the sauces and put the whole thing in your mouth in one big bite. The finale of this four-course gastronomic adventure is your choice of either a Prime NY Strip Steak or a Prime Rib-eye Steak. I went with the rib-eye – a one pound monstrosity served with buttered rice, a glazed carrot, broccoli, and barbeque sauce, with a ring of bourbon surrounding the steak. Right before the steak is served, Ninja Ninja lit the ring of bourbon with a lighter by the table, setting the steak on fire for a hot minute. But theatrics aside, the rib-eye was unbelievably juicy and tender, like melt-in-your-mouth tender. SO GOOD. I loved that I was able to so easily cut into the steak no problem, it was like butta. However, I didn’t care too much for the buttered rice, it was a bit on the bland side – definitely could have heightened the dish with a bit of flavoring.
Great for both kids and adults, Ninja New York is not your typical great-for-kids-only theme restaurant. The fitting atmosphere, the fun presentations, and most of all, the great food, will have me returning to Ninja New York in a ninja heartbeat. Hi-yah!