Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Wakiya


LPShanet
 Share

Recommended Posts

This string is for discussion of the new "haute Chinese" restaurant, Wakiya, in the Gramercy Park Hotel and featuring the cuisine of Japanese-born/trained chef Yuji Wakiya.

Since I was surprised not to have seen any prior reviews or discussion on the spot, which opened a little over a week ago, I'd be very curious to hear if anyone else has eaten there and what their impressions are.

I had dinner at Wakiya (which was supposed to be a VERY tough reservation) on July 29th (last Sunday), and was able to get in by calling earlier that same night. Admittedly, it was a Sunday, but for a place all the bloggers have been saying would be impossible to get into, I think the reality may have more to do with the PR people than reality. Furthermore, the person who answered the phone seemed so clueless that I suspect this may be her first restaurant job.

While any restaurant needs to find its way after opening, there was the definite sense that the front-of-house (people answering the phones, the hostess and most of the front-of-house staff) didn't really know what it was doing. Once inside the restaurant, I found that while it was relatively full, it was hardly the jam-packed scene it had been made out to be in the press. But on to the food:

There has been a lot of ink lately on the coming revolution/rediscovery of Chinese cuisine. Many a blog and article has talked about how new chefs were going to elevate Chinese to its deserved place among the world's great cuisines, by (re)discovering the flavors of all of its provinces (as opposed to the largely lowbrow Cantonese fare we're used to here). Supposedly, Wakiya was to be one of these new-guard places. Ian Schraeger had searched far and wide (and had been summarily turned down by Hakkasan's Alan Yau) before settling on the refined cooking of Yuji Wakiya.

For those who remember the food at Jean Georges' now-closed 66, the results here are fairly similar, although not quite as refined, and served to a thumping trance soundtrack. The end result was sort of like a less creative Tao or a smaller, less attractive Buddakan. In other words, those who typically fear or avoid Chinese food will "discover" really nice flavors and unexpected balance and attractive execution/plating. However, those who have even occasionally eaten in Chinatown will recognize the food here as sweetly dressed-up versions of very standard Chinese fare, served in embarassingly tiny portions at roughly 4-6 times the price. There was nothing wrong with any of the dishes, but none of them were well prepared enough to warrant much more than a shrug at the familiar flavors and nice plating. And there was certainly no innovation of any kind in terms of ingredients, preparation or flavor. While none of it was bad, it's hard to leave a place like this without a vague feeling of having been bilked.

A specific summary of some of the dishes I tasted follows. Note that they are all tapas-sized "small plates", despite some being quite expensive:

Shrimp and Chive dumplings: Almost indistinguishable from their Chinatown counterparts. Quite pleasant, though not as flavorful as those at Ping's, etc. Four to a portion for about 8 or 10 bucks.

Vegetarian dumplings: Similar to the above, with chopped veggie stuffing. Pleasant, but not really memorable in any way. Slightly bland.

Shanghai Soup dumplings: Again, quite well executed, but certainly no better than those at Joe's, New Green Bo, etc. The flavor was nice, and well-balanced. One of the better dishes. Four for $12

Bang Bang Chicken: A very pleasant version of the Szechuan standard. Good sesame and complementary flavors and very tender chicken. Slightly spicy, but could have used a tad more. (Probably a concession to the Western palates they're courting.) $15 for about 5 forkfulls (can you say "chopsticksfull"?)

Crispy Yuba Shrimp: These are jumbo shrimp that are wrapped in yuba (bean curd skin) and deep fried. The result is very similar to tempura or other standard fried preparation. They were large and juicy. Very well executed by the kitchen, if a bit lacking in flavor. The dipping sauce was helped a bit. $16 for four shrimp.

Tong Tsu Sea Bass: A fairly obscure way of saying sweet and sour to make it seem more haute. Sadly, it wasn't. Chunks of mild fried fish, served with a sticky sweet and sour sauce that was a little unbalanced, leaning too heavily on the sour side, not enough on the sweet or savory. $26 for an appetizer-sized portion.

Peking Duck: This dish sort of summarizes the strengths and failings of Wakiya in one fell swoop. The plate ($24) consisted of a small pile of julienned scallions, four rectangles (about 1" x 2") of perfectly crisped duck skin, a small dish of hoisin sauce, and a mound....no a tuft, since mound sounds much too large...of shredded duck meat. This was served with four crepe-like pancakes, that were much better than the standard mushu style pancakes they visually resembled, and much thinner than the spongier bun-style pancakes some places serve Peking duck on. Now, I'm not one of those people who bitches about how small dishes are at nice restaurants, but the amount of duck they serve with this dish is RIDICULOUS...to the point where I thought they had accidentally dropped most of it by accident while plating or something. The mound/tuft of duck, meant to serve 4 people, or at least create four pancakes worth of the dish, was maybe an inch across, and about an inch and a half long. If you took, say ten small wooden matches and held them in your hand, that should give you an idea of the amount in question. About enough for one moderately prepared pancake. When I asked about this, they replied, "yes, but this is so we can give you the best possible kind of duck". A totally infuriating and unsatisfying explanation in my book. As for the taste, it was very nice...as good as any in Chinatown, but not enough better in execution to be measurable when compared to the best versions in town. While the aforementioned "best possible kind of duck" was nothing out of the ordinary (though commendably lacking in extraneous fat), the skin was great, and really made the dish in terms of taste. I just still can't get over how they didn't even give enough material to "build" more than one little pancake out of. Grrrr.

At this point (if you have enough free time that you're still reading this posting), you're probably saying one of two things to yourself:

1. "Boy, he must have had a large group to try all those dishes!"

To which I'd say, nope, just three of us.

or

2. "Boy, they must have been really full after all that!"

To which I'd have to say, sadly, nope, we were still so hungry that we had to order another dish. And the group included me (an admittedly voracious eater), my girlfriend (who has a pretty moderate appetite, as evidenced by being a size 4 at 6 feet tall), and my mother (who typically orders two appetizers at most restaurants rather than an app and a main...not exactly Kobayashi.)

At this point, we asked our waiter what was the largest/most filling dish on the menu, something I hate to do normally, but it was a necessity in this case. We ended up with:

Shanghainese Fried Noodles: Not a particularly large portion...about half the size you get at a regular Asian eatery...but at this point it was enough to make us feel satisfied enough that we didn't need to go eat dinner again immediately. A bit on the oily and bland side, but not bad. $14 for the order.

I think this gives a general idea of what to expect at Wakiya. Is the food bad? Absolutely not. Is it worth a serious eater's time? Also, absolutely not. I don't think this is a matter of "getting the kinks worked out"...I didn't really see any way that improved execution and subtle modifications could have made the experience wow me. However, I'm ready to hear dissenting opinions from anyone else who had a different experience.

N.B.: The cocktails, while admittedly of the typical trendy Asian eatery ilk (see Buddakan, Tao, Spice Market, etc.), were very good. The highlight of the meal, in fact. Well-balanced and well conceived. Maybe they should hire the mixologist to go back into the kitchen and shake things up.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had also been curious what people thought of Wakiya, more from a culinary perspective than a scene-y one. After dining there a few nights ago, I’m guessing the lack of food board chatter is likely due to the cuisine being fairly unexciting for anyone who genuinely loves northern Chinese food. Or Chinese food in general, really.

Nothing I tried was horrible but it wasn’t terribly exciting either. I also thought of 66 and assumed Wakiya would attract a similar clientele. The soup dumplings were fine, the bang bang chicken could’ve used more punch, tsong tsu, a.k.a. sweet and sour pork was a touch too vinegary and the serving was very small. I liked the soft shell crab with golden sand, which was panko crumbs mixed with black beans and dried red peppers.

I didn’t actually think the dishes were intended as “small plates,” though that would make more sense. I just thought it was family style with small portions. Most diners seemed less concerned with dining and more interested in drinking and being seen, so it’s doubtful patrons care if they leave hungry.

So, not it’s not a serious dining destination, but it’s not as if the food is prepared wretchedly either. It’s what it is. I have no burning desire to return.

More thoughts on Wakiya with photos

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also thought of 66 and assumed Wakiya would attract a similar clientele.

Meaning eventually none?...66 is closed now, after all :) I was hoping the place would be more "serious" than other Schraeger stuff, but it seems not. Once it's no longer new, he'll either have to replace it, or resign himself to its being mostly for B&T and hotel guests.

I didn’t actually think the dishes were intended as “small plates,” though that would make more sense. I just thought it was family style with small portions.

More thoughts on Wakiya with photos

I guess that's really semantics, and I think they try to have you think of it as both, if that makes any sense. When we were ordering, the waiter referred to them as small plates and suggested how many we might want to order. That said, they were served family style, meaning that they were put in the middle for all to share.

Glad to hear that I wasn't just there on a bad night, and that there are others out there who felt the same way I did.

Cheers,

L

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I consider Wakiya "wafuuchuuka" because it's Chinese food prepared by a Japanese chef so I would expect a certain amount of Japanese sensibility and lighter palette flavors, and better ingredients for that matter, applied to traditional Chinese dishes.

I see a lot of similarities in the menus between Wakiya and my favorite (not just becauase it's the only one) wafuuchuuka restaurant, Saburi... I'd advise you guys to go do a chef's selection at Saburi - it won't break the wallet and according to your reviews might be as good as Wakiya at 1/4 the price...

www.saburiny.com

Edited by raji (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I consider Wakiya "wafuuchuuka" because it's Chinese food prepared by a Japanese chef so I would expect a certain amount of Japanese sensibility and lighter palette flavors, and better ingredients for that matter, applied to traditional Chinese dishes.

I see a lot of similarities in the menus between Wakiya and my favorite (not just becauase it's the only one) wafuuchuuka restaurant, Saburi... I'd advise you guys to go do a chef's selection at Saburi - it won't break the wallet and according to your reviews might be as good as Wakiya at 1/4 the price...

www.saburiny.com

I expected the same thing. Sadly, the food didn't reflect the Japanese aspect in the flavors or ingredients nearly as much as I expected (or wanted). Will definitely check out Saburi, though. Thanks for the recco.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...
I expected the same thing.  Sadly, the food didn't reflect the Japanese aspect in the flavors or ingredients nearly as much as I expected (or wanted).  Will definitely check out Saburi, though.  Thanks for the recco.

Bruni just no-starred it "satisfactory" and Alan Richman liked their cold dishes, not their warm ones, but also puts forth a mostly negative review.

Based on those reviews and this thread, while some dishes seem to fail on execution, I tend to believe that Wakiya will have a terribly difficult time succeeding in NYC. Perhaps if it was the early 90s when Japanese investors were buying Rockefeller Center and the NYC metro area bursting with "chuzai kaigai" and "tanshin fuunin", Japanese salarymen on 8-year rotation, with or without their families in tow, but that environment is long a thing of the past.

While I have yet to see the word used in any of it's reviews and/or marketing, what Wakiya is serving is known in Japan as "wafu-chuuka", which is Chinese food as interpreted by Japanese chef's and their ingredients. There's not a lot of that happening at the high-priced gourmet end and that might explain their avoidance of that term.

For me, Wafu-chuuka is the most divisive of Japanese cuisines, because it very much puts the spotlight on the fundamental difference between the Western and Japanese palettes. Whereas Chinese cooking tends to become more fried, oily, heavy, sweet, sticky and battery as they unfortunately "tailor" it to American tastes, wafu-chuuka's goal is to take some of the most treasured Chinese dishes and move them in the opposite direction, towards fresher and lighter ingredients, spicing, oiling, and saucing. Indeed, as I would be invited out for wafu-chuuka while living in Japan, it would only leave me craving the Cantonese cooking I had in HK and NYC. I felt like I had just eaten off the diet menu.

Which may explain it's lack of a market, really, at this point. If the "Japanese influence" only seems to be a sky-high price and tiny portions, then the wrong angle of wafu-chuuka is being showcased. If I were running Wakiya I would re-open with a menu that focused on spectacular, unique ingredients and flawless execution, while offering several signature dishes that the restaurant can really define itself by.

Edited by raji (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Admittedly, it was a Sunday, but for a place all the bloggers have been saying would be impossible to get into, I think the reality may have more to do with the PR people than reality. 

It's located in an Ian Schrager hotel - that's the simple explanation for the marketing buzz. Say what you may (or won't) about his hotels or the choices he makes about which restaurants to place in his properties but the man is a genius at creating marketing buzz.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

I don't get perverse thrills out of restaurant closings like Eater.com does (and indeed their thrills are about to skyrocket tenfold with the economy sufficiently fux0red), but when I got home last night I found that I had proclaimed death to a few of you last night, meanwhile it was happening for real...

"A year and a half after its initial debut, the deathwatched (and almost shitshow) Wakiya, sweet, sweet, Wakiya, is closing its doors. According to a release today, Ian Schrager and chef Yuji Wakiya's failed project will close on December 21 due to Chef Wakiya's 'longstanding commitments in Japan.'"

That means the only wafu-chuuka deal in town is Saburi - who are friends of mine, and just renewed their lease for another 2 years - I have advised them (and they're listening) to go RAMEN and GYOZA - these are chinese imports after all.. and offer an evening IZAKAYA menu... is there anything else any of you would really like to see on their menu?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't get perverse thrills out of restaurant closings like Eater.com does (and indeed their thrills are about to skyrocket tenfold with the economy sufficiently fux0red), but when I got home last night I found that I had proclaimed death to a few of you last night, meanwhile it was happening for real...

"A year and a half after its initial debut, the deathwatched (and almost shitshow) Wakiya, sweet, sweet, Wakiya, is closing its doors. According to a release today, Ian Schrager and chef Yuji Wakiya's failed project will close on December 21 due to Chef Wakiya's 'longstanding commitments in Japan.'"

That means the only wafu-chuuka deal in town is Saburi - who are friends of mine, and just renewed their lease for another 2 years - I have advised them (and they're listening) to go RAMEN and GYOZA - these are chinese imports after all.. and offer an evening IZAKAYA menu...  is there anything else any of you would really like to see on their menu?

While I usually am saddened by the closing of notable restaurants, I'm actually glad that this one didn't make it...it's a triumph for reason and taste over flash. The problem wasn't the wafu-chuuka genre, which I think can be really great at its best; it was the fact that it wasn't well executed, the service was awful, and the prices and value outrageous. Given the fact that New Yorkers might see wafu-chuuka simply as bad value, and look past its very real benefits (after all, 66 closed, and was serving food in this general category if not in name), I do think it might be tough for a wafu chuuka place to make in in Manhattan, but I'd definitely go to one if the food were really good. As for your friends, my personal preference is for whatever they think they can make really well. There are a number of ramen spots in town, and they'd be a little late to that trend, so that may be tough. Any area they are particularly good at is the way to go...NY always has room for a place that does something very well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't get perverse thrills out of restaurant closings like Eater.com does (and indeed their thrills are about to skyrocket tenfold with the economy sufficiently fux0red), but when I got home last night I found that I had proclaimed death to a few of you last night, meanwhile it was happening for real...

"A year and a half after its initial debut, the deathwatched (and almost shitshow) Wakiya, sweet, sweet, Wakiya, is closing its doors. According to a release today, Ian Schrager and chef Yuji Wakiya's failed project will close on December 21 due to Chef Wakiya's 'longstanding commitments in Japan.'"

That means the only wafu-chuuka deal in town is Saburi - who are friends of mine, and just renewed their lease for another 2 years - I have advised them (and they're listening) to go RAMEN and GYOZA - these are chinese imports after all.. and offer an evening IZAKAYA menu...  is there anything else any of you would really like to see on their menu?

Saburi's been on the shopping block for like a year and a half now. Recently saw another ad for it in a real estate site. I like the folks who run the place, but the location is kind of rough. Its on the cusp of Midtown, and if they were maybe 2 blocks further uptown, they'd probably be getting better business.

That being said: Japanese-style Chinese is just not a winning proposition IMHO. Japanese-Italian -- yes, Japanese-French -- works, Japanese-Curry -- gangbusters.

You are right in advising them to go Ramen/Gyoza. Go with what works in Japan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What a great category! Okonomiyaki is probably my favorite Japanese food. What I make at home is better than any restaurant.

In Japan, there are monjya- and okonomiyaki restaurants everywhere. They are referred to as TEPPANYAKI restaurants. Some are teppans with a bar and table, and the chefs man the teppan and grill meats and veggies which may or may not be incorporated into your MONJYA or okonomiyaki. Most, however, are teppanyaki where the teppan IS your table. The staff comes by, starts grilling your meats and mixes your batter, and then usually leaves it to you to cook and eat it.

By the way, Monjya is a runnier version of okonomiyaki and specific to the KANTO plane, if you want to make fun of someone from Tokyo, as if you were from Osaka, you call them a MONJYA-eating something or other. It's funny because more than anything, monjya resembles vomit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What a great category! Okonomiyaki is probably my favorite Japanese food. What I make at home is better than any restaurant.

In Japan, there are monjya- and okonomiyaki restaurants everywhere. They are referred to as TEPPANYAKI restaurants. Some are teppans with a bar and table, and the chefs man the teppan and grill meats and veggies which may or may not be incorporated into your MONJYA or okonomiyaki. Most, however, are teppanyaki where the teppan IS your table. The staff comes by, starts grilling your meats and mixes your batter, and then usually leaves it to you to cook and eat it.

By the way, Monjya is a runnier version of okonomiyaki and specific to the KANTO plane, if you want to make fun of someone from Tokyo, as if you were from Osaka, you call them a MONJYA-eating something or other. It's funny because more than anything, monjya resembles vomit.

All good ideas. I think kinkistyle is right about the location, though. Without being in a better place (either midtown's "Little Tokyo" or somewhere where their potential clients would find them), it's going to be a tough road. Personally, I think Japanese culinary interpretations of almost any cuisine can have a lot of merit, but the market will decide. (Speaking of which, I'm off to Sugiyama tonight. Couldn't find anyone who had been in the last couple of years, so decided it was time for me to go back!)

Edited by LPShanet (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

All good ideas.  I think kinkistyle is right about the location, though.  Without being in a better place (either midtown's "Little Tokyo" or somewhere where their potential clients would find them), it's going to be a tough road.  Personally, I think Japanese culinary interpretations of almost any cuisine can have a lot of merit, but the market will decide. (Speaking of which, I'm off to Sugiyama tonight.  Couldn't find anyone who had been in the last couple of years, so decided it was time for me to go back!)

You said within the last year, so I didn't answer. I HAVE been as recently as last year. It's great - it will be the best ishiyaki wagyu you can get in town, sashimi courses all rock solid, strong kaiseki dishes. It's just not as luxe as Masa and not considered groundbreaking anymore, so in a sense, but sometimes you want more mainstream Japanese food executed extremely well.

But do report back.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...