One of the things I miss most about Japan is the traditional home-style breakfast of grilled fish, rice, miso soup and side dishes. Healthy and clean, it’s the perfect start to the day. With the opening of Okonomi, I no longer have to wait for my annual visit to Japan to satiate this craving. Yuji Haraguchi and Tara Norvell’s new restaurant serves ichiju sansai (one soup, three dishes) for breakfast and lunch. Haraguchi made a name for himself with Yuji Ramen, now permanent fixtures of the Bowery and Gowanus Whole Foods stores, but Okonomi is the team’s first stand-alone restaurant. The wood panel walls and white-tiled open kitchen give the 12-seat restaurant a warm and surprisingly open feel.
Prior to his food ventures, Haraguchi worked for a fish importer/distributor, and at Okonomi, he showcases seafood subtly throughout the menu. On my recent visit, I enjoyed appetizers of bluefish tartare and ankimo (monkfish liver), both highlights of the meal. The bluefish belly, cured overnight with salt and rice vinegar, is mixed with shiso, sesame seeds and scallion and then dressed with yuzu kosho and ponzu. Focusing on regional East Coast seafood, Haraguchi uses Long Island bluefish, which you rarely see raw on any menu. With a high fat content akin to mackerel, the bluefish lends itself well to tartare. The ankimo, braised and marinated overnight in the braising liquid, is simply topped with grated daikon and togarashi chili.
The meal comes with miso soup, brown rice, a daily changing grilled fish and side dishes. I enjoyed Spanish mackerel, spinach with tofu and sesame, Japanese omelet, pickled cabbage and a surprising asparagus and sea cucumber side. Haraguchi extracts the muscle of fresh sea cucumber, which has a mildly crunchy texture, and serves it on asparagus with a vinegar and sweet miso dressing. Delicious. I look forward to trying many more of Okonomi’s dynamic offerings in the future — especially Haraguchi and Norvell’s plan to launch a reservation-only ramen omakase tasting menu at dinnertime.