Thursday, December 18, 2008

Japanese grazing on a budget

Last week when discussing where to meet for dinner near her apartment in the East Village, my friend Jess and I settled on Caracas Arepa Bar, a delicious and reasonable Venezuelan spot that I've been to several times. The day happened to be Wednesday, though, which of course meant that I was reading the New York Times Dining section before heading out to meet Jess. Browsing the "$25 and Under" column, always most applicable to my dining tastes and sadly appearing in the paper on a less frequent basis than in the past, I happened to spot a very favorable review of Village Yokocho, a Japanese yakitori spot also right near Jess's place. It sounded so appealing--and so cheap--that I asked Jess if she'd be willing to forego the arepas this time around. A big fan of Japanese food, she instantly agreed, as I knew she would.

We arrived at the restaurant at about 9 PM and it was packed. We found some seats on a little bar right in front of the open kitchen and drank in the bright, cheery atmosphere along with our ice-cold beers:

When we saw that most of the dishes on the menu ranged from $2-9, we proceeded to order a multitude of them. We started with some yakitori skewers, as those are, of course, the restaurant's speciality (yakitori means grilled skewers). From left to right, we had: duck with scallion, squid legs (really just pieces of squid), and chicken meatballs, which cost $2 or $3 per skewer:

These were all rather tasty--well-seasoned and smoky from the grill--but the duck made a particularly strong impression: having ordered so many dishes, I sort of forgot what to expect, and when I took a bite of the duck it was tender, juicy, gamey and unmistakable.

Next we received a dish we had ordered from the specials menu: a broth with ground beef, pieces of pumpkin, and whole shrimp; I think this cost $5, and it was warming and sweet from the pumpkin:

Up next were two items from the "kushiage," or breaded and fried bites, section of the menu. These were a variety of meats, seafood and vegetables that were coated in panko, or Japanese breadcrumbs, and fried ($2-3 apiece). We got a piece of pumpkin (I happen to love pumpkin and all similar squashes) and a whole fried shrimp, with its head and all; both were delicious (when is fried food not?):

We were still hungry at this point so we ordered two more dishes. First up was another broth, this one with bits of pork, chunks of root vegetables and scallions; I think it cost $4 or $5. Our favorite dish of the evening, this soup was simple, down-home and comforting:

And finally we got some sort of noodle stir-fry with cabbage, beef and shrimp ($6). I liked this dish, but it was showered with bonito flakes, which are little pieces of dried, smoked fish. They're definitely an acquired taste, and I have to say that I enjoyed the noodles more once we got past the layer of bonito:

Because we ordered so much food (we probably could have gone without the last dish), Jess and I each ended up paying about $20. But for all that food and a beer apiece that's quite a steal; grazing is also probably my favorite way to eat, since you get to taste so many different items. It was a great night that ended at Jess's kitchen counter with a pint of Ben and Jerry's and two spoons; I can't think of a more fitting close to an evening spent with a friend of 18 years.

Village Yokocho
8 Stuyvesant St. (between 3rd Ave. and E. 9th St.)
(212) 598-3041

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