Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Naniwa
Off Fifth Avenue, 46th Street, NY
212-

Review by Diana

I readily admit, I am immensely unfashionable and I don't like Japanese restaurants. I don't like the food, I don't like the customs, and I hate the way everything is preciously wrapped up in some sort of tradition, or how you have to eat something just because it's rare or expensive. Let's face it, Japanese food is slimy and bland or salty or sour or too damned sweet. I have no clue why it's popular, especially when you see all those drunk businessmen in there. Not at all attractive!

I was invited to a "family-style" meal in Naniwa, a Japanese restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Upstairs, there are rooms with movable walls and traditional tatami mats with low tables. You take off your shoes and are expected to sit on the floor, basically snuggled up to the person next to you. The kimono-clad waitresses (who are, curiously, called o-neh-san, or "big sister" by the patrons) bring huge platters of sushi, sashimi, fried foods (check out the Jedi Festival set piece for some samples of good Japanese recipes), beer, unsweetened barley tea, saké, propane burners with hotpot stews atop of them, etc. Some of it was very good, and some of it wasn't -- the aforementioned slimy, sweet, salty, sour, etc. stuff.

Within an hour, my back and butt hurt, everyone was drunk (although Japanese businessmen pride themselves in their drinking prowess, in truth they get drunk and red-faced really fast; rather comical, really), and I wanted to get out. On my way out, I saw the restaurant was packed with segregated groups. Each table was bordered by movable cubicle-sort of wall dividers. There are some booths with half-curtains hung, so you couldn't see the faces of the people in them. Everyone seemed to have a good time; most of the patrons were Japanese.

In conclusion, if you like Japanese food and rituals, this is an ideal place to be. The food is greatly appreciated, and when I went at another time, I had grilled sardines and grilled mackeral. It was really good -- they use real charcoal brassières in the heart of Manhattan. I was told it's good "down home" style cooking.


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