Riki ~ Orderinny

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I learnt the terms "salaryman" and "karoshi" during sophomore year in a Japanese culture class. At 20 and with no need to be gainfully employed, those words meant nothing to me.
Fast forward 5 years, and I've joined the ranks of salarymen, working amidst warrens of cubicles, day in, day out. And while the concept of death by overwork is still far-fetched, some days are certainly worse than others. And when those days happens, I do as the Japanese do, retreat to a pub of choice for cheap drinks and honest grub. And lucky for me, the presence of the Japanese mission to the UN as well as the scores of Japanese expatriates meant that a good cluster of Izakayas in midtown.
While Peishan was in town, I grabbed her and a couple of friends to Riki for Saturday dinner. The clientele on the weekends was highly multicultural, a sign of izakayas' growing popularity amongst non-Japanese. Also, with ample space, semi private rooms for larger groups and an english/japanese menu, Riki's a good place to learn about izakayas. Perusing the hundreds of menu items (mostly meant to be shared) was an arduous task amongst 9 people, so they elected me as the official food orderer, even though I knew as little as they did about Japanese pub food. But with the help of some draft beer and suggestions from a very pretty server, we did pretty ok.
It may seem gauche to eat that much rice while simultaneously drinking, but the rice dishes at Riki is too good to miss. The kimchi fried rice was especially sublime, each grain of rice cooked perfectly al dente and coated with a spicy and addictive sauce. We promptly ordered another bowl after polishing our first. We also had some ricecake dishes, similar to rice krispies but pan roasted to yield a fun crunchy texture. The pouring of sauce over a hotplate housing the ricecakes also created a dramatic sizzle.
The Japanese adore their Kewpie mayonnaise and it is no surprise to see some comforting, gut sticking mayo-based dishes on the menu. I've had the mentaiko roe and mayo filled omelets as well as the mayo and seaweed-that-looks-like-pure-chlorophyll-topped okonomiyaki. While creamy and savory, they were unfortunately a little too heavy for my liking.
Riki has an admirable kushiage menu (skewered meats and vegetables) and as we walked in we also saw cooks busily negotiating the smoky fire while meticulously cooking the skewers. Both our duck skewer with a bracing wasabi glaze and the tender beef ribs were well endorsed by my table.
My favorite dishes must come from the Nimono (stews) department. The niku jaga is a popular family style dish of potatos, onions, beef and some jelly strands in a sweet soy sauce suitable for pouring over rice. My favorite of the night however was the meltingly soft beef tongue in a salty miso-based stew. The taste and texture of tongue really isn't that different from brisket or more chewy cuts of meat, so don't be afraid and order it if you see it on the menu.
Another great thing about izakayas is that in a city where servers turn tables almost callously, izakayas don't mind if you to sit and linger, and we did the same in Riki, chatting in our very cozy and tight little room long after we've drained our glasses. We don't all need to be salarymen to appreciate that.

Restaurant Riki
141 E45th St (Bet Lexington & 3rd Aves)
(212) 986-1109

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