Tonight I decided to get my first taste of 3-day old Wakiya, the new Chinese restaurant opened in the Gramercy Park hotel. Wakiya comes to us from celebrity chef Yuji Wakiya who is a Japanese chef famous in Tokyo for his gourmet Chinese. The management team comes to us from the Nobu empire.
The place is very sexy, dressed in red and black. It is another addition to NYC's wave of gourmet Chinese, think Buddakan, Chinatown Brasserie, and Mr. Chow Tribeca. I walked in and decided to sit at the bar, which was empty. I expected it to be hopping for it is the latest "hot spot" in town, so I was surprised, but glad that I would be able to enjoy my meal with plenty of elbow room. I also expected to see some celebs, but the only popular peeps I saw were the co-owner of "hot spot " club Tenjune, Mark Birnbaum, celebrity chef of famed NYC restaurant Le Bernadin, Eric Ripert, and some politician whose name I could not recall, with a table full of women.
I started out with a Lucky beer. This is a Chinese beer I have never heard of or tasted before, and it came in a cool Buddha shaped bottle. It was light and fine. I just wanted a taste of what Wakiya had to offer. And luckily for me they had a cold appetizer called Nine flavors of Wakiya ($12). This dish came with nine small tastings of parts of dishes that were on the menu. And when I say "tasting" I mean just one bite-I like this though, cause it is a nice tease and allows one to explore the menu without ordering too much. The nine flavors were--green fava bean, shitake puree, uba mushi, creamy lemon shrimp, tonsu seabass, shrimp scallop fish cake, bang bang chicken, wagyu beef, and sticky rice w/chinese bacon. The stand out flavors were the bang bang chicken and the wagyu beef. The beef was tender and succulent and pefectly seasoned. And the bang bang chicken was in a sauce that was at first sweet and then became spicy as it lingered in my mouth. I loved this flavor. They have a full cold appetizer of this, and I plan on ordering it on my next visit.
I also tried the Shanghai Soup dumplings ($10). They were similar to other soup dumplings I had, although at first I thought the meat inside could have used some more flavor. But when I got to my fourth and last dumpling, the dish grew on me and it was a soothing appetizer.
After contemplating for a while I decided to try one more dish; the Sizzling Rice cakes ($16). The waiter brought over a bowl with some crispy rice cakes and then poured a steaming soup filled with vegetables and meat over it. This was totally unexpected. The dish was ok. I had to wait a tad to eat it at first, for it was so hot, and I burned my tongue on my first bite. I liked how there was a lot of stuff in the dish, from chinese string beans, and trumpet mushrooms to shrimp and chicken. They definitely didn't skimp on anything. But, the flavor of the dish was lacking a whole lot. There was no kick, no wow factor whatsoever. And I've had similar dishes at places like Ollies for half the price. Too label the dish Sizzling Rice Cakes is a mistake too, for once the rice cakes are covered with the soup, they soften, and almost were non-existent, and not the main focal point of the dish.
The thing is, knowing that Mr. Wakiya is a critically acclaimed chef, I did expect to be wowed. I wasn't. At least this time. I'm sure the kitchen still needs to work out some kinks, for it is still very new. I do intend on going back, and seeing what else Wakiya has too offer. The menu looked great and had some interesting looking dishes that I look foward to having. So, like those soup dumplings, I do hope Wakiya eventually grows on me. I would say, if you are looking for a sexy dining destination to take a date, Wakiya could be a good place. I'll let you know after my next visit if it grows into a great place.
2 Lexington Ave, at 21st St. (inside the Gramercy Park Hotel)
New York, NY 10010