Awkward but pleasurable. This was the phrase invoked by our server (his name? Well, in his own words, "It's pronounced...Robert?") at Ninja New York to explain the feeling his wanted his diners to leave the restaurant with. In truth, Robert was one of the nicest and most entertaining people I've ever been served a meal by. His almost on-stop "Sarcastic ninja" routine was really hilarious and no small part of why I would give this restaurant such high marks.
The atmosphere is absolutely top notch, with darkened corridors leading you through a "ninja village" of small private rooms with sliding lattice-work doors. The ninjas, in their dark, distinctive clothing, are the servers, bus staff, hosts, and entertainers in this particularly strange spot (which is right around the corner from the Cosmopolitan Hotel I mentioned earlier.)
The food is surprisingly good, but some dishes we had were definitely better than others, and they're not particularly Japanese. If good Japanese food is what you want, this is not the place to go, especially for the prices. But you pay for the show as much as the food here, and the combination is well worth it.
The Bear Squad opted for a variety of dishes and menus, so we had a wide spectrum of their fare. The dishes noted as Ninja Art pieces were usually the most entertaining, although they weren't necessarily the best food. Our first time New York visitor guest and I had a dish called Batto Jutsu, which was Thai-style duck, with bell peppers and shiso. This was served atop a hollowed out bell pepper that had been filled with water. Stabbed through the pepper was a short dagger, on top of which was dry ice. When we drew out the daggers, the dry ice fell into the water and began to emit "smoke", creating a sort of ninja smoke bomb effect. My other half had a dish called Bombshell Clam, that remained closed until the salt base it was setting on was set on fire by our ninja server. It then slowly opened, revealing a combination of shellfish. The fire also provided the melting flame for a gruyere fondue. Our vegetarian otter friend had a dish of "Dancing plantains" which were served with guacamole, showing the American influence on the dishes.
A sushi course followed, which was fairly unremarkable, but not terrible. We're spoiled by a plethora of excellent sushi in Boston.
The third course for our guest and my other half was a Tempura fish dish served in beautiful bento boxes. The veggie otter had a miso eggplant dish. I had a fantastic dish of wagyu beef and mushrooms with potato crisps and a phillo dough shell covering it. This was one of the most excellent dishes of the evening.
My fourth course was a lamb dish called Bonfire that included an herb butter that was set on fire at the table and a crust of parsley, mustard, and bread-crumbs. The other half and our guest had T-bone steaks that neither was terribly wild about (although by this time, we were all rather full.) Robert was kind enough to suggest that the otter switch out his veggie steak for a portabello-salmon dish that he pronounced delicious.
The real treat of the evening was dessert. We've often joked that Japan's food is wonderful, but their dessert technology remains lacking. The ninjas proved otherwise. We ordered the four different desserts and passed them around. All included an intense red raspberry sorbet and fresh fruits. Our guest got a "Rose chocolate" which included a rich, fudgey pudding layered with a rose-infused cream. Otter got an apple custard served in a hollowed-out, frozen apple, served with red bean "eggrolls". My other half got a bonsai tree of pastry, sitting in a pot of "soil" that was actually tiramisu. I got a dish called Ninja Star! At first, the server just put a metal shuriken on the table, followed by my sorbet and fruit. He came back a moment later, doused it with fire, and "transformed" it into a shuriken flavored chocolate mousse cake. All the desserts were very tasty and a great ending to the meal.
I wouldn't normally mention the restrooms for a restaurant review, but these need to be mentioned. I've often had the combination toilet-bidets of Japan mentioned to me, but I've never enjoyed one. When I first sat down, I was startled, because the seat was so warm. I looked around, discovered the controls, and realized what I was sitting on. I entertained myself by using the various features and generally had to admit that it was a superior way to clean up following a visit. Now I have to wonder if the $3,000.00 price tag to have one installed just MIGHT be worth it.
I will probably not go again to Ninja, because I can't imagine every having as great a time as last night. But you never know. I might return, to show it off for someone else who's never been to NYC. Certainly, I give it a big recommendation if you're looking for something fun, non-pretentious, and with a great theme and style. I went in with low expectations, and I was blown away by the experience.
- The Happy Bear