Midtown Japanese Showcase

Inakaya Robata Grill & Sushi
620 Eighth Avenue (231 West 40th Street)
New York, NY 10018
(212) 354-2195

If you’re looking for a Japanese restaurant that offers intimacy and those unique little touches that say you’ve stumbled across a special place to call your own, Inakaya isn’t it. It’s an open showcase made to let you take the scale and hustle of midtown Manhattan indoors for a flashy Japanese meal. As befits the Manhattan branch of a Roppongi institution, it’s a place to see and be seen, hear and be heard.

You can’t miss the place. It’s on the corner of 8th Ave and 40th St in the New York Times Building, fronted by a third of a block of rocking red canvas eaves and floor-to-ceiling windows.

A willowy and smiling hostess welcomed us and pulled out our chairs. The focal point is an immense 270-degree sushi bar, with abundant seating. Periodically, the sushi chefs chant emphatically, apparently prompted by one of the servers. It’s atmospheric in that intrusively hearty way that many Japanese sushi restaurants strive for. The massive Heian-period communal wooden tables —set with hand-sewn coasters and ceramic spice containers — evoke something of a Kyoto palace within a boldly wide-open modern space.

My companion ordered Bento Box B ($25) from the menu’s 3-option multiple-choice lunch-specials section. It included grilled white fish, salad, shrimp and vegetable tempura, grilled potatoes, okra, fishcake and of course, miso soup. She murmured approval of the presentation but felt the items on the bento were too humble to merit the price. I ordered two salmon rolls and thought they were competent but not worth the price.

In the middle of my meal I went to powder my nose and was impressed by the high-tech toilet, complete with bidet and seat warmer. When I returned my napkin had been folded, my chair pushed in. We both liked the toilet but felt the service overmatched the quality of the food.

Still the place became crowded during lunch hour. Much of the clientele was talking business — a sign that Inakaya had made the transition from splashy transplant to local haunt, at least with the working stiffs who still had well-paying jobs. Not bad considering the place has only been open since March 2009. Lunch for two will run around $50, a nice dinner with a couple of appetizers, $80.

We waddled out with full stomachs, reflecting that Manhattan has as many eateries as L.A. has Uggs and that Inakaya’s combination of modern style, competent dishes and impressive presentation should put it in good stead for at least a few more seasons.