Whenever New Yorkers hear “Murray Hill,” they think of hootin’ and hollerin’ yuppies drunkenly falling over on the sidewalks near Tonic and Joshua Tree. In more recent months, Murray Hill is cleaning up their act and making way for nicer, trendy restaurants.
Enter: Oka, the first Manhattan restaurant from Chef John McCarthy, of The Crimson Sparrow in Hudson, NY, also an alum of famed wd~50.
Oka is Chef John’s interpretation of a Japanese izakaya viewed through a New York lens. Chef John spend time traveling, working, and cooking in Japan – even becoming a certified sake sommelier – and is now sharing his experience with us here in NYC. We were lucky to join in for a special menu preview last week and try a few signature dishes.
We started off with a light grapefruit and umeboshi cocktail, where the dedicated bartenders were hand juicing the grapefruits on order. The drink was light and refreshing, so enjoy it before the end of the summer.
To start we tried a few of the smaller dishes, which are great sharing options. To whet our appetites, we started with the toasted baguette with shio kombu butter and smoked salt. Save the butter, which can be slathered on anything! The small bowl of local tomatoes and koji was a great healthy option with tons of flavor and tang. A crowd favorite was the edamame salad with togarashi, yuzu, and wasabi on top of a shrimp cracker.
Another favorite were the chickpea croquettes with ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and side of chili oil. The sauces here really enhance the dishes, so again, save the chili oil and dip everything in it! The Japanese potato salad is a traditional Japanese dish and a must order, and this version comes topped with a slice of proscuitto.
For a hearty and filling option, order the tonkatsu, another excellent traditional Japanese dish. The breaded fried pork cutlet sits on top of a bed of napa cabbage and topped with a subtle yuzu vinaigrette.
Last but certainly not least, you can’t go wrong with a hot bowl of udon noodles, no matter the time of year. The soft noodles come in a soothing dashi soup base, not overly salted and seasoned like you may find in other noodle/ramen shops. It comes with a soft boiled egg, and feel no shame in lifting up the bowl to slurp down the broth.
The menu is simple but you can find something for everyone to experience Japanese izakaya cuisine. Check out the menu here!
Photos by Yvonne Lee
439 Third Avenue
between 30th and 31st Streets
New York, NY 10016
IG: @oka_nyc and @spar
Wednesday: 5:30pm – 12:00am
Thursday: 5:30pm – 12:00am
Friday: 5:30pm – 1:00am
Saturday: 5:30pm – 1:00am
Sunday: 5:30pm – 12:00am
Closed Monday & Tuesday
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