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Visited in January 2017
151 Rivington Street, 1st Floor
New York, NY 10002

Ohhhhh the nostalgia!!!  Oh Tokyo, how we missed your barbequed skewers Tokyo…

For our “fix”, we decided to make a trip to Yopparai.  A swanky Izakaya type place that serves quality sashimi, barbeque, udon/soba, and rice dishes.  Plus a TON of sake options.  You know what’s a really surprising tid bit that we learned during our trip to Toyko?  Tokyo really do not have any SAKE bars.  And we’ve EXPLORED.  We’re huge into walking, so we weaved in and out of what seemed like every single street, up and down all the small buildings with 4-5 bars/restaurants, and stuck our heads in and checked every spot.  We even climbed up the stairs that seemed like ladders!  They have SOCHU bars and Scotch bars, but not really SAKE.  Of the many bars and izakayas (similar to our pubs) they will always have some SAKE, anywhere between one to usually no more than ten choices.  Whereas NYC has a number of SAKE bars, where you will easily find 40-50 kinds of SAKE or more on the menu.  So unexpected!

Before I get into the meal, there is one quick thought I want to, but rarely do share, about the atmosphere.  I am a strong believer in the oldie but goodie of “a picture says a thousand words”, so if you just googled images, it’s much more indicative than me going on and on.  But, there is something deceiving about Yopparai.  It looks like a super romantic spot, BUT daters beware, not necessarily so!  If you come here a few times, you’ll quickly find that 90% of the clientele here are all Chinese.  Now, I have NOTHING against the Chinese, I am one myself, so this is not a race thing.  But there is truth to the stereotype, when groups of Chinese gather, we are loud a*s people.  Nothing wrong with that, just not so romantic.  For couples looking for romantic spot, stay away from the tables.  There are tables for two and four.  The closer you get to the tables for four (at the back), the louder it gets.  You don’t want to be screaming at your date because you’re sitting across from him or her, that’s not so attractive.  Instead, take a seat at the counter.  You get a small but very comfortable bench for two, and then a cubby underneath your bench to store your coats/purse/etc.  Then you can whisper into each other’s ears!  Ha ha!  Same deal, if you sit too far in the back, you’ll be drowning in the loudness.  For optimal romance, sit closer to the entrance, farther from both the chatter and the smoke.

Our small plates tonight:

  1. Sake – I clearly know that this is not “a plate”, but I felt a need to commend Yopparai on their attention to detail on ensuring you have a nice little ice box, and a choice of cups for your sake. When you change sake choices, they will get you new cups too.  It’s very nice.
  2. Sashimi Matsu – Four kinds of sashimi, UNI, and IKURA, served right over crushed ice. We hesitated on ordering raw fish given that it’s a Monday.  Tons of chefs had attempted convincing me that fish quality and variety is the same Sunday through Monday.  LIES!  Their claim is that many restaurants order direct from Tsujiki in Tokyo, and have it flown in, so are no longer dependent upon our markets being open here.  I can’t tell you exactly how it works, but I know that every single restaurant I frequent, both quality and variety significantly suffers late Sundays and almost all Mondays.  And on all our regular spots like Blue Ribbon, Kanoyama, Takahachi, they always apologize for their limited selection attributing it to the day of the week.  Yes, there are still limitations, stop trying to convince us of falsities!  Plus, why do you think sushi restaurants only pick either Sundays or Mondays to be closed???  There is a reason for everything!  (top to bottom, left to right):
    1. KANPACHI (Amberjack) – Of the four fishes (non-UNI) on this plate, the KANPACHI was by far the best. It still had that yummy KANPACHI gumminess, a slight crunch, and beautiful light tast.
    2. Snapper – This was a throwaway piece. If I wasn’t so hungry, I would have tossed it.
    3. HIRAME (Fluke) – Acceptable, not nothing to write home about. You can always make a white fish a whole lot better by a small piece of shiso, so that helped a lot.
    4. AKAMI (Lean Bluefin Tuna) – Same as the HIRAME, acceptable, but would in no way order a second round.
    5. UNI (Chilean) – Surprisingly decent! It big and sweet like Santa Barbara, but very watery like lower quality Hokkaido.  Very, very good.
    6. IKURA (Salmon Roe) – Looks pretty, and a decent amount too, but the quality is just so so. Seems old, or where they didn’t marinate it, and thus thicker/stickier.  This was odd, as we remember their IKURA to be SO MUCH better…  BOO!!!
    7. AKAMI ZUKE (line marinated blue fin tuna) – This was VERY YUMMY. Not sure what the gold flake does, but it’s pretty…
    8. Chilean UNI repeat!
  3. Butakushi Kurobuta (pork belly) – This is what I miss most from Tokyo. The pork was so much more succulent, the flavor so much more thorough.  Though it doesn’t compare, it was still very good, even worthy of a repeat order good.
  4. SUNAGIMO (chicken gizzards) – I take it back, THIS is what I miss most with Tokyo! While in Tokyo, we ordered gizzards every chance we could.  Their gizzards for some reason has the most clean and pure chicken taste.  Versus ours almost always have a certain funk to it.  Even when you go to the live poultry market, and pick the live chicken, and they slaughter and gut it in front of you, even those have a funk.  In Tokyo, whether they just do a simple pepper salt, or a light marinade, it’s always absolutely fantastic.  This also was still very good, still worthy of a round two, just not quite Tokyo.  Sniff sniff…
  5. Torikushi (chicken thigh) – This was the least preferred skewer of the bunch. It was dry, almost white meat dry.
  6. Gyutan (Washu beef tongue) – This was VERY good. Beautiful crunch, yet you can still taste the slight marbling, and the intense quality beef flavors, very, VERY good.
  7. SHAKE IKURA SEIRO – I’ve seen others order this at Yopparai, and assumed it was just a regular “don”, bowl of rice with some toppings, and then a dashi soy of sorts. WRONG!  The rice was a flavored rice, almost as though it was cooked in the flavoring, not pure plain white rice, topped with soy dripping through the raw fish, or whatever other topping you have on.  It was topped with scallions, shredded egg, and IKURA.  I made boyfriend eat it…

Overall Thoughts:

Definitely worth another visit, just not on a Monday again.  The sashimi here has always been good, today, it was subpar.  The skewered meats were delicious though, so would have loaded up on that more.  Maybe try a noodle next time too…  Overall rating of 20 out of 35.  Please remember this is a sake bar and not a true sushi-ya though.  Yopparai has good food, GO!