- 1674 Broadway , New York, NY, 10019
- Overall User Rating:
- (5 ratings)
- Mon.-Sat. 12 p.m.-3 a.m. Closed Sun.
- Official Web Site:
Times Square isn't a safe place to eat at—you practically need to zip up in a hazmat suit before venturing into a dining wasteland threatened by toxic deposits of Bubba Gump shrimp and Applebee's riblets. Once in a while, though, a restaurant pops up with some semblance of ambition and pedigree. Domo arigato, Mr. Robata—a new Japanese(ish) spot that seems be a big eff-you to its assembly-line neighbors. The chef is Masaki Nakayama, who honed his French technique working with Paul Liebrandt and sharpened his sushi skills apprenticing under Naomichi Yasuda. The pricey cuisine melds—surprise!— Japanese pragmatism and French flair. And the restaurant itself, cheekily located next to a gentleman's club, has so far been attracting a mixed crowd of locals, Japanese businessmen and late-night grubbers/tipplers drawn to its 3 a.m. closing time. But is it enough to make you want to trek to Times Square? —ALL
So what is Chef Nakayama really trying to do here?
We asked ourselves this repeatedly when encountering dishes with gonzo flourishes like grapes dropped into wasabi mashed potatoes. There’s a maki roll tricked out with lobster tempura, cream cheese and, weirdly, sriracha. Miso fondue has been invented here—the ultimate East-meets-West comfort dish. Then there are the luxe prices, which can top out at $34 for a specialty roll, $24 for tapas and $39 for an entree. But does it all work? That’s another question we asked. It was clear, though, that the chef is breaking from the traditional chains of Yasuda. —MR
Good cop: Grilled meats, duck breast with foie gras, specialty rolls, tofu salad
Meat dishes are a good bet here, and I enjoyed a bevy of the restaurant's namesake robata skewers: The Black Angus pork belly was a rich, melty number with a delicious caramelized exterior (dip it into the accompanying shiso remoulade), while the Hudson Valley duck breast was tender and robust (opt for the yuzu miso sauce with this one). Also a runaway winner: Nakayama's terrific roasted duck breast and seared foie gras "tapas," a mouthwatering duet sitting atop candied apples and a smooth spackle of strawberry paste (made here with honey and pepper). A fatty-fruity treat. The specialty rolls were superbly complex creations, and very good, despite their hokey names. The Dreams Come True roll meshed lobster tempura with mango, avocado, coconut and caviar, while the New York New York roll provided a pleasant crunch by pairing macadamia nuts with spicy tuna and wasabi cream cheese. (Both the wasabi and soy sauce here are housemade.) Those macadamia nuts showed up again—and to great effect—in a light and fresh tofu salad, which was doused in chili oil infused with scallops and shrimp. —ALL
Bad cop: Octopus, Japanese French fries, chicken wings, vegetable robata, lamb chops, miso fondue
The fussy grilled octopus wasn’t just rubbery. With the heavy-handed marriage of shiso pesto, artichoke, wasabi mashed potatoes, green grapes (weird), edamame and tomatoes, it was a WTF moment I don’t want to experience again. The tapas offerings continued to fail with oil-slicked French fries dusted with non-factoring shichimi pepper flakes. Soy chicken wings were mushy—hardly resembling their crispy cousins from Korea. And although we enjoyed the proteins arriving from the sizzling robata, the shishito peppers and eryngii mushroom we sampled were limp and flavorless. An average rack of baby lamb chops, served with a teriyaki demi-glaze, was fine until the vegetable portion of the program, with the same truffled mashed potatoes and rock-hard Brussels sprouts. But the biggest crime was an ill-conceived pot of watery fondue—a puzzling blend of gruyere, miso and yuzu. Worse, it was sided with shellfish like shrimp and king crab that paired terribly with the milky, citrus blend—which resembled a fishier version of Paul Newman’s bottled Italian salad dressing. Unfortunately, the $32 we spent on this epic fail of a dish did not go to charity. —MR
Mr. Robata earns points for effort, but it often gets carried away by its own inventiveness, resulting in fussy, busy dishes that can either overwhelm, disappoint or repulse. Not to mention that a few of the dishes we had weren't properly cooked. Meat and sushi are a strength here, and you won't go wrong digging into its namesake grilled meat skewers or opting for a specialty roll or two. But the restaurant's diminishing returns don't live up to its prohibitive Times Square prices (a designer roll can run up to $34). Choose very, very wisely. Or, skip Mr. Robata altogether. —ALL
Photo by Noah Fecks