I had one of the most interesting dinner experiences that I have had in a very long time at this completely over-the-top japanese eatery called Ninja located in Tribeca.
I had heard about this theme restaurant before but have never been there to experience it myself. My parents were one of the first visitors to this restaurant when it opened over 4 years ago. It is located in the very large basement space of a condominium building on the corner of Duane and Hudson. My parents, who are “food snobs” and thus are extremely difficult to please, complained about the overpriced food and minuscule portions. They casually mentioned, “and by the way,the waiters dress up like Ninjas.”
Based upon their very unenthusiastic review and the fact that no one I knew had mentioned otherwise, I walked by the restaurant for the next four years dropping my kids off to school without much thought of visiting the restaurant myself.
When my husband was pressing me about where we should celebrate my birthday dinner with out 2 young sons, I thought of Ninja. I figured that if this place is still open after four years in Manhattan (a lifetime in Manhattan’s competitive restaurant environment), it can’t be that bad. Plus, the kids might get a kick out of the Ninja dressed waiters.
We were very much unprepared for what we were about to experience.
Upon entering the street level entrance of the restaurant, you are immediately enveloped in a dark cave like room. There is a lovely hostess dressed all in black that greets you at the door. She whispers something into her headset/microphone and escorts you into the elevator which takes you to the subterranean eatery below. When the elevator door opens to the level below, it is practically pitch black and a little spooky. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness, you slowly step out of the elevator into the cave like corridors when all of sudden, “Ay Ya!” a Ninja jumps out at you, unsheathed sword and all!
Now if any of you know me, I am the biggest chicken out there. I can’t stand scary movies or horror flicks. I frighten easily and scream even easier. Needless to say, I screamed.
When I realized that this Ninja was actually our lovely hostess from upstairs (just in a Ninja costume) I un-easily laughed it off.
“Ha, ha. very funny”, I sarcastically said to my hysterically laughing children.
We were led down the narrow stone covered walkway and entered the “Ninja den”. The decor in this restaurant is truly remarkable. Every detail was replicated to resemble what I can only assume is a japanese “Ninja style” environment.
Every table is housed in its own “mini-den”. Our table for 4 was located in a private room that was only accessible by a short flight of stairs. After being seated, the “fun” started.
Every 5 -10 minutes, our waiter “Ninja Kayashi” would leap into the room yelling “Ay Ya“, scaring us all. He would toss us “Ninja bombs” and throw retractable “Ninja Stars” narrowly missing our heads. My youngest son was vacillating between laughter and tears as he was struggling to sort out his feelings between terror and joy. Luckily he settled on joy and started looking forward to our waiters multiple frights.
The food was beautifully and dramatically presented. One dish in particular resembled a steaming cauldron of some ancient ninja potion, but was actually tuna confit served in a stone pot over dry ice.
Dry Ice is amazing. It is a solid form of Carbon dioxide and mainly used as a cooling agent however, when dry ice is dropped in water, dense clouds of fog appear. I have seen this “fog” before in night clubs and on dance floors but never in a presentation of food. Needless to say, we were all thoroughly impressed and “Ohhed and ahhed”.
The rest of the dinner was a combination of hits and misses. My sashimi was not much different from what I had eaten earlier at the japanese counter at Whole Foods. My sushi rolls had way too much rice in them (a big no-no in the I LOVE FOOD DIET). The twin appetizer of tuna sashimi and tuna confit was excellent and very tasty. The Rib Eye Steak was delicious and surprisingly good quality.
One of the dishes came with a stone bowl of potato au gratin. I have a weakness for anything “au gratin“. The browned crispy crust usually made from baked breadcrumbs, butter, cream and grated cheese is something that I find very hard to resist. I decided that I was going to have “just one little bite”, as clearly potatoes contain carbs and carbs are a “no-no” on the I LOVE FOOD DIET. However, after I took “one little bite, “all was lost. This savory, creamy,cheesy, buttery combination was just what the doctor ordered.
When I looked guiltily at my husband, he said “Eat it! Enjoy, its your birthday”. And with that little bit of encouragement I proceeded to devour the entire pot. Hey, what can I say. It’s the I LOVE FOOD DIET after all.
Chow for now!