On Top of the World
by Christine Cunanan-Miki
Before anything else, I must confess a partiality to the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. I’d been there in its infancy in the early 1990s, wearing boots and a hard hat, when the restaurant was still an empty room that needed lots of imagination to envision it as the Zagat top-rater it has now become. The giant murals of New York painted by Italian artist Valerio Adami were not up yet, but even then, amidst the rubble, the team that opened the hotel and placed it on the gastronomic map had no doubt that it would one day be a great restaurant.
“This will be one of Tokyo’s top restaurants,” Ernesto de Lima, the hotel’s first assistant general manager, told me then. “Everyone will want to eat here.”
And true enough, the New York Grill almost immediately found its place in Tokyo. Zagat Survey has rated it the most popular restaurant in Tokyo for five years now, while Hotels magazine voted it one of the ten best hotel restaurants in the world. It’s also long had a place in my life as the setting for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, reunions, and even for my first novel, Tokyo Stories www.tokyostories.net. However, one day and for no particular reason, I just stopped coming.
A few weeks ago, however, my husband and I decided to have dinner at the New York Grill again after a hiatus of over a year. Walking past the familiar open kitchen into the dining area with its sleek furniture and larger-than-life windows framing spectacular views of Tokyo, I happily noted how little had changed. That tempo of unabashed success and energy, that feeling of being on top the world (figuratively and literally since the hotel is on the 52nd floor!) is still very much in the atmosphere.
The food was also as good as ever in a distinct Manhattan way. It’s enjoyable comfort food with panache, that’s all about strong tastes, luxurious ingredients, and dramatic presentations. Unlike Japanese cuisine where sublime flavors are slowly uncovered, or French cuisine which is refined to the last detail, New York cooking is in a hurry to impress and please in the first thirty seconds. The food is so straightforward that nothing is ‘lost in translation.’ Some people love it this way (they say life is too short anyhow) and others don’t — but those who do find themselves coming back over and over.
Chef Jack Wetzel, who previously worked as executive chef at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, cooks with a very even hand. Our starter of taraba crab and green asparagus paired the crab’s natural sweetness with the sourness of grapefruit for a wonderful intermingling of sensations. Meanwhile his innovative pot-au-feu style foie gras, which comes in a casserole with root vegetables in a salty soup, was perfect for the cold winter evening. For main courses, Chef Wetzel has great fresh fish offerings from Tsukiji. However, it’s almost a shame to miss out on the grilled meats at the New York Grill because they do a mean steak here. If you’re in the mood to splurge, I suggest a succulent Sendai or Yonezawa steak, which are among the tastiest beef you can get in Japan, with all the trimmings.
With simple good cooking, an electric atmosphere, and the soothing music of a lounge singer in the background (from the adjacent bar), there’s really no better place to be on a Friday night than on top of Tokyo at the New York Grill.
WHAT TO EAT
The Taraba Crah and Green Asparagus Salad (¥4,500) and the Foie Gras with Root Vegetables (¥4,000) are good ways to start the evening. For the main course, you can’t go wrong with the pan-roasted cod fish with marinated vegetables (¥5,400) or the grilled Sendai beef fillet (¥10,000). If you’re having the steak, make sure to ask for Jack Wetzel’s special homemade Worcestershire sauce.
WHAT TO DRINK
Jaffurs Viognier 2004 (¥9,500/bottle), a fruity California white that brings to mind peach compote and white lilac, is excellent for vegetables and grilled fish; while Havens Bourriquot 2000 (¥15,000/bottle), a complex Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley with hints of red pepper, pairs beautifully with steak and is reportedly one of hotel General Manager Robert Marker’s favorite wines. Movie buffs might want to start the evening with L.I.T. (lost in translation ¥1,600), the restaurant’s best selling cocktail made with sake, cherry blossom, and peach liqueur.
WHERE TO SIT
The power table here has always been the middle booth table, which enables you to see all the action as well as the colorful murals on both sides of the restaurant.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST
Plan on spending at least ¥50,000 to ¥60,000 for dinner for two with a bottle of wine.
WHO GOES THERE
Investment bankers, Hollywood stars, couples on special dates, and a whole assortment of VIPs and semi-VIPs. Also, lots of wealthy out-of-towners who want to see where the movie Lost in Translation was filmed.
New York Grill
Park Hyatt Tokyo
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Tel. 03-5322-1234 Fax: 03-5322-1288