Otooya is basically the Japanese version of the Cheesecake Factory. We mean that in the nicest way possible, because the food here doesn’t suck. But this restaurant is a huge chain in Japan, and they have an enormous menu that’s a bit daunting (though not laminated, thank god). So it’s the easiest comparison to make. There's also a big host station at Ootoya, where you will inevitably be informed of a one hour wait and asked for your phone number so they can call you when you're table is ready. It's essentially a step short of handing you one of those blinky buzzer things. And some crayons.
Eventually, you'll be called upon to return to the Ootoya Factory (usually much sooner than that hour wait you were quoted), and you’ll be guided into a huge, two-level space and greeted by a friendly hello from the staff – all of the staff, at the same time, loudly. You will then sit down and realize that this is one of the few restaurants in New York (and certainly the only one at which you can spend less than $20 per person for dinner) where the tables are far enough apart that they don’t have to be pulled out to sit down, and where you won’t hear every word of the conversation next to you. We’re quite not sure how they manage to have that much space at this price point, but we didn’t ask any questions. We’re not trying to anger the Yakuza.
On each of our trips here we were the only white people in the restaurant, which we usually take as a good sign for the quality and authenticity of the food. And it was. Though there are better versions of some of these dishes on the menu at other Japanese places in town, there’s no place that has such a wide, consistent selection. We tried everything from the noodles to the sushi to the pork, chicken, and beef dishes, and it was all delicious and satisfying. You can order the main courses a la carte or with “set” dishes of miso soup, pickles, and egg custard for a couple bucks more. Fair warning: although the egg custard looks like flan, it is in fact not flan or any other sort of sweet dessert. If you dig in expecting something cold and sweet, you will be unpleasantly surprised. Other than that sole miscommunication, the wait staff is extremely helpful. And that’s a good thing, because if they weren’t we would have sat there paging through the menu until the place closed. There’s probably some stuff on this menu that you’ve never seen before, and that your server might steer you away from. For instance, apparently white people don’t usually like Japanese yams. We wouldn’t know, because our waitress successfully talked us out of ordering them. Probably a smart move after that “custard” surprise.
The homemade tofu here is ridiculously creamy and a tiny bit sweet. If tofu is your thing, some version of theirs should be on your table. This version is served on top of lettuce with seaweed, tiny fried fish, and dressing, and it’s good.
Bluefin tuna seared very lightly on the outside served in a soy-sauce based sauce. No surprises here, and pretty tasty.
Huge pressed sushi rolls. Surprisingly good for sushi not being their specialty. Order one to split among your table. The salmon was our favorite, as it comes with two (big) pieces each of three different preparations.
Our waitress gave us a spiel on how they use a special type of flour to make these noodles and that they’re the most authentic noodles you can get outside of Tokyo. They’re good, but the best part is when she brings you the broth they’re cooked in, instructs you to pour the dipping sauce in and drink up. For the first few sips, it was a wonderfully salty, almost silky drink like we’d never tasted before. Then the salt became overwhelming and we had to stop for fear of our blood pressure. But those few sips...damn.
Extremely tender chicken, egg, and grilled onions over rice. This was absolutely delicious. The rice bowls are some of their best work here.
A perfectly fried pork cutlet in a rice bowl with a side of curry sauce to pour over it. This could feed a normal human for at least two, possibly three meals. It lasted 90 seconds on our table. We take this eating sh*t seriously.
Pretty standard grilled beef – it was fine, but not great. They do chicken, fish, and pork better than beef here.
Like most things here, the meats-on-sticks portion of the menu is good but not outstanding. The Tsukune and Negima were our favorites.