Atop a narrow stairway seemingly hidden in the Lower East Side rests a Japanese izakaya, a type of Japanese drinking establishment that also serves food to accompany the drinks, named Yopparai. As if entering an apartment, with the buzz of a button this tranquil restaurant appears and you are quickly transported to Japan. There are only 30 seats in this place, again resembling the tiny spaces in Tokyo, and sake is the name of the game.
However, my interest lies beyond the drinks and into the snacks that are meant to pair with the drinks. Yopparai takes pride in using high-quality ingredients and an open grill, which only means I gotta try, I gotta try! The first dish pictured above is their Masu Tofu (升豆腐), chilled tofu served in a masu box with benito flakes, seaweed, and other condiments. The tofu was silky smooth so you’ll definitely need the spoon.
The Uni (sea urchin) mixed with squid topped with seaweed was creamy and fresh tasting. The squid provided an added layer of chewy texture, and was easily finished by everyone.
With a list of daily specials, the scallop is served in a shell with broth and a flame. Yup, that is real flame on top of salt. Sadly enough I can’t remember how this dish tasted, but was definitely memorable in its presentation.
The Chutoro (中トロ), fatty tuna, was like its name – fatty and melted in the mouth.
Grilled octopus, how can you go wrong?
The assortment of six oden (おでん盛合) was good though I found the broth to be a bit salty. Still, it was nice to be able to try out the various odens that had different textures.
There’s the Isobe Yaki Mochi (自家製磯辺焼), homemade pounded rice cake grilled with soy sauce, that had a great chewy texture but a bit salty for me.
How can you have yakitori without tsukune (名物自家製つくね) a.k.a. meatballs? Here there was both the free-range chicken (地鶏つくね) and the washu beef (和州牛つくね). Both good but on the salty side.
The Kakuni (黒豚の角煮), Kurobuta pork belly simmered in dashi broth, was extremely salty and I would highly recommend you eat it with some rice.
Where are the veggies? No we did not forget that food group! We got an assortment of grilled vegetables, which were perfectly charred.
Ochazuke (茶漬), dashi broth poured over rice, was served with cod roe. It was light and tasty, standard rice with broth dish.
The Yaki Onigiri (名物関ヶ原たまりの焼おにぎり), crunchy rice ball grilled with Sekigahara soy sauce, was surprisingly salty and a bit hard to finish. It was served warm but had too much soy sauce to it.
Overall, Yopparai is a place that definitely needs its snacks paired with drinks. Many of the dishes were too salty for me, but I did find that their seafood was very fresh. Their sake is also undeniably good so I would definitely come here for its drinks. It’s not an easy find and a small restaurant so I wouldn’t be surprised if you walk past the stairway a few times before finding it. Happy drinking! Gan-bai!
151 Rivington St
New York, NY 10002