Friday, November 2, 2007

When you don't feel like sushi.

When it comes to sushi, I'm a bit late to the party. I've always enjoyed raw fish (and raw meat in general for that matter - my mother and I share a passion for steak tartare), but I never really loved sushi. That's changed over the last year or so, but even before then, I had a place in my heart for Japanese cuisine in general. That snug little spot was in no small part carved out by the many meals I've eaten at Kasadela.

Kasadela is what's called an izakaya, a sake bar that serves food alongside the hooch. Their sake list ranges from the ridiculously affordable to the indulgent (though it's much heavier on sakes in the former category). Each listing is accompanied by a helpful description of that sake's character; Kaishu is described as "medium-dry, well-balanced and compact," while Ginban is "dry, elegant smooth" with a "clean finish." Add the knowledgeable servers to this mix, and it's hard to order a sake you won't like. (If you're not a sake drinker, full-stop, no need to worry - they have beer, wine and soda, too.)

The vibe is low-key, and ordering is done as it would be at a tapas restaurant - order a few things, share, and order a few more.

The menu always boasts a few specials; on my last visit, they were serving a tomato salad topped with daikon radish and fried mint. The rich, earthy tomatoes were warm compared to the chilled, crispy daikon, and the fragile, ethereal mint lent a fresh bite to the entire dish. Another recurring special is the duck tataki, seared ever-so-quickly and served with ponzu, wasabi, and shaved scallions. Served chilled, it manages to be both light and meaty at the same time.

Perennial favorites of mine include the light-as-a-feather rock shrimp tempura, served with a spicy ponzu-spiked dressing. The dressing is so good that chopsticks do battle for the small green salad served along side, the better to dip them into the stuff. The tempura batter is light in texture and flavor, allowing the fresh, pert shrimp to shine. I also love their donburi, be it chicken, shrimp, or unagi, and their salmon tartare, studded with avocado, flavored with soy, and served with paper-thin sweet potato chips for scooping, is a must-have.

Kasadela's proprietor, Yujen Pan, used to work for Nobu, and the food at Kasadela is refined and satisfying in many of the same ways. But, unlike his former employer, Pan has established a singularly affordable eatery - I have yet to leave here having spent more than $45/head. Not a mean feat for food of this quality on this island. And you can always get in.

647 E. 11th Street
Between Avenues B and C

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