Blue Ribbon Does Izakaya on the Lower East Side

Japanese food is nothing new for the Blue Ribbon empire, which counts four sushi places among its dozen or so restaurants. But its latest location, Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya, stakes out different turf: upmarket Japanese pub fare and small plates. Beef tongue, served with daikon and black truffle–shiitake teriyaki sauce, is a standout. Amazingly tender, it has the texture of filet mignon, foodwhisperer reports. Salmon teppanyaki is grilled with skill, laid over tapioca and fennel, and topped with a scattering of salmon roe.

One specialty that's new to the Blue Ribbon menus is kushiyaki, or grilled skewered stuff. foodwhisperer loves the scallops in miso butter (pictured). kathryn's hooked on pork belly with watercress and pickled onion ("I could probably eat 5-6 of these") and the tender, flavorful short rib with mustard aioli. Also new is fried rice, offered eight ways. One great variation is made with squid ink and crowned with uni; another features oxtail and bone marrow, a Blue Ribbon signature dish in a different guise. "Perfect amount of tender oxtail. Perfect salting," sappidus says. "Just a phenomenal dish." Other winning courses include baked clams with miso butter; pork ribs with black vinegar and crispy rice; a spicy cucumber salad with habanero, shiso, and sour cream; and grilled New York strip with miso-pepper sauce, which howdini finds nicely seasoned and meltingly tender.

There's also sushi, which hounds find a cut above the sushi at other Blue Ribbon locations. kathryn reports better fish and knife work than she's encountered at the SoHo original. One highlight is expertly cut aji (horse mackerel) sashimi; eventually, the head and bones are deep-fried to a delicious crisp. foodwhisperer went all in with the omakase (a relative bargain at $75), featuring various kinds of tuna, sockeye salmon, Tasmanian sea trout, flying fish, striped jack, mackerel, sea bass, yellowtail, sardine, sea eel, and more.

Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya [Lower East Side]
In the Thompson LES Hotel, 187 Orchard Street (between Houston and Stanton streets), Manhattan
212-466-0404

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Photograph by foodwhisperer