First Impressions: Bisutoro

Bisutoro bar mural“Much better atmosphere,” texted Adam, having arrived early to Bisutoro, Masaharu Morimoto’s do-over of Tribeca Canvas. Expectations may have been low—after all, I had made him go to Tribeca Canvas twice. We actually had liked the food well enough the first time, having not felt compelled to order the critic bait, but the room was wintry and off-putting. By the second visit, the lighting had improved, while the food had devolved.

For Bisutoro, Morimoto partnered with folks from Macao Trading Co. and Los Americanos. The layout certainly calls Macao to mind—dark, with a bar to the right as you walk in, opening up to a high-ceilinged, windowless dining room; a dramatic stairway in back leads to a balcony with two tables. Macao and Los Americanos make you feel like you’ve entered another world. Bisutoro is less successful at that, possibly because it’s much more spare than its neighbors, with none of their patina (faked as it may be).

“We’re in Vegas,” said Adam. “Somewhere off the Strip.”

The tables throughout are decently spaced, and the street-art murals and tattoo photographs are presumably there to add edge—whether a huge close-up of someone’s navel piercing stimulates your appetite is another question. The music was heavy into the 80s. I can’t remember the last time I heard “Radio Free Europe” in public.

Bisutoro is said to be the Japanese word for “bistro,” and the menu is New American with Japanese touches, such as yuzu baked oysters and steak frites with togarashi butter. We ordered lettuce wraps with tempura shrimp (Adam was amused by what was basically sweet-and-sour sauce), the mushroom onion soup dumplings (better on paper), the uni carbonara (not a lot of uni flavor, but not bad), and the miso sea bass (you’ve had it before). The other restaurant one naturally compares Bisutoro to is Greenwich Grill, serving “Tokyo-Italian” food that is more refined than what you’ll get here. Some of the city’s press outlets that tend to slobber over everything have touted the burger and the wagyu burger (with teriyaki onions and wasabi aioli) and the selection of whiskeys, and it did occur to us that Bisutoro might make more sense if you think of it as a bar with food, and order accordingly. You could do much worse than having nibblybits and a Black Ship Tonic, made with Old Tom gin and kaffir lime tonic, or two.

Bisutoro is at 313 Church (between Lispenard and Walker), 212-727-0644;

Bisutoro roomBisutoro artworkBisutoro gin and tonicBisutoro lettuce wrapsRecent New Kid on the Block/First Impressions articles:
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