First Impressions: Daruma-Ya

The transformation of the “Tokyo-Italian” Greenwich Grill into Daruma-Ya, an izakaya (which loosely translates as pub) and soba restaurant, is complete. The owner is the same, but the chefs are new. Take it away, Village Voice:

The Plan-do-see group, which owns [Sushi Azabu, still downstairs], has tapped Nobuhito Dosei to head the izakaya portion of the restaurant; the chef worked his way up in Michelin-starred kitchens before becoming a private chef for celebrities. Soba master Shuichi Kotani will helm the buckwheat noodle program, and he brings serious chops: He made soba for Joel Robuchon, and he’s taught Top Chef’s Gail Simmons, chefs Takashi Yagihashi and Lee Anne Wong, and author Candice Kumai his craft, in addition to a number of NYC’s Japanese chefs.

I was always fond of the atmosphere at Greenwich Grill—the booths in the front room had an old Hollywood feel, at least to me, and the dining room was generally relaxing, rare at a non-luxury price point. The booths were switched out for two-tops during a revamp of Greenwich Grill last fall, and the dining room has been made darker and cozier—it called to mind TriBeCafe and Ristorante Aglio, the restaurants that Plan Do See used to have in the Shigure space over on Church. The dining room’s big pastel blue painting has been replaced by one in earth tones, and the ceiling has been painted dark (and possibly some of the skylight was covered up?). For whatever reason, the room was louder.

Placed here and there are red skull-like objects called darumas. According to the bartender, they’re good-luck charms that originated in China. They come with two blank eyes, and when you fill one in, you make a wish—and then you fill in the other one when the wish comes true. (I successfully fought the urge to steal.)

Adam was running late, so I waited it out at the bar, which is still not quite deep enough—you have to sit sort of sidesaddle on the stool—and had a shiso mojito, made with shiso, shochu, and yuzu liqueur and served in a ceramic cup. I wasn’t the only one who found the hostess’s welcome a little aloof. The group that walked in after me, having been greeted and then abandoned, wondered aloud whether anyone would be leading them to a table.

Service was dramatically better in the dining room; a manager circled like a polite hawk, occasionally dropping by to remove a dish or inquire how were doing. And while I was prepared to dock the otherwise charming server for not even asking the kitchen whether we could substitute something for the foie gras dish on the set menu, he did in fact do just that (after we had said we’d just skip that course), and we were allowed to choose a replacement.

Daruma-Ya menu1Daruma-Ya menu2We opted for the set menu because it had been a long day and the regular menu is extensive. All of the non-soba dishes are meant to be shared and come out of the kitchen whenever they’re ready. Patrons are encouraged to order five to seven of those, plus soba. I don’t recall the prices, and the menu online doesn’t list them, but my sense was that you could run up quite a bill.

The set menu—$115 for two—included a platter of three small dishes (they involved eggplant, bamboo shoots, and seaweed); homemade tofu with salmon roe and uni; foie gras aonori (“seared foie gras served sushi style”—allowed to choose a sub from the meat menu, we went for pork-beef croquettes); washugyu tataki (thin slices of beef with yuzu); lobster uni yaki (“sea urchin mayo”); seiro soba (hot or cold); and dessert (one small scoop each of vanilla and green tea ice cream).

The standouts were the eggplant, tofu, and lobster, but that verdict may be unfair, given that we don’t tend to favor meat. As for the soba, most of the soba dishes at Daruma-Ya come with something else, but the purist “seiro style” soba on the set menu is served only with a soy-based sauce and scallions. I honestly don’t have enough experience with soba to know whether the noodles were extraordinary. If you do, please weigh in.

Daruma-Ya is at 428 Greenwich (between Vestry and Laight), 212-274-0428;

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  1. I was beyond disappointed. The service here is quite awful. (The staff never asked how my food was; they seemed unsure about the menu; they argued very rudely with a table next to me after the table received the wrong order and said the kitchen was now closed). The food was good; and living in Tokyo, I agree the soba noodles were the perfect balance of flavor and texture. HOWEVER, if the management cannot get their act together, I will hesitate to come back here and instead head to a place in the East Village where the prices are better and the staff seem less aloof. I’ve eaten at Sushi Azabu many times, and I’ve noticed the same with the staff. The sushi chefs behind the counter (most of them) are on point; but sadly that’s not enough for me to make this a “local” spot.

  2. We had a terrific experience at Daruma-Ya tonight. Firstly, I will say that I loved how pretty the back room used to be so was prepared to be disappointed by the new darker décor. Not so; the replacement painting is lovely and although the ceiling is darkened, it shines and the lighting level is perfect. Service was attentive, informative and responsive – couldn’t have been better. We added a few extra dishes mid-meal and no-one was ruffled. The sashimi was fresh, the oysters flavorful and corn tempura with pepper was so good, we were ready to order more. Everything else was also good and the soba, while I’m no expert, was a terrific way to end the meal. We’ll be back.