Location: 37-12 31st Ave, Long Island City, NY 11103
Best Dish: The entire meal was well thought out and executed perfectly. If we must choose a favorite it would have to be the rice bowl. The Donburi is a filling and delicious rice bowl that leaves you satisfied but not overstuffed.
Overall: An intimate dining experience for seafood lovers and adventurous foodies. We all know that one person who never tried anything new, this is not the place for them. There are no burgers or chicken fingers here and every protein isn’t dripping with teriyaki. This is an authentic foodie experience.
The popularity of Japanese cuisine has grown exponentially over the years. Its mainstream appeal has inspired a slew of variations and incarnations. Some are decadent and innovative while most are just Teriyaki doused proteins and cheap sushi. Executive Chef Mark Garcia of Gaijin has turned his love of Japanese cuisine into a unique fine dining experience. At Gaijin, Japanese flavors and techniques are employed to present a sumptuous menu of modern dishes. The restaurant is located in one of the main arteries of Astoria. The eatery is just a short walk from the subway and near a popular shopping strip. The interior, like the food, is both modern and traditional with a minimalist look and soft wooden accents. The dining room appears smaller than it is. There are several seats in front, and booths lining the interior corridor. Beyond the corridor lies a lush green garden space for outside dining. The entire kitchen is visible through crystal clear panes of glass. Chef Mark Garcia himself is often directly behind their sushi bar preparing the evening’s offerings and discussing the ingredients and techniques with guests seated at the bar. For this dining experience, we wanted to get a feel for the overall menu, so we opted for the Chef Tasting Menu.
Dobin Mushi – Teapot Soup
The Dobin Mushi is a Japanese soup made with seafood broth. The soup is served piping hot in a beautiful teapot. The broth’s flavor was enhanced by earthy mushrooms and aromatic herbs. The flavor was balanced by bursts of fresh lime for acidity. The soup awakened our palates for the following courses.
A Chawanmushi is a popular egg custard dish. The custard can be served hot or cold with a variety of ingredients. Ours was prepared with caviar and the elusive Uni or sea urchin. The texture of the custard was gelatinous but not giving it a strange but wonderful mouth feel.
Though the dishes change frequently there is usually a Robata or grilled course. Chef Mark Garcia served us his savory Marrow with toasted baguette and pickled onion. The marrow was smooth and flavorful with a rich velvety texture. It was absolutely delicious. If you’ve never tried it, Gaijin is a great place to start.
Six Piece Nigiri Flight
Nigiri is a variation of sushi that is often mistaken for sashimi. Nigiri is made with thin slices of raw fish placed over vinegared rice. Sashimi is the raw fish or meat without rice. The Nigiri is presented beautifully, skillfully arranged by intensity. The Nigiri are to be eaten in one bite from left to right. The last bite is the most intense with a burst of wasabi heat in the finish. The flight begins with Otoro, a bite made with the familiar flavors of uni and caviar, tying it to the Chawanmushi course. Each of the following bites contained fresh flavors and ingredients including scallions, black truffle, and yuzu juice. The flight ended with the Hotate. The Hotate is a prized delicacy of Japanese scallop often served as sashimi. Though it appeared to be a mild bite it awakened our taste buds with a hidden burst of wasabi that slowly intensified as we chewed.
For our Donburi course, we were served a tender braised unagi with seaweed and toasted sesame seeds. The unagi or eel was braised to reach maximum flavor and tenderness.
Earl Grey Gelato
Can you imagine the bittersweet flavors of Earl Grey in a creamy gelato? We don’t have to, we had it at Gaijin and it was tasty and refreshing. The scent of bergamot and its light sweetness was palate cleansing and refreshing after the hearty Donburi.
In addition to the Chef Tasting Menu, dining Omakase style is highly recommended and a fabulous experience for a real foodie. To dine Omakase is to have your entire meal selected by the chef. The meal is often broken up into several courses. Allowing the chef to choose creates a truly immersive culinary experience. He presents a carefully laid out meal with increasing intensity and heartiness. Each course was a delight to the senses with complex flavors and textures merging for one perfect bite. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly offering their expertise with warm smiles and exemplary service. We invite you to step out of the bento box and find yourself a seat at one of Chef Mark’s table. You’ll have an evening you won’t ever forget.
Gaijin hours of operation: Mon-Thurs 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm, closed Sunday. Phone: (929) 328-2890. For more information, please visit www.gaijinny.com.