Dokodemo Japanese Grill: 89 East 4 St, New York, NY 10003; (917) 261-5228; http://www.dokodemo-nyc.com
We took the train up to Manhattan this week. The East Village has changed a lot since I moved away four years ago; on some blocks, every single business is new (that is, new to me). Dokodemo opened last year. It’s the first in a planned chain of Japanese street-food take-outs, and the first place of interest that we stumbled upon in my old neighborhood.
We were actually on our way to Otafuku when we found it, which is coincidental as Otafuku offers basically the same Japanese fast-food items: okonomiyaki, takoyaki and a few other quick dishes. Otafuku had been our go-to place for these street staples, back when it was just a cramped take-away counter. You’d walk up a few stairs, place your order and wait in front of a cooler of Japanese drinks and ice cream. There was room for maybe five people, uncomfortably (depending on how well you might know them). The only seating was a bench or two out on the sidewalk of 9th Street.
So I was surprised to see that my beloved counter-serve okonomiyaki shop had expanded: Otafuku is now almost restaurant-sized. More power to them. But in Japanese culture, Otafuku supposedly brings joy, and it was sad to see my beloved, cramped fast-food counter “grow up.” The expanded eatery, located next door to the old step-up, holds no nostalgia for us. We headed back to Dokodemo (photo below) for lunch.
We get the yakisoba noodles with chicken and takoyaki. The yakisoba is fresh but too oily. We’d prefer they push the noodles forward and go lighter on the grease: The base ingredients and sauce are plenty savory on their own. A spoonful of the sauce alone would be savory enough. But the takoyaki is great — the diced octopus tender, not chewy. It comes from the griddle hotter than hell, with shaved fish flakes dancing on top as if across hot coals.
I also get a bottle of Dassai Otter Festival 50 sake, chilled. It’s a junmai daiginjō but fuller-bodied than expected. Fragrant, sweet, creamy, it pairs well with the (piping hot) octoballs.
Dokodemo’s online menu describes okonomiyaki as “Japanese pizza” and takoyaki as “Japanese calamari.” Not even close, in either case. The former is more like a pancake than pizza, and the latter are battered octopus balls. I understand that “octopus balls” may not make the best sales pitch, but it’s still nothing to do with calamari. “Japanese pancake pops” would be more like it.
Despite the oily noodles, we really liked this place. It’s fast, simple and friendly. Most importantly, you can’t get these food-stall staples just “anywhere.” (“Dokodemo” — 何処でも or どこでも — means “anywhere” or “wherever,” depending on the context. So where should we go? Dokodemo.) Next time we’ll try the beef omelette.
Now we just need to locate some takoyaki in NoVa.