Note: Mr. Jones closed in June 2009.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and we wanted something casual. I decided on Mr. Jones, the new Yakitori restaurant on the northern edge of the East Village. If Jones doesn’t sound familiar, you haven’t missed anything: he’s fictitious. What he has to do with Yakitori, or Japanese food served on skewers, utterly eludes me.
Restaurant Girl nailed the décor: George Jetson’s bachelor pad. Someone dropped major coin to build it, but the design betrays some indecision about the mission. The inconspicuous exterior looks like a garage door. Inside, it looks more like a party lounge than a restaurant, with its tightly-packed tiny tables and low-slung chairs. “Japanese” isn’t exactly what comes to mind. I’ve been to a few Yakitori restaurants in Tokyo. They look nothing like this.
Neither do the staff: our server was a busty Brazilian girl, dressed in a low-cut frock. The manager looked like the Russian mafia. The chef, Bryan Emperor, isn’t Japanese either, but he has some serious cred., with stints at Nobu, Megu, Bouley, and a kaiseki restaurant in Japan. His job is more boring than a Maytag repair man’s: we found his restaurant almost totally empty. I hope for his sake that the day after Thanksgiving was atypical.
You can have some fun here. The cocktails are a diverse lot, many of them classics,and well made. Most of the food follows the food-on-skewers theme, though with some ingredients I’ve never seen in Japan, like pork belly, foie gras, and chicken wings. There are some misfires, but most of what we tried was enjoyable.
We spent just $114 for two before tax & tip, and that included two cocktails apiece. At that price, one is loath to complain. Nevertheless, several dishes came out not quite warm enough—an odd mistake, given that we had the place to ourselves.
The small-plates format encourages communal ordering, though some items weren’t well designed for it (e.g., why three meatballs?), and when we asked for plates to divide our food, the little dishes they produced were only slightly larger than a cigar box. Like most small-plate restaurants, the kitchen tosses out the food at whatever pace and in whatever order suits the chef. Sometimes you have nothing, and at other times you have two plates at once.
They were also out of several things, on a small menu of about 35 appetizer-sized items in various categories (chicken, beef, rice, soup…), most of them $10 or less. With some help from our server, we chose eight items to share, which proved to be about right. They were all $5–9 apiece except for the Kobe meatballs, which were $12.
The menu has been changing. Those meatballs were originally listed at $16, and some other items shown on the bill don’t agree with the online version.
Berkshire Black Hog Belly ($5; above left) is usually a safe bet, but this skewer was lukewarm and adorned with not much more than a bit of sea salt. Tori Tatsuta Age ($9; above right), or Japanese style chicken wings, were a hit, with a generous allotment of six to the portion.
Chicken is probably the most authentic of Mr. Jones’s Yakitori ingredients. Naturally, it is “Organic Free Range Chicken,” but when it’s drowning in spicy Yuzu sauce ($7; above left), I doubt its pedigree matters very much. It was actually one of the better items on the menu, in an unsubtle way.
I liked the Kobe Meatballs stuffed with foie gras ($12; above right), though as noted above, it wasn’t easy to divide 3 meatballs among two people.
Wagyu Short Ribs ($8; above left) were tender, and the kitchen wisely went easy on the sauce, letting the superior beef speak for itself. The next item was a bowl of mushrooms and rice ($9; above right) that I don’t recognize in the online menu. The mushrooms were a tad under-cooked.
Vegetable tempura ($8; above left) was perfectly done: six pieces in a light and greaseless tempura batter. Calamari tempura ($8; above right) suffered from an excess of sauce. Any calamari beneath all that batter was undetectable.
There are some slips-ups on the menu at Mr. Jones and some faulty execution in the kitchen, but we enjoyed most of what we tried. With most of the items priced under $10, you don’t feel cheated if one or two of them are less than satisfying. For a diverting bit of fun, Mr. Jones is worth a visit.
Mr. Jones (243 E. 14th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues, East Village)