Entries in Tanuki Tavern (3)


Tanuki Tavern

Note: Tanuki Tavern closed in May 2012. It will be replaced by Toy, a new concept and menu from the same owner, Jeffrey Chodorow. The countdown on its eventual closure begins in 5, 4, 3, 2,….


When maestro of mediocrity Jeffrey Chodorow replaced his Meatpacking District Japanese restaurant Ono with Tanuki Tavern, I did not rush to dine there. His restaurants are never great, and often suck. Nobody in this town has had so many restaurants spectacularly flame out. How is he still in business?

Coverage on Eater.com made Tanuki Tavern sound more like a gimmick than a serious restaurant. When I learned that the menu would have 70 items, I was not impressed. In the Times, Sam Sifton awarded one star, which is one more than I figured it would get.

The excuse to try Tanuki Tavern came last weekend, when my son was in town and my original dining plans fell through. Much to my surprise, Tanuki Tavern is decent. Actually, it is not bad.

That epic-length menu is mostly Japanese, hedging itself as only Chodorow can, with nine categories, and interlopers like a Pat LaFreida burger and a Creekstone Farms bone-in steak. Many dishes are cross-overs not found on most Japanese menus, like Tuna Sliders and Spicy French Fries.

Aside from the steak ($58), nothing is very expensive. Three appetizers (“snacks” in Chod-speak) and a plate of rolls were $67. It was hard to tell how much food to order, which is surely what the Chod-meister wants, as you are encouraged to spend in excess; fortunately, it was exactly the right amount.

There are no great discoveries here (you knew that, right?), but everything was enjoyable.

Fish & Chips ($9; above left) were exactly what you’d expect. Flecks of yuzu in the tartar sauce were the only connection to the restaurant’s Japanese theme. We loved the Tori Dongo ($7; above right), three chicken meatballs in rice crust with spicy ponzu.

If you grill chicken wings with citrus salt, the result is Tebayaki ($9; above left), and it was very good indeed. The four half-rolls we tried (above right), ranging from $7 to $14 apiece, were on the level of any decent neighborhood sushi place.

Chodorow did a nice job with the rehab, making Tanuki Tavern seem a lot less cavernous and corporate than Ono. Actually, you don’t feel like you’re in the Meatpacking District, which is an accomplishment.

The sushi chefs are Japanese, but none of the servers are. The restaurant is not full, and yet, when you need them they aren’t around. Plates that clearly call for silverware are initially served without any. An empty glass goes unnoticed. When you do get the servers’ attention, they are friendly and efficient. And at least you never want for paper napkins, which are rolled up and kept in a mug by the side of the table.

One wonders how long it will be before Tanuki Tavern joins the Chodorow restaurant cemetery. On a Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m., just a few tables were occupied. It was about half full when we left, and clearly not setting the world afire. There was an unusual abundance of all-girl parties and families with children. This kind of patronage is fleeting. If Chodorow has another restaurant concept up his sleeve, he might as well start getting it ready.

But in the meantime, Tanuki Tavern feels a lot less cynical than many of its Meatpacking District brethren, despite the over-reaching Chod-speak menu. I wouldn’t mind going back.

Tanuki Tavern (18 Ninth Avenue at 13th Street, Meatpacking District)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *


Review Recap: Ed's Chowder House & Tanuki Tavern 

Today, Sam Sifton filed the expected two-fer on Ed’s Chowder House and Tanuki Tavern. We were correct that Sifton would uncork his first zero-star review; but wrong about which one would be the victim.

He clearly “gets” what the owner, Jeffrey Chodorow, is about:

For more than two decades he has run counter to restaurateurs interested in rubbed-wood authenticity and locavore cuisine. He has stood, always, for brash showmanship, the belief that in restaurants, the whole and complete point of the business is volume. In the face of recessions and in boom times alike he has accumulated more than 25 restaurants and bars in close to a dozen cities, all of them tied to the idea of dazzling, low-cut, cocktail-fueled good times…

From his first foray, the flashy China Grill, to his latest, Tanuki Tavern in the Hotel Gansevoort and Ed’s Chowder House in the Empire Hotel, he has promised that opportunity: fun, against the customer’s outlay of cash.

To our surprise, he thinks that Tanuki is the one that comes the closest to meeting those modest objectives:

The concept at Tanuki Tavern is that it’s an izakaya, or Japanese-style tapas bar. That is not entirely accurate. Really Tanuki is Ono, the immense Japanese-style restaurant Mr. Chodorow opened five years ago, now in a smaller space with almost the same number of seats. He sublets the rest of the space to the nightclub Provocateur. (Mr. Chodorow isn’t in this racket to spill soup.)

The result is young and exciting, with food from the same larder as Ono’s: respectable, perfectly good quasi-Asian fare. Also like Ono, it is pretty in design and execution: Japanese cabinetry and piped-in ’80s rock, LED candles, paper lanterns and two floors of tables full of men and women in clothing inappropriate to the weather. Tanuki is a fine place to drink sake, eat chicken wings and visit a simulacrum of South Beach, Sunset Boulevard, the timeless thump-thump-thump of Saturday night on the Vegas strip. It provides direct transport, in other words, to Chodorowland.

At Ed’s Chowder House, Sifton wonders if the restaurant’s namesake, Chef Ed Brown, has been watching the kitchen:

There was, one night, something of his style and worth in a terrific dish of smoked Chatham cod cakes with a roasted tomato-chili jam… But none of his delicacy was apparent in other meals — in greasy, overdone fried calamari with saffron aioli, for instance, or in celery-heavy, muddy-hued steamed clams with plonk broth…

Did Mr. Brown personally have something to do with the ammonia taste of a particularly elderly wing of skate served with horseradishy mashed potatoes and left untouched on the plate (to the shrug of a waiter)? It seems somehow unlikely.

We lose $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets. Eater wins $2 on Tanuki Tavern, but loses $1 on Ed’s Chowder House, for a net of $1.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $6.00   $8.00
Gain/Loss +$1.00   –$2.00
Total $7.00   $6.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 5–3

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 74–31 (70%).


Review Preview: Ed's Chowder House & Tanuki Tavern

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton files his first double-review, hitting Jeffrey Chodorow’s latest failures restaurants: Ed’s Chowder House and Tanuki Tavern. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows:

Ed’s Chowder House: Goose Egg: 10 - 1; One Star: 3 - 1; SIFT HAPPENS: 5-1; Three Stars: 20 - 1

Tanuki Tavern: Goose Egg: 3 - 1; One Star: 2-1; SIFT HAPPENS: 7 - 1; Three Stars: 25 - 1

Despite my incessant joking at Chodorow’s expense—let’s face it, who doesn’t joke about this guy—I actually liked Ed’s Chowder House when I dropped by in September. I was there for a drink last night, and we’re going again in January. I sampled only a little of the menu on that earlier visit, but it strikes us as a quintessential one-bagger.

Chodorow is the past master of building new restaurants on the smouldering husk of previous failures, and Tanuki Tavern is one of these. We’ve avoided the place like the plague. We have no intel at all, but if Sifton is ready to give his first goose egg, this would be a perfect time for it.

We predict that Sifton will award one star to Ed’s Chowder House and zilch to Tanuki Tavern.