Rockmeisha, 11 Barrow St, 212-675-7775
Price range: $18-28 Rating: 4L’s
Rockmeisha is off the radar, has no PR team, and almost no presence online. Even the encyclopedic menu sites don’t have it listed. It’s a refreshing oddity in the Manhattan culinary scene: Rockmeisha’s chef seems obsessed with detail and freshness, but the owner — possibly the same person — seems unconcerned about profit. And so this intimate space, with interior structures creating a cozy Japanese village tableau, is usually empty. But you wouldn’t know it from the food.
This being an izakaya, a bar that serves food, we started with drinks. Their house sake, like house wine in France, is the best value, not the cheapest. The clear viscous rice wine ($22/carafe) paired nicely with mild, dense tofu from Fukuoka ($6), served with dashi, soy and sansho pepper. Perhaps the highlight of the meal was a sizzling stone pot of sliced pork, leek and bean sprouts ($7.50) that created its own subtly rich sauce.
Sake finished, we moved on to beer. While they serve Sapporo on tap, we opted for a Yebisu, a superior example of light Japanese lager (and also brewed by Sapporo). The beer cut through a gummy umami-laden, rather addictive pig’s toe ($6), prepared by boiling and then roasting the foot. If you’ve been to Hakata TonTon, the restaurant that specializes in pig foot, you’ll recognize that this is way better than any of their options. Next up was intensely perfumed, juicy fried chicken, slathered in tartar sauce ($10), one of the best pieces of Asian fried chicken I’ve ever had, though I couldn’t stomach the thick coat of tartar sauce. My dining companion, a tartar sauce fan, said it was the best she’d ever had. Our last, and heaviest, dish was a shrimp pancake ($8.50), made from a classic thin batter to produce a texture reminiscent of crepe but studded with tiny shrimp. My greatest disappointment of the night came next: they don’t serve dessert.
But from what I had read, Rockmeisha is known, if it is known at all, for ramen ($14). So we returned the next night for a cheaper, but no less pleasing meal: like the night before, the 20-chair space was only half full. Before the ramen, we had perhaps the best dish of all, a special of broccoli rabe with sesame mayo ($6). The vegetable was cooked to perfection, as expected. As for the soup, it was made with a milky pork-bone broth, light on seasoning, heavy on slow-cooked flavor, with the best handmade noodles I’ve ever had. The thin, dry roast pork slices, however, disappointed.
Again, I had meant to try something from the excellent-looking but limited sushi menu, but had no room. Maybe I’ll return tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll get a table.