It's one thing to walk into a restaurant and be asked whether you prefer to sit in the dining room or the bar. At Taki (4040 E. 82nd St.), you get three choices: a room where chefs wield cutlery with ninja-like finesse on steaks, seafood and chicken, then cook it on a grill in front of you; a sushi bar or, finally, a spacious and handsomely-appointed dining room (also featuring a full bar).
We chose the latter option: It seemed the shortest distance between our appetites and a sampling of the Japanese cuisine Taki has on offer. Sure enough, in no time, a server was hovering and, in a blink, there were a couple of handsome cocktails before us.
Located in the River's Edge shopping plaza, Taki's wide-open decor, blacks and grays with blue, teardrop-style hanging lamps and exposed, barreling ductwork overhead, seems to want to split the difference between being an eatery and an upscale club. It's a pleasant effect.
The menu is extensive. We started with appetizers: an order of Agedashidofu ($5.25), bits of lightly-breaded tofu and microscopically-chopped scallions rolled in white rice and served floating on a tray with a soy-based sauce and shitaki mushrooms; and Crabmeat rolls ($5.95), four flaky pastry rolls wrapped around cream cheese, crabmeat and cucumber, served in a pale sweet and sour sauce with a nest woven with slender strings of carrot and other vegetables, doused with a tasty vinaigrette.
The presentation of both dishes provided models of understated elegance. The tofu at the center of those rolls was silky, its breading faintly sweet, and combined with the dark sauce and bright green flecks of scallion, each snow-white package popped with flavor.
The Crabmeat rolls might just as easily have been called Cream cheese rolls, as this was by far, the dominant ingredient. Any crabmeat was effectively overwhelmed.
Entrees at Taki are served with soup and salad. We both opted for steaming cups of Miso and green salads topped with ginger dressing. Miso soup is one of the world's great comfort foods. Maki's is predictably satisfying, if a tad pallid. The salads were smothered in dressing and the greens were rather wan, as if they'd been kept too long in the fridge.
My companion followed up with a dish of Yakisoba ($9.95), a hill of soba noodles, a buckwheat-based noodle similar to spaghetti. This was the vegetable variant of the entrÈe, but the vegetables were far outweighed by the generous portion of noodles, swathed in a smoky sauce.
I went for the Seafood Tempura ($17.50), a large serving that tilted more toward vegetables than seafood. The seafood portion consisted of shrimp and silver dollar-size scallops. Asparagus, sweet potatoes, zucchini and a large onion ring dominated. The tempura breading was appropriately golden and a little oily. A side dish of rice was utterly redundant.
Taki's Sushi menu is enormous, complemented by new entries on a daily basis. Reservations are recommended if you want to party with the ninja chefs.
4040 E. 82nd St.
Monday: 5-9 p.m.
Tues.-Fri: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.
Sat.: 12-10 p.m.
Sun.: 12-9 p.m.
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Food: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars