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On a Thursday night, I had the pleasure of attending a fairly new addition to the Smith Street family. Aji 53 opened its third location nine months ago, offering both traditional and modern Japanese dishes, fitting in perfectly with the fan favorite establishments that line the streets of Brooklyn.Follow @arodomus
I arrived promptly at 5:00pm to a fairly quiet setting that soon picked up by 6:30pm. The crowd appeared to be mixed, ranging from an older finance crowd to families with younger children (which seems to be the norm for Caroll Gardens). The atmosphere inside was comfortable, and cool.
As mentioned before, initially, the restaurant was very quiet, which was delightful as it allowed the host, Kevin Zheng, to spend sometime with us, and tell us about the establishment. The staff was very kind and attentive, and it seemed to be so across the board. Kevin emphasized keeping the staff happy, an example of that being the long break (they close the restaurant for a few hours) that they take in the afternoon to recharge. A happy staff is crucial to a successful business.
One of the things I recall about talking with him was their desire to stand out. An example of that would be their edamame dish.
They prepare it with a special sauce that gives the traditional dish a whole new spin. Kevin believes that you can get Edamame anywhere, but you can only get this edamame here. That is their goal, to be the place you go to for this food. If you eat it, you love it, well, you have to come back because we are the only ones that do it this way. This is not a bad strategy to have.
I kicked off my 2-hour dinner with a chilled shot of Saki served in what seemed to be a mini wooden box called a “Masu.” The generous pour (which spilled over onto the saucer where the Masu was resting) was a sign of generosity and prosperity that was welcomed and appreciated.
Being a Manhattanite, I am constantly surrounded by the never-ending enclave of new restaurants popping up and the always entertaining conversation and companionship of many of my friends who are “Foodies”. For this reason, when I saw the Masu for the first time at Aji 53, I was excited and intrigued. I have gone to many sushi restaurants (both in and out of the city) but have always had my liquor served in a porcelain Saki glass.
I started off with a Salmon Skin salad, which consisted of barbecued shredded salmon skin, mixed with a seaweed salad, shredded cucumber and yuzu. Conceptually, the idea is great, but I thought the skin could have been cooked just a tad longer. Some of the pieces were crispy, similar to a well-cooked slab of bacon, while others were softer and chewy.
I was fortunate to sample my guest’s spare ribs where the meat literally melted off the bones. A must try. I ambitiously progressed forward onto my second dish “The Aji Sandwich.” Oddly enough, this sandwich has no bread and consists of eggplant tempura, layered with spicy lobster, spicy tuna and salmon sashimi on top, glazed with miso sauce.
The eggplant, whether cooked tempura style or made with Panko acts as the foundation to this stack of deliciousness. Each bite was moist and fresh with all the ingredients coming together nicely, leaving all my presumptuous reservations at bay.
I concluded my evening with the Aji Seafood Trio. I know, another dish with the name of this restaurant in it? The dish was generously filled with jumbo shrimp, scallops and lobster in a delightful broth made of creamy-white wine sauce and sake, coupled with a medley of seasonal vegetables.
The dish was good, but I feel I played it to safe and should have ventured out more since they had an array of items on their menu that were unique and different.
All in all, this place is worthy of a repeat and has a lot of potential to be successful regardless of its stiff competition.
This post was written by undercover NYCTalking Contributor, Girl X, with contributions from Angel Rodriguez.