When brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg opened Blue Ribbon Brasserie downtown back in 1992, the goal had been to create a late-night haven that merged comfort foods from the American diner and the Parisian café. Today, Blue Ribbon is a culinary empire with 11 restaurants including sushi, baked goods and tapas spots. The common thread has always been comfort in food and atmosphere, and with their most recent venture, Blue Sushi Ribbon Izakaya, the Bromberg brothers tap into the traditional and welcoming elements of a Japanese pub where the drinks are versatile and complemented by savory Japanese as well as American culinary delights.
Located adjacent to the trendy Sixty LES Hotel in the heart of the Lower East Side, Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya aspires to be a Japanese brewhouse while preserving the Blue Ribbon brand with an array of sushi options and American comfort foods. Set against the décor of a speakeasy with modern accents, diners are immersed into the experience from the minute the sushi chefs shout out their official greeting (mind you that they are on the other side of the room). The dining room is dimly lit and features several communal tables, as well as private booths creating a warm and intimate ambience.
Like a traditional tapas meal, the izakaya dining experience revolves around an evening of drinking and sharing dishes. To be a true izakaya requires an eclectic list of cocktails and sake. Blue Ribbon is no exception with a nice selection of shochu—a Japanese distilled beverage made from barley or rice (think sake, only stronger)—including Honkaku Gankutsuoh, made from 100 percent rice. If you need more flavor, consider a chu-hi—a distilled drink mixed with flavored carbonated water. The Grapefruit-Hi—featuring shochi, grapefruit juice and Blue Ribbon honey syrup—and the Gold Coast Punch—featuring Banks rum, Chinese five-spice syrup, pineapple juice, and fresh lime—are delicious but they certainly pack a punch. Sake lovers will be impressed with the versatile list ranging in rice milling duration, thus alcohol content.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya’s food menu is a product of worlds colliding: Fresh seafood and sushi meets American comfort foods. With their longstanding partner, sushi expert Toshi Ueki, the Bromberg brothers, have created a menu that offers familiar American dishes from the flag ship restaurant complemented by Blue Ribbon Sushi’s high quality sushi and other Japanese delicacies.
Start off your meal with some of the small plates. Beware, it’s challenging to narrow it down to a few. The kushi yaki skewers are a must. Consider the beef short rib with garlic ($5) and the rock shrimp with crispy garlic teriyaki ($6). Both of these are flavorful without having the garlic be overpowering. The downside is these dishes come with a single skewer, so you might want to order more than one.
Your appetizers would be incomplete without Blue Ribbon’s signature fried chicken wings ($11) served with a honey wasabi sauce and just the right amount of spice. It is nice to see that this dish lives up to the hype. Add on an order of succulent braised pork ribs ($15) topped with crispy rice—an izakaya staple—to whet your appetite for the main course.
Sushi offerings run the gamut with a fresh selection flown in from the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Oceans daily. Go traditional—a spicy tuna roll ($11) with cucumber and tempura flakes or sakana san shu (yellowtail, tuna, salmon; $12.75)—or consider going with some of less familiar such as kanpachi usuzukuri (thinly sliced amberjack and yuzu pepper; $23), aoyagi (orange clam; $4.50), or karai ise ebi (spicy lobster served with egg wrapper; $8.50).
For the main course, feast on the famous Blue Ribbon burger deluxe ($15) or fried chicken platter ($26). Venture a bit with the grilled mahi mahi ($27) served with coconut rice and pickled papaya salad-a nice tropical blend to match the tasty filet. Cap off your evening with the banana split ($13) featuring red bean caramel, hot fudge, lychee, and macadamia nuts. Compared to the size of the appetizers, the dessert is quite large.
Dining at Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya is meant to be a relaxing experience, and the staff make it a point to create this ambience by spacing out the courses without rushing anyone out. The Bromberg brothers have proven that the Izakaya concept can be done in New York with some fused influences. The extensive menu of small plates, sushi, and hearty entrées will please even the pickiest eater. With moderate pricing, perhaps the only gripe would be pricing versus portion size. While it is not imperative that portion size adhere to the Cheesecake Factory standards, one might question whether it’s worth heading downtown for a meal that could require the need to order more than one of a certain dish just so that members of a dinner group all have a chance to sample it. With so many enticing options, one might be willing to overlook this and simply go with the flow.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya
187 Orchard Street