Worth Trying: A Japanese Secret Tasting Menu in the Wilds of Manhattan
There have been a lot of rumors of late that New York City’s death knell is tolling, but a recent night out to dinner at acclaimed Japanese restaurant MIFUNE seemed to only prove that New York’s nightlife scene—while different, yes—is still very much alive. COVID has hit the restaurant industry particularly hard, but restaurants like MIFUNE have come up with interesting ways to put out a creative experience that is exciting for both the chefs and the consumers.
After COVID caused MIFUNE to shorten its menu, executive chefs Yuu Shimano and Tomohiro Urata created a $95 secret tasting menu. As its name would suggest, the tasting menu is not something you’ll find on their regular menu. The restaurant’s manager Mayumi Kobayashi tells me the secret tasting menu is only for family, friends and people in the know, as the dishes on the secret menu are constantly changing.
On the night I was there, my date and I chose to sit outside on one of the last not-terribly-cold days of fall (though you should know, the interior space is lovely, warm and a great option on a terribly cold night). Seated outside, watching people pass by on the Manhattan sidewalk and indulging in conversation that involved a lot of laughter, we were served 10 interesting and delicious courses, each more exciting than the next.
Our opening course was a mushroom cream soup with pistachio cream foam. This soup was so smooth and earthy, and it was topped with some little croutons, which added just the right amount of crunch in juxtaposition to the silkiness of the soup. For a slightly chilly night, it was the coziest way I can think to begin and was the perfect way to tease the palate.
Our second course served to only further tease our palates with an avocado sorbet with tuna tartare and nakaochi (or tuna scrapped off the bone). The avocado sorbet was really the unsung hero here. While the tuna was so flavorful and luxe, the avocado sorbet that held it was creamy, zingy and slightly onion-y in flavor. This dish was rich but felt so light. It was masterful—truly one of my favorites of the night.
Not long after we cleaned our plates of the second course did the third arrive—a black truffle chawanmushi. This steamed egg custard could have easily been mistaken for dessert upon first glance, but once I took a bite, I was greeted with a subtle soy flavor. Apart from the black truffle, the flavor of the custard was actually quite mild, which made for a nice segue into the next dish: seared squid brushed with soy sauce, cauliflower purée, fresh cauliflower slices, pickled cauliflower, pickled green apple compote slices in yuzu, caviar, fried parsnip ribbons, complete with black olive powder. Oh, my goodness. This dish was truly something special. The squid was so tender, which is a feat; it was salty and had a slightly smoky, American barbecue-esque effect. Honestly, this dish might have ruined all other squid dishes for me, as this is easily the best treatment of squid I’ve had yet.
The squid was a hard act to follow, but the fifth course of branzino with yuzu croute and saikyo miso beurre blanc sauce was a smart way to go. Where the squid was smoky and salty, the branzino and its accoutrements were citrusy and bright, buttery and ever-so-slightly oceany. And this course was served on a gorgeous white plate with blue flowers all of it—a design touch that I adored.
The course that followed the branzino was easily the most interesting of the night: duck liver pâté pie with Comté cheese, caramelized grapes, cashews and confit of duck hearts and gizzards complete with a poached egg drizzle. I was very surprised by this dish. While I don’t think duck hearts and gizzards are my thing, in the context of a savory pie, they weren’t half bad. What really blew me away was the addition of caramelized grapes. I need caramelized grapes with everything now. In a savory dish, they added just the right amount of sweetness and slight acidity to compliment the hearty duck, the creamy, rich cheese and the crispy, flaky, buttery pastry. This is a dish unlike any I’ve ever had, and it’s a dish I still think about.
Soon after that, we were served grilled pork collar and mussels in a romaine lettuce broth, fennel purée, grilled fennel and fresh fennel salad complete with pomegranate seeds. This one also had a barbecue-y effect to me, which I really enjoyed. But to be honest with you, my mind was still fully enveloped in the pâté pie course that I wasn’t really focused on this course as much.
As I started becoming full, we were presented with our eighth course of the night: roasted duck breast with Cognac pepper sauce and smoked potato purée. Hear you me, this is the best duck I’ve ever had. Duck can be iffy for me because it can so easily be cooked wrong, resulting in it becoming tough. But MIFUNE was having none of that. This duck breast was so tender and well-seasoned—it almost tasted like pork. And the potato purée was so silky. The roasted duck and potato purée spoke to my Midwestern heart with this high-end, perfectly executed take on meat and potatoes.
Our last savory course of the night was quite an interesting one. We were each served one piece of Miyazaki wagyu A5-rank sushi with uni. Talk to me about surf and turf. This is perhaps the most innovative way I’ve ever seen surf and turf done. I have no idea if that’s what the chefs were going for with this course, but that was the distinct feeling I got from this dish. The lightly seared wagyu was lovely and succulent and savory, as one would expect, and it was so interesting to have with the salty, briny uni. A strange pairing, I thought, but it absolutely works.
The 10th and final course of the night was, of course, dessert! A chocolate mousse with mango coulis, mango compote, phyllo dough and caramel ice cream to be precise. This dish is exactly what you expect from a high-end dessert—velvety and rich, perfectly offset by some acidity and textures that complement each other. It was utterly delicious.
And the night was capped off with a hot cup of Hojicha tea, which I cradled in my slightly chilly hands. This meal was a three-hour fine dining marathon that I would happily run again. The secret tasting menu is an experience for the adventurous eaters among us who like a high-end element of surprise. Everything I had at MIFUNE was great; Mayumi was incredibly friendly and willing to answer any and all of our questions, including recommending great cocktails. For a creative and adventurous experience in which you would like to spend a night fully enraptured in eating to your heart’s content, I would recommend MIFUNE’s secret tasting menu.