So... ho hum...Name: Ise Japanese Restaurant
Location: 56 Pine Street, New York, NY 10005
Cost: Mid-range (~$20 per person for lunch)
Recommendation: Only if you are looking for a beautiful and tasty lunch at 11:30am sharp.
Warning: Almost all waiter's have very thick accents and may have difficult communicating.
Ise is hidden very well in the back of the financial district, more so now that the scaffolding are up around it. You would walk by the place and there's a good chance you'll miss it among the clutter of business buildings nearby from the height of the windows. Inside is a very well lit and simply furnished room with many tables for the customers, along with a bar at the front. On the menu, you'll find many typical dishes in a Japanese restaurant. The price here is in line for the area (we're talking financial district here!) and the quality is definitely above the cheaper places you'd find in Chinatown or in Brooklyn. However, one thing that does set this apart and why I recommend this place is their special lunch menu. Every day, Ise has a special menu given to each customer at their opening at 11:30am. Each item on the menu has a limited quantity of 10, with a first come first serve. These items are combo items and a lunch meal all in one. The price, at least as far as I can see, ranges from $16 - $24, which is a fair price for the area. But what makes them so amazing is the variety and amount that you get from it (and it doesn't hurt they make it really nice looking).
To date, I have only tried/seen 3 items:
This is the sushi combo and costs $17. The price is almost the same as ordering each sushi piece a la carte, but they toss in a shrimp tempura udon along with it. The fish is excellent (no freezer burn taste like from the cheap ones), but what really made me like this is the shrimp sushi. Many places makes their shrimp taste really sweet and the meat is very tough. This place, there is only a slight hint of sweetness and you can actually taste the shrimp and the meat is springy. This one seems to be a staple, but they change the fish every week or so, as well as what's in the ramen (the fish cake and tempura is always there though). Very delicious and very well done.
This mixed plate here costs $17 and holy *insert choice word(s) here*, there is a LOT of colors and variety here. The bowl right in front is some kind of medicinal broth (slightly bitter) with mochi, If you're not into eastern medicinal soup, steer clear of it, you probably won't like it. The friend salmon are done to perfection, crispy on the outside, smooth and juicy on the inside. And of course, the star of the show, the sashimi bowl. I'll be upfront, I was actually really hesitant about this bowl, I've had a lot of misses with sashimi bowls before and I was paying a pretty good chunk of money for this one. You will be (as well as I) glad to know I was not disappointed with this. The reason was the rice. The vinegar in the rice added just the right amount of acidity to balance out the sashimi's oiliness. And special note to the salmon roe, this was the first place I actually enjoyed eating it. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of medicinal broth, so I will not be ordering this again and will try the normal sashimi special in the future, but for those who do enjoy the mellow bitterness, this is a good choice.
I'll be upfront about this one, I have not ordered it, it was my brother who did it. But he's a foodie too, and he REALLY liked it. The combo cost $24 and is the most expensive item I've seen to date. I haven't taken a bite of it, but the variety is definitely the highest of all the specials and I really liked how they added clams into the miso. The clam flavor came through the miso and overall he enjoyed it a lot. This is one of their most popular item and is not always available. We came in only 5 minutes after 11:30am and there was only 1 left. Move fast if you want this... I will report back as soon as I've had a taste of it myself.
Overall, I really enjoy the place and when I have time and in the mood for early lunch, I like to pick here for it. The rest of their menu isn't bad, but nothing to me stands out. I need to dig a little deeper for their regular menu. What really brings them to the top is their lunch special. So if you have time at 11:30am and want a good lunch with variety, run over here and give it a try. You won't be disappointed. Trust me.