“My father opened the first speakeasy style cocktail bar and the first kaiseki-style Japanese restaurant in New York. In a way, we opened one of the first French-Japanese restaurants.” – Erina Yoshida, General Manager of Autre Kyo Ya.
Building a restaurant that can withstand the forces of ever-changing trends and soaring real estate prices in New York City is challenging to say the least. Yet the Yoshida family have done just that, consistently creating successful ventures throughout the city for decades. Popular destinations include Kyo Ya; the Michelin-starred kaiseki hotspot, and Angel’s Share; a secret cocktail bar found on the second floor of Autre Kyo Ya; Kyo Ya’s more relaxed sister specializing in French-Japanese cuisine.
Autre Kyo Ya translates to the ‘other Kyo Ya’ in French, an appropriate name given general manager Erina Yoshida and her father Tony Yoshida’s desire to create a restaurant with the same intention as Kyo Ya; to showcase unique Japanese ingredients. Since opening over ten years ago, Kyo Ya has become a leader in a movement of restaurants aiming to celebrate authentic Japanese cuisine. With Autre Kyo Ya, the Yoshida family has taken the same care for ingredients, high quality preparation and presentation, and superior service that Kyo Ya is known for, and applied it to French-Japanese cuisine in a more casual setting.
The marriage of French and Japanese cuisine seems natural given that both culinary traditions tend to favor high-quality ingredients and feature refined cooking techniques. In classic kaiseki tradition, fresh ingredients are a top priority for Autre Kyo Ya, with a menu constantly adapting to the seasonal availability of produce from local farmer’s markets and ingredients shipped in from Japan. “For Autre Kyo Ya, French technique is just another way to elevate the best ingredients we can find – whether sourced locally or from Japan,” says Ms. Yoshida. “While we are always trying to push the envelope, we are not alone. I think you’d be surprised to see that most acclaimed French restaurants – whether in Paris, Tokyo, London or New York – are finding ways to incorporate Japanese flavors, ingredients and techniques.”
“The challenge is always explaining a new or innovative concept to your clientele. We shy away from the term ‘fusion’. We don’t serve sushi and the way we think about blending the cuisines is much more natural and organic. It is really just about presenting the best ingredients we can find with the best techniques we know,” says Ms. Yoshida. What sets Autre Kyo Ya apart is not their skill for leading the way in restaurant trends, but that they are passionate about fusing Japanese and French cuisine as a means to enabling the ingredients of each culture to excel.
What better chef to demonstrate innovative approaches to merging these two distinct cuisines on the plate than Chef Shuji Furukawa, who originally moved to New York City to work at Kyo Ya. Born in Japan to a family specializing in the tea business, Furukawa was classically trained in French cuisine at restaurants in both Japan and France. His exposure to French and Japanese flavors combined with his experience working in the kaiseki tradition at Kyo Ya now translates to a menu that presents nothing short of excellence.
It is only once you have tasted chef Furukawa’s creations that you realize how magnificently French techniques and flavors can elevate Japanese ingredients. The mild and tender quality of a charcoal-grilled octopus becomes a light canvas for the sophisticated combination of traditional French sauce, buerre noisette or browned butter, with a Japanese smoked soy sauce. In one of their most highly acclaimed dishes, Japanese favorites sea urchin and an onsen-style egg are layered with a French consommé gelee and light cauliflower puree. The richness of the onsen egg yolk is offset with a subtle citrus aroma and when combined with the savory consommé gelee and uni, creates a velvety, silky pudding. With the absence of a textural component, the dish is uniformly soft and creamy, allowing the palate to focus entirely on the contrasting flavors at play.
The Fluke Crudo, an unsurprising dish you might expect to find on a modern Japanese restaurant’s menu, is elevated with rare techniques and ingredients. The fluke is seaweed-pressed, resulting in uniquely thick seaweed chips that maintain their texture despite being layered with juicy pomelo and drizzled with a tangy lemon vinaigrette. Rather than the typical pickled ginger found in North American interpretations of Japanese cuisine, the lesser known myoza ginger adds zest and vibrancy to the mild crudo and salmon roe. Lighter flavors on the menu are balanced with heavier meats such as lamb and duck breast; quintessential dishes for any French-inspired menu. The preparation of the kamo duck breast is classically French, and elegantly presented with roasted chanterelle and porcini mushrooms and crispy brussel sprouts. The rich dish is completed with duck jus and a white wine sauce. For dessert, a lightly sweet red bean gelatin is given depth with yamecha sauce, a particular kind of matcha that chef Furukawa’s family has become well-known for in Japan. Crunchy red peppercorns add spice and texture to the soft, mild gelatin.
Autre Kyo Ya’s menu, which can be offered both as a tasting menu or a la carte, is not limited to dinner. On weekends, the restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes for brunch including Foie Gras Croquette Mini-burgers and Matcha Pancakes. While Autre Kyo Ya has an extensive wine, beer and sake list, it is their cocktail menu that is distinctive as it features seasonal ingredients that are French and Japanese in origin. Warm up on a chilly winter evening with the Copper Cider; togarashi (Japanese pepper) infused chairman’s reserve rum blended with bulleit rye, local apple cider, maple syrup, fresh grapefruit juice and egg white. In the Heming’s Way, chivas regal 12 is crafted with truffle honey and suze, a French liquor.
Just as the food and drinks are infused with thoughtful intent, so too is Autre Kyo Ya’s wood-centric interior. A concave wooden bench runs alongside a cedar wood wall marked by interior windows reminiscent of Japanese shoji screens, through which golden light floods in. The custom-made wooden bar features the same wood used at Kyo Ya’s bar and chef’s counter. At the end of an elegant row of tables lies a giant clock, which comes from Mr. Yoshida’s previous restaurant, Around the Clock. Mr. Yoshida has also handmade the wine holders used for displaying wines at the front of the restaurant.
Not only are menu ingredients sourced locally and from Japan, but so too are many of the restaurant’s features. High ceilings showcase beams made from red oak wood from upstate New York and the serene tiles found throughout, from behind the bar to the bathroom walls, are sourced from Japan. French doors at the front of the restaurant invite guests to sit outside during the warmer months and in the winter, they tempt the bustling passerby’s to come warm up in this homey yet sophisticated sanctuary.
With Autre Kyo Ya being just one of several popular businesses owned by Mr. Yoshida on this East Village block, it is clear that the family, with many years in the industry, has developed a recipe for success. And if Autre Kyo Ya serves as a model, that recipe means having a clear intention and infusing it into every element of the dining experience; from small design details, to the story behind each ingredient, to the chef’s menu choices.
Perhaps the Yoshida family has been so effective in calling attention to Japanese cuisine because they not only deliver with purpose but they know how to adapt. When asked what has been the most rewarding experience since opening Autre Kyo Ya two years ago, Ms. Yoshida tells me, “interacting with the customers. A lot of what we are trying to do is introduce our customers to new flavors and to hear from them that those flavors are coming through is the best feedback I can receive. It’s always been a hallmark of our service, to explain what we are serving and educate our clientele on our ingredients and techniques so that is something we take great pride in.”
Photography by Anna Haines