Totally sweet ninja moves
They certainly do a good job of the “secret” aspect; the entrance looks like the door to an office building on a commercial street in TriBeCa. But the lobby is all fake-cave-boulder and darkness, and in the elevator ride down to the dining level, the lights dim until you’re in shadow. Like a ninja.
When the elevator doors slid open, a guy dressed in black greeted us with a loud ninja scream. I almost punched him. He asked whether we’d like to get to our table via the secret ninja path, which meant a short trip through a dark, narrow passageway. At the end, he leaped out and screamed again, and I almost punched him again.
The décor is secret-ninja-village-traditional: fake-stone hallways with recessed alcoves for individual tables, each one hidden behind a dark-wood screen, so you essentially get a private dining experience. How much did I love that??
While many waiters (no girls, that we saw) were Asian, we managed to get corn-fed Jason as our server for the evening—the second-least convincing ninja of the night (the first appears later).
He talked us through the menu as though we’d never encountered prix-fixe before, and then explained some of the technicalities of the a la carte. I suspect the staff is encouraged to upsell. (In fairness, we did hear him delivering the exact same spiel to the hidden tables on either side of us, so he wasn’t completely sizing us up as rubes.)
We started by ordering the two sake samplers: four shot-sized tastings from different sakeguras, which were delivered with a short, enlightening lecture on how sake is made, why there are differences in quality, and which order we should taste them in (from highest quality to lowest, though frankly they were all much more refined than any sake I’d tried before).
And then the food. Ninja has a theme of “art dishes,” plates that give 110% in terms of presentation. So the conch bombshells weren’t just served inside their original spiky shells; they were served in their shells and then set on fire.
The Batto Jutsu (scallop and salmon sashimi with citrus and edamame) wasn’t just presented in a grapefruit; it was in a grapefruit with a sword in it, the removal of which caused great clouds of dry ice to envelop the table. (I got to pull out the sword, though I balked at delivering the accompanying ninja yell.)
The eel and salmon sushi were beautifully plated (if that’s the right word) on a long, delicate, wabi-sabi branch of cedar.
The “floating sashimi” came suspended over a bowl of more dry ice. The waiters also let me play with the sword for a while. The fools.
And it’s not all about the looks. The sashimi was melty in the mouth, especially the tuna and yellowtail. The conch was tender and meaty. The rolls of tuna wrapped around foie gras were addictive, decadent mouthfuls.
While we ate, the wooden screen entrance to our table was closed; it opened only when a waiter came to deliver more food, clear empty plates, or randomly set stuff on fire (these guys carry magnesium paper like most waiters carry corkscrews). Because of the relative privacy and warren-like layout of the place, the only time we were aware of other diners was when they screamed (either because they were accosted by a ninja or because more playful arson was taking place).
At the end of our meal, ninja Jason came and asked if we wanted a visit from the magician. Oh, what the heck. Two minutes later, the world’s most unconvincing ninja showed up. Stewart was a six-foot-five blond with a waxed moustache. Perfect for a Viking restaurant; less so for the current environment.
Regardless, he was good. He started by handing The Boy an imaginary pack of cards and asking him to take them out of the box, shuffle them and fan them out so I could choose one. The Boy played along, and I picked one, looked at it (ie, thought of a card: Jack of Diamonds) and put it back in the pack face-up.
Stewart then pulled a real pack out of thin air, opened it and asked me what card I’d chosen. So I told him. He fanned out the cards, and the only one upside down was … the Jack of Diamonds. Spooky!
Then some cute sleight-of-hand business with pocketknives, and then the finale, again card-related.
He’d written a prediction, he said, on a piece of paper. He put the paper face-down on the table, and weighted it down with a shot glass. Then he asked The Boy to pick a (real) card from the pack, put it back and shuffle the deck.
And now he'd tell us which card it was, because he’d written the answer on the piece of paper. With a flourish, he turned the paper over. It said:
THE CARD IS
Oh yeah, he explained, he’d run out of room before he was able to write the answer. Funny. Oh, and what was your card, sir? "Ten of hearts," sez The Boy.
And then the magician laid more touchpaper over the writing and set it on fire—and half the letters disappeared, revealing:
And no, he wouldn’t tell us how he did it.