50 Carmine (West Village)
I'd been wanting to try this place but when I learned that the chef was non-Japanese and that this was supposed to specialize in tempura, I balked. I had an old friend come to NY who was craving fried food though so this is where we went. The verdict: not bad at all.
The interior looks sterile - it's all white tile and if it weren't outfitted with a bar and tables, it could be a morgue. Going to the bathroom allows a peek into the kitchen, and inside there is chalk for writing on the walls with. Mainly XX+XX in hearts and "Vote for Obama" messages.
We started with the wasabi pickles, which I loved. This also went well as a condiment for the tempura we ordered, pumpkin and chicken fried steak. The chicken fried steak was actual steak pieces, not the usual ground meat patties. Good. The pumpkin was fried just right and was slightly creamy. They gave us four dipping sauces to try, including the winner, the wasabi remoulade.
We also tried some non-fried items, the aged snow goose and steak tartare. The snow goose was pretty gamey - I was expecting it to be like duck but it was pretty overpowering and was like eating a slice of fat. The tartare fared better here - it was a pretty fatty cut of meat, which gave it some extra richness. Topped with pickles and a raw tempura egg, this was my favorite.
For dessert, a sorbet/ice cream trio: lychee shiso, black sesame and bay leaf. The lychee shiso was my favorite - slightly minty and tart. The black sesame had too much black sesame - it was good but felt a little gritty. I much prefer Il Laboratorio's. The bay leaf ice cream tasted mild and slightly flowery and was a good contrast to the lychee shiso.
Overall, it was decent, if a little expensive. I doubt I will be back very soon but I definitely didn't hate it. As for non-Japanese cooking Japanese food, I won't retract my earlier sentiment but I'll have to give him props.
See the rest of the photos on my Flickr - I HATE using flash because everything ends up looking the same - washed out, gray tinged, and flat. But what can you do?