On the heels of launching Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya, co-founder Bruce Bromberg hands out a few ribbons to the late-night competition.
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Bruce Bromberg has a confession to make: Despite 16 years in the sushi business as co-owners of the Blue Ribbon restaurants, he and his brother Eric never really experienced Japanese cuisine until they went on a company-led trip this past November, when a team of 12 spent eight days in Tokyo for what he describes as “culinary nirvana.”
The Bromberg brothers and longtime partner and sushi master Toshi Ueki have a handful of successful sushi establishments, but when they decided to take over a space at the Thompson LES hotel last summer, they found themselves searching for inspiration. “We went to Japan nervous about what we were going to find,” Bromberg admits. “Had we been doing the right thing all these years?”
If they found their culinary decisions validated by their experiences abroad, they also found the new muse they were searching for: izakaya. Defined as both a businessmen’s tavern and a watering hole in villages where sake and beer are brewed, communal izakaya joints offer a healthy list of booze and food for those looking for respite after a long day. “The revelation of izakaya was almost more cultural than culinary,” says Bromberg.
It’s not that the new Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya(187 Orchard Street, 212.466.0404) is the only izakaya in town, of course, but the Brombergs bring new flair and focus to the concept. The room plays to a sense of community, with large eight-top tables on the periphery and two long tables down the center, each seating 18 diners. As with all Blue Ribbon restaurants, it’s tailor-made for late-night dining.
The ever-expansive Blue Ribbon–style menu has “dishes that tend to be presented in a way where they’re more communally shared,” says Bromberg. Those include multiple variations of Blue Ribbon’s signature fried chicken, smallish vegetable dishes (spicy cucumbers or shishito peppers, for instance), and eight varieties of fried rice (including the “Leo,” with lox, egg, and onion). Lazy Susans on the tables make sharing easy.
“We always take a little bit of liberty with the food concept,” Bromberg says. “Our aim is to stay true to the tradition but at the same time work within those confines to create new dishes that can be part of the Blue Ribbon world.”
(An exclusive newsflash for foodies: Bromberg confirms that he and his partners have officially inked a deal to open a Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken in NYC in the not too distant future.)
Below, Bromberg shares some of his favorite late-night eating spots around the city—places where, he says, “the chef is still in the kitchen and the food comes out with the manager on the floor.”
“The Lower East Side is a very late-night scene, but it’s typically been about music and bars,” says Bromberg. “There hasn’t been a ton of late-night dining down here, but over the last couple of years that’s begun to change. Spitzer’s helped create the trend.” Expect a well-appointed gastropub with an amazingly long beer list. 101 Rivington Street, 212.228.0027
A small-plate Italian restaurant with a medium-size menu, strong wine list, and a prime corner spot for people watching. “Like Spitzer’s, this place has been helping lead the trend of new late-night dining on the LES.” 98 Rivington Street, 212.614.0473
“Owned by the same gentleman who owns Decibel, that sake bar in the East Village, this is the high-end equivalent. You have to descend into a sub-basement in some office building. It’s really pretty amazing. Great food, great sake list. Really cool overall choices.” 211 East 43rd Street, 212.953.7253
The Spotted Pig
“What Blue Ribbon has been about all these years is that we’re really the same restaurant at 2 a.m. as we are at 8 p.m.,” says Bromberg. “For us, that’s what defines late-night dining. It’s not just the fact that the place is open. The Spotted Pig has done well in that realm.” 314 West 11th Street, 212.620.0393
Congee Village Restaurant & Bar
Despite the funky decor and kitschy vibe, Congee Village delivers reliably stellar Cantonese cuisine for regulars and nightlife denizens alike. “A great, funky place,” says Bromberg. “The food is always so consistent, the service is always great, even when you walk in there at all hours.” 100 Allen Street, 212.941.1818
Opened in 1938, this Cantonese dive is indispensable for the late-night set because of its big portions, reasonable prices, and early-morning hours. “In the making of Blue Ribbon’s late-night dining reputation, the only place that was open after us was Wo Hop,” says Bromberg. “It was often just cops there. We still visit.” 17 Mott Street, 212.962.8617