To many New Yorkers, Midtown Manhattan is a culinary wasteland for anyone trying to spend less than $50 per head. There are a few exceptions, however. Aburiya Kinnosuke, located on a quiet block (at least at night) clustered with other Japanese establishments in the area, isn't one of them. Why bother? We wonder as well.
The restaurant is small and features tatami-style dining rooms as well as regular tables. The ambiance is slightly more upscale than many other izakaya, which often concentrate on food at the expense of décor at lower price ranges. The service is frosty like the sake and robotic.
Noteworthy items at dinner include a spicy version of oden, a Japanese beef stew, as well as the Berkshire pork belly, which was big on pork flavor and satisfyingly meaty, if missing the expected layers of fat (a good thing with slices so thick). Sashimi was fresh, at least on the night that we went, if a bit steep ($30 for three kinds), but good sashimi doesn't come cheap in Manhattan anyway. The much-hyped (at least on Yelp!) homemade tofu ($10) is a disappointment, served with three salts that attempt to shore up its bland flavor, but fail to do so. The 40-minute mushroom rice was similarly bland and a disappointment. A pleasant surprise was the stir-fried pork with Japanese pickles ($9) which delivered a big punch of flavor and the pork belly we were looking for earlier with crisp, thin slices of fatty meat, if a bit salty. It is worth noting that many of their items are specials, and much of their regular menu is not online either, so there's much more to try than a cursory glance at their website would imply.
If you're looking to splurge on Japanese and in the neighborhood, Aburiya Kinnosuke may be worthwhile for a few of their items if you're willing to look past less than stellar service. It would be a great place to stop over for a few bites and a drink, but we would hesitate to recommend a full dinner here.