|A WINDOW ON BROADWAY
|By Mervyn Rothstein
Kodama might look like a typical neighborhood Japanese restaurant - but the neighborhood is Broadway, and the food is a cut above.
At Kodama, you can have a really good pre- or post-theater meal for much less than at most other eateries within walking distance of Shubert Alley. Is it haute Japanese? Of course not. Is it value for the money? Most definitely. Dinner for two, including tax, tip and a bottle of beer or a small house sake apiece,is pretty much $50 or less.
In keeping with its location in the heart of the theater district, on 45th Street just west of Eighth Avenue, directly across the street from the Al Hirschfeld Theater, a dozen or so posters , representing musicals from seasons past and present, line Kodama's walls. They're from shows like Spring Awakening, Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q, Jersey Boys - and Jane Eyre - and many of them are copiously autographed.
Kodama opened in 1980, the year that Evita won the Tony for best musical, and it has long been a haunt for the denizens of Broadway - the backstage folk and those on the chorus line, for sure, but also the stars. Over the 22 years I've been dining there, I've spotted Stephen Sondheim and William Finn at the sushi bar, and Jason Alexander and Audra McDonald at the tables - to name just a few. In addition, at lunchtime, when specials make the prices even lower, the place has been a bit of an offsite cafeteria for reporters and editors from The New York Times - even now, when the newspaper has moved from West 43rd down to West 41st, just a few blocks farther away.
When it comes to the food, the sushi and sashimi, in their many combinations, are of consistently high quality.Sushi comes in super deluxe (10 pieces), deluxe (eight pieces) and regular (seven pieces), sashimi in super deluxe and deluxe. Sushi and sashimi a la carte include squid, octopus, mackerel, orange clam, Spanish mackerel and sea urchin as well as the usual suspects, tuna, salmon and yellowtail. There are many special individual rolls, including the Kodama roll (seven kinds of fish with flying fish roe), the Dragon roll (eel and cucumber wrapped with slices of avocado) and Rainbow (six kinds of fish on California roll). Vegetarian rolls include Oshinko (yellow pickles), Kampyo (cooked and dried radish), Umesiso (plum paste and mint leaf), Asparagus and Red Pepper. There's also a large selection of tempura-based rolls.
The various forms of teriyaki - chicken, beef, salmon - are succulent, richly flavored and satisfying. I also particularly like the steamed vegetables (or steamed chicken and vegetables) with tofu and ponzu sauce. The menu holds many classic favorites, including tempura, and soba and udon noodles. In addition, there are creative specials.
The Broadway Box - miso soup, salad, chicken teriyaki, shrimp and vegetable tempura, rolled avocado and cucumber sushi, ebi shumai (steamed shrimp dumplings) and a couple of orange slices as a mini-dessert - offers a lot of good food at a reasonable price. If you're in the mood for dessert, the red bean ice cream is a personal favorite. All of which is to say that in those 22 years I've been a regular pre-theater (and occasional lunch) patron, I've never had a bad meal.
The house sake and the beers are appropriate accompaniments, priced reasonably at $4 to $6. There are also pricier sakes, including Kubota Hekiju at $85 a bottle and Echigo Tsurukame at $42. Kodama also has a few basic wine selections, but beer or sake is really the way to go.
If you go, try to get one of the three window tables for two, so you can glance out at the passers-by on 4