A great meal comes in many shapes and sizes at Ootoya
When the Tokyo chain sometimes called the Denny's of Japan for its sheer ubiquity (somewhat unfairly, as what, then, are we supposed to call the many Dennyses-yes, the Denny's-that also thrive there?) announced it was opening its first U.S. branch on a side street off Union Square, a cheer went up from the city's ex-pat and wannabe communities. Offering a type of quick-service comfort food not readily available in a city now teeming with sushi palaces, izakayas, soba-yas and enough ramen to ensnarl all of the MTA, Ootoya (8 W. 18th St., ootoya.us) both eases the patriot's dreams of home and checks another box on the foodie's To Eat list. But even for those who don't have a burning desire to eat natto or dream of a curry don the way mom used to make, the restaurant has much to offer.
The gimmick here is that every entree is available as the centerpiece of a set meal called teishoku. Delivered all at once to maximize the busy office worker's precious time, the meal covers a lacquer tray with a swath of seemingly interlocking receptacles. Lift the rounded lid on a black bowl to reveal miso soup, steam curling gently upward. Arrayed on a chunky white saucer is a rainbow of nukazuke pickles, which are fermented in rice bran rather than the usual brine. And what's in that delicate ceramic basket, a miniature replica of a 19th-century snake charmer's? Surprise! It's chawanmushi, a delicate, savory egg custard.