Watching fresh seafood, meat and vegetables grilled in front of you is one of the lures at Inakaya, a Japanese robata-yaki restaurant in Manhattan (a branch of the original in Tokyo).
But, as I found out at lunch today, if you sit at the counter around the grill or grills, a barrier prevents you from actually seeing your food being prepared (photo).
You will see a display of fresh fish and other items -- on your side of the barrier -- but the grilling is out of sight. (The cooks deliver your food on long paddles they extend over the barrier or low wall.) To improve the view, the restaurant could install mirrors over the grills.
So we ordered bento boxes lunches. I had one with salmon sashimi over salad greens, shrimp and vegetable tempura, a juicy fillet of wild-caught red snapper, grilled mushrooms, okra and potatoes; and some sort of root in sauce with another piece of cooked fish ($18).
My friend's bento box had pork belly and sashimi ($25). Each lunch came with a bowl of rice and unlimited house green tea.
The menu also lists grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. I left with a colorful brochure that, unfortunately, contains broken English. Here are excerpts:
"'Robata' is the Japanese term that stands for 'around a sunken hearth' and 'yaki' means 'grilling.' Fresh ingredients [are] grilled in proximity of guests' own eyes ...cooked miraculously on open-flame, its ancient but healthy grilling method of dropping excess oil has attained its popularity, and has spread throughout Japan. And now it comes to New York!"
Inakaya New York, 231 W. 40th St., Manhattan
(in The New York Times building),
212-354-2195; open seven days.