Shin Takagi and Kazu Kamehara own more than 90 restaurants in Japan in the form of a fast food chain called Yakitateya that specializes in okonmiyaki (frequently described here as "savory pancakes"); takoyaki (doughy balls, often stuffed with octopus); and taiyaki (fish-shaped cake usually filled with red bean paste). But conquering their native land apparently hasn't satisfied the duo, and a few weeks ago Takagi and Kamehara opened their first venture in America, DokoDemo, located in the heart of the East Village.
DokoDemo, which translates roughly as "anywhere" and implies "authentic Japanese even here in NYC", is the first of a planned mini-chain from the street food-loving team. The menu is short and similar to the one in Japan—add yakisoba, subtract taiyaki—with each dish made to order in the open kitchen that takes up nearly half of the subterranean space.
You order at the counter, grab a seat at one of the high tables (or on the bench outside on the odd, covered porch), and one of the friendly staffers will bring over your food as each dish is ready. It's all perfectly comfortable for the amount of time you'll spend here, which, given the nature of street food, is minimal.
The best thing on DokoDemo's brief menu is the Yakisoba, which, like all of the main dishes, you can get with pork, beef, octopus, or shrimp. I went the pig route with my order of the sauced-up grilled noodles last week (there's also cabbage and pickled radish involved), and the whole thing was terrific: nice and greasy, plenty salty and slightly gamy, rich and satisfying. This is near-perfect drunk food that's just as good even if you haven't had a drink in years.
The Okonomiyaki, which I had with shrimp, was also a winner, the chopped crustaceans plump and tender and integrated fully into the griddled concoction (the basic batter is tricked out with cabbage, scallions, and bits of radish) with plentiful squirts of kewpie mayo and a writhing mass of bonito flakes on top. Much less effectively executed was the octopus-filled Takoyaki balls, which were undercooked to unpleasant gumminess, the cephalopod hard, rubbery and nearly inedible.
There are a few snacks and sides here as well, including a very good Plum Pickle plate, with cucumber chunks offering a refreshing foil to the intense fruit; and Matcha Potato Chips, which are served warm right off the grill and thus feel more special than they actually are. Any of the "mains" with a side makes for an ample meal.
DokoDemo is a great addition to your East Village soak-up-the-booze options, but even if you're not out carousing it's worth wolfing down a meal or three here. But go soon! It was nearly empty during all three of my visits last week, so whether the operation can survive and thrive on a side street rather than the avenue remains to be seen.
DokoDemo is located at 89 East 4th Street between Second Avenue and Bowery, and is open daily at 11:30 a.m. and until 10:30 p.m. on Monday through Wednesday, 11 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday, and 10 p.m. on Sunday (917-261-5228; dokodemo-nyc.com)