It's been quite a journey for Chikarashi Isso. Right at the end of 2019, the Rector Street restaurant opened with a high-end kappo-style experience ($145 for a tasting menu), then shut down in March 2020 like everybody else. It reappeared as a yakitori omakase pop-up for nine months on Bowery, and now, finally, has reopened in its original FiDi home with a new chef from Tokyo, Hideaki Kobayashi; a new izakaya-style menu at dinner; and a full array of chirashi and donburi bowls available at lunch.

During the weekdays, the sleek-looking space functions as a second location of Chikarashi, the fast-casual spot on Canal Street that specializes in raw or roasted fish served over rice. You can get your bowls to-go here by ordering at a makeshift takeout counter looking into the kitchen, or sit for full service within Isso's small but stylish dining room.    

The "Japanese chirashi bowls with a Hawaiian poke influence," as Chikarashi co-partner Ivy Tsang calls them, are all terrific, and make for a hefty, under-$20 lunch. There's a Spicy Hamachi, a Wasabi Mayo Tuna, a Sichuan Chili Salmon, and, my choice earlier this week, a Salmon Ikura Chirashi bowl that starred an impressive amount of bright, fresh fish and sticky roe that really popped in the mouth. The vinegared rice is good, and added treats like nori, fine panko crumbs, and shiso leaves amp up both the flavor and texture.            

If you want your swimmer cooked there are a half dozen donburi options, including a Grilled Unagi, or eel, bowl; a Roasted Black Cod number with black vinegar; and a Seared Aburi Otoro "premium" dish featuring bluefin tuna. I got the Hamachi Kama, a roasted yellowtail collar with crackling skin plopped atop a mountain of rice, cucumber, and pickled daikon, with a side of ponzu dipping sauce.      

But Isso, as Tsang, explained, "means 'more,' so for dinner a partition hides the takeout counter, the lights dim, and the place turns into a finer dining restaurant that offers Japanese izakaya." When I asked why she and her partner Selwyn Chan decided to get into the fine dining game, the short answer was that it gave room for then-chef Atsushi Kono (at the yakitori popup), and now chef Kobayashi to do what they do best. 

In Kobayashi's case, that means Sukiyaki, and the platter you get here at Isso is fantastic. The beef is a lovely, fatty washugyu, sliced super thin, and the rich broth, or warishita, is given an extra layer of intensity after the chef melts a cloud of cotton candy at your table. Mushrooms, bitter greens, and slab of tofu add to the overall pleasure of the dish, but it's the bites of fatty, melt-in-your-mouth meat, fresh out of the bubbling cauldron, dripping from a dip into a pool of raw egg, that I'll be thinking about for a long time. 

Flounder Tempura ($26)

Kobayashi is also known for his tempura, which he batters and fries with a light hand. There are several options on menu, including a shrimp, scallop, and vegetable plate, an udon-based dish, and the dramatic—and delicious—Flounder Tempura, for which he places big chunks of delicate fish inside a "bowl" made from the crackling-fried skin. Don't forget to eat the head! 

Other winners include the Ankimo, two fat discs of monkfish liver sitting in a pool of ponzu sauce, and, if you're in the mood for sashimi, the Tuna Trio—with bright red akami, fatty chutoro, and beautiful, buttery aburi—will definitely make you happy. To be honest though, Kobayashi is so good with the cooked dishes that I wish I had tried the fried Hamkatsu instead, or the red miso beef tendon stew, or even the Chicken Karaage. 

Chikarashi Isso had just begun to build a buzz when the shutdown hit in 2020, so it was good to see that, despite 18 months of darkness, most of the tables were filled for dinner earlier this week, just about a week after the reopening. At these prices, it's obviously a special occasion dinner place for most of us—though lunch is still a solid deal—but when word gets out about how good the food is here, it seems likely to become a tough table again.        

Chikarashi Isso is located at 38 Rector Street, between West and Washington Streets, and is currently open on weekdays for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and on Monday through Saturday for dinner from 5 p.m. to midnight. Closed Sundays (646-596-8298; chikarashiisso.com