The New York magazine review of Otafuku says, “It’s very rare to find this stuff in New York. Consider yourself lucky.” Similarly, my boyfriend has been going on about this place for the entire nearly-three years I’ve known him. He went there on a date with a girl before my time and claims that while the date sucked, the food was life-changing. I don’t actually believe him about the date, but I was at least interested in the food.
Otafuku is not a restaurant. It’s a hallway divided in two by a counter, with men cooking on one side and customers ordering on the other. There’s enough room for four people to line up inside to place their orders, and after getting a receipt with a number on it, everyone goes to stand around outside. The pub next door has outdoor garden seating where people are reclining and relaxing, but Otafuku customers get nothing but a single, constantly-full two-seater bench out front. But no one’s complaining.
I don’t like the fruits of the sea, but Kamran tried to sell me on the fact that this is basically junk food, and I’ll admit that I bought it a little bit. There are three things on the menu here:
• Okonomiyaki: a pile of cabbage and batter molded into the shape of a pancake, fried with scallion and ginger, topped with squid, shrimp, pork, beef, or corn, and covered in okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and seaweed.
• Takoyaki: savory doughnut holes!, covered in okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise!, with a chunk of octopus, a squirt of cheese, or nothing inside, and bonito flakes (dried, fermented, and smoked tuna) on top.
• Yakisoba: fried noodles not worth talking about because there’s no batter involved.
I was especially down with the Japanese junk food when I was able to order the okonomiyaki with pork instead of squid, but the cashier told us they were too busy to make anything but the octopus takoyaki, so I let Kamran get that with the promise that I’d try one of the six dough balls. Twenty minutes later, we were standing outside with our friends and a crowd of other hungry customers when the cook yelled our number out the window and everyone else repeated it until we came forward.
We took our treats to the yard of St. Mark’s Church on 10th St. and dug in. The okonomiyaki tastes pretty much exactly how you expect it to–like fried cabbage, ginger, bacon, BBQ sauce, and mayo. Only it’s not like eating heavy American junk food that makes your pores oil up and your stomach bloat; with this stuff, you somehow feel as if you’ve just eaten something healthy. If you like the taste of cabbage, this thing will totally delight you. If you don’t, get it anyway and peel the pork off the top, because you can’t go wrong with bacon and BBQ sauce.
You don’t feel healthy with the takoyaki. It’s seriously a mouthful of soft, chewy doughnut. And not a fluffy doughnut, either, but an extremely dense one. Despite the fact that I’ve had takoyaki before with little squeamishness, I made Kamran eat the chunk of octopus from mine so I could have just the slightly-fishy shell. Back when I had takoyaki the first time, Kamran had been force-feeding me all sorts of fish to try to acclimate me, but he’s let his efforts slacken lately, and I’m back to being weirded out by seafood. I can’t imagine how good that little ball of fried dough would’ve been had it been filled with cheese.
This isn’t anywhere close to American comfort food, but it was a great experience, and I do consider myself lucky for having tried it, as New York magazine said I should. It was lots of interesting food at a great price, and not having a place to sit down with it was half the fun.