Reika and Jesse Alexander, the husband and wife team behind EN Brasserie, may be the only New York restaurateurs staying right on the cusp of what’s being cooked in Japan. With sister restaurants in Japan, EN Brasserie follows the Izakaya concept, where a procession of Asian-style tapas are brought to the table throughout the night.
As Reika is originally from Tokyo (where her family still owns restaurants), EN Brasserie has an authenticity that’s hard to match by other Japanese places in New York. Jesse Alexander also shares a passionate love and knowledge for Japanese cuisine; the two hit a perfect balance in their work and lives.
The design is almost show-stopping, with soaring ceilings, a sleek aesthetic and elegant dishes to match the vibe. The couple behind this restaurant were tastemakers we couldn’t help talking to…or photographing for that matter.
TNP: What would your ideal food day be?
J: I think I’d start at Tsukiji. Do you know Tsukiji? It’s a fish market in Tokyo. Most of the world’s high-end fish travels through Tsukiji. They’re pretty much open from 5am until 9am. They sell out. It’s just fresh and it’s delicious. The most fresh and delicious sashimi I’ve ever had is there – pretty outstanding. That’s a nice place. Maybe then I’d go to the Park Hyatt in Tokyo for brunch…
R: That’s actually what we did!
J: That was a pretty good one! You’re tired because you got up early or you partied all night! And you go there for breakfast, which is what we did.
TNP: Good hangover food?
J: It was. The night was still on, so it was like, ‘Do I have a hangover yet?’ Usually we don’t really drink…
R: I don’t drink.
J: She doesn’t drink and I don’t drink to the point of getting a hangover. Unless I’m going wild, but that’s really rare. Maybe you wanna talk about that brunch [at the Park Hyatt]?
R: That’s one of my favorite places to go for breakfast. It’s a hotel and the lobby is on the 42nd floor. You can have breakfast and see the whole city from there. That’s where Lost In Translation was filmed. I took him for his birthday last year.
TNP: And then what would you have for dinner?
J: I’ve got a couple options…
R: Okay my ideal. It’s all Japanese…it’s kind of crazy. There’s a place in Kyoto called Shishigatani-sanso; you go up in the mountains into these really narrow streets and climb up to this little old Japanese house. The view from there is just so amazing; you can see full Kyoto. So I would go there and sit down by the counter. They have amazing coffee as well. They spend ten minutes making one cup of coffee. It’s a drip coffee…
J: It’s like, a pour-over style. But it’s not like if you go to a nice coffee shop here, where they pour over and let it go. At Shishigatani-sanso they stir it and pour, super slowly for like ten minutes. You feel like you’re really tasting the essence of the coffee. It’s really great – very high quality. I feel like New York coffee tends to be really roasted and dark. Bringing good quality coffee here is really geared towards an espresso market. Whereas in Japan, pour-over coffee is king, and you’re looking for a more delicate, nuanced flavor. That respect or that kind of appreciation for food – looking for the delicacies – is very Japanese.
TNP: It’s not rushed there either…
R: The whole thing is not rushed there. The time is much slower.
J: It takes time. You can’t work with a delicate coffee quickly.
R: The food there is very seasonal. So when you go there in the springtime, around cherry blossom season, the whole city is pink. If you go there in October or November, when the leaves change and the colors are red and orange (very bright colors) it’s so beautiful. And you can actually taste it in the food as well.
J: It feels like you’re eating out of their backyard. Or eating out of the street that’s next to them. All of the food is probably straight off the mountainside. It’s really local and seasonal, but not as a selling point. It’s just how they’ve been doing it.