Do you remember autostereograms — the collections of dot patterns that when stared at under the right conditions revealed a hidden 3D image? A similar phenomenon has gripped the New York restaurant scene of late, becoming a favorite pastime among jaded pleasure-seekers. The game, which might be called “Find the Hidden Restaurant,” entails staring at a nondescript urban scene—a row of battered tenements, a crowded dress shop in Chinatown — and spotting the eatery concealed within it.
The spoils are often limited (some of these places serve little more than bar snacks), but playing the game is its own reward. Besides, imagine how cool you’ll look when you escort your friends or visiting out-of-towners through an auto parts dealer to an unmarked back-room pizzeria. They’ll never stop singing your praises, especially if you splurge on extra cheese!
According to its website, Zenkichi (77 N 6th Street, at Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, 718-388-8985) was opened in November 2006 by a homesick Tokyo native. Judging from the exterior of his Williamsburg restaurant, home must have been in a condemned building. The interiors, which are lighted in the manner of one of the “worlds” in the classic game Myst, are only slightly more inviting. Zenkichi brands itself a “modern Japanese brasserie,” modernity translating in this instance to a constantly revolving eight-course omakase tasting menu that has been known to include a tartare of yellowtail belly, grilled black cod in a miso marinade, and soy-marinated snapper. The cost is $48 a person.
Granted El Rincón Del Sabor (74 W 47th St, 4th floor, 212-840-0101) was more fun before they put up the street-level sign, but knowing that an Ecuadorian restaurant exists in the diamond district still earns you style points. Up the stairs in a commercial building you go, through a gauntlet of diamond cutters and polishers (you might want to cover your nose and mouth—those fumes may be toxic), to El Rincón. The menu changes daily, and if you’re lucky it will include guatita, which is stewed tripe. If you’ve never tried tripe, this is as good a starting point as any, the fat strands of stomach cooked to the precise point of absolute tenderness; a second longer and they’d begin to toughen again. They are served like everything else with a double helping of starch in the form of potatoes and rice. This “corner of flavor” is open for lunch only, and your best bet is to arrive early. By 1 p.m., the best items are often gone.
The name B Flat (277 Church Street, Basement, 212-219-2970) is a reference to the musical key and note, which is fair warning that dinner at this out-of-the-way spot appeals not only to the senses of smell, taste, and sight, but sound. If you prefer conversation with your dinner companions, visit on nights other than Monday and Wednesday or before 10 p.m., when a live jazz combo swings into action. B Flat is primarily a bar, though an assortment of small plates is on hand to keep your hunger at bay. There are several variations on raw fish (yellowtail carpaccio, ceviche, scallop sashimi) and one on raw beef (carpaccio), plus a handful of hot dishes: Berkshire pork belly and roast breast of magret duck, to name two. If you plan to read the menu bring a flashlight; it’s fashionably dark in this subterranean lair. Prices run from around $8 to $15 per dish.