Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened spots, as well as some of your favorites, and under the radar soon-to-be favorites.
In this edition, we turn to J-Spec Wagyu Dining and Esora Omakase in New York’s East Village. The 44-seat restaurant, which opened in November 2020, specializes in — as the name suggests — all things Wagyu, as well as perfectly crisp tempura, hand rolls, and sashimi, among other things. Here’s everything you need to know before you snag a seat in their main dining room or a highly covetable seat at the omakase counter.
1. One of the city’s premier meat suppliers is behind it.
J-Spec is owned and operated by one of the East Coast’s top Wagyu suppliers, Tomoe Food Services Inc. Based in Hunts Point in the Bronx since 2014, they supply meat from Japan to some of the city’s best restaurants, Cote and Atomix included.
It wasn’t until last year, however, that Tomoe Food Services decided to run its own restaurant, too. Seeing sales down some 65% during the pandemic and noticing so many empty restaurant spaces available in the city, owner Naoki Takeshige decided to see if he could make his dream of owning a restaurant a reality.
The name for the restaurant, J-Spec, is an abbreviation for “Japan-Specification” — it’s a phrase that Tomoe Food Services uses to describe its Japanese beef selection.
2. And they serve some of the most highly coveted Wagyu beef there is — without the usual price hike.
Takeshige opened J-Spec with a desire to bring premium Japanese Wagyu beef to the masses, without the usual hefty price tag. (The a la carte menu includes Wagyu tataki handrolls for $10 and an appetizer section with nothing over $20.)
At J-Spec, all of the Wagyu you’ll find is an A5 grade — the highest grade possible — but there’s one A5 Wagyu beef in particular that’s considered the best of the best and costs more than others: Ozaki Wagyu beef. At the moment, J-Spec is the only restaurant in the city that carries this beef, which is named for the rancher behind it, Muneharu Ozaki. (Years ago, Don Wagyu sold a $180 Ozaki beef sandwich.)
In the main dining room, you can order a six-ounce A5 Ozaki striploin ($95), but one of the best ways to enjoy this specialty beef is at J-Spec’s omakase counter, recently renamed as Esora Omakase, where, as part of the meal, chef Koichi Endo sears the striploin as part of his Wagyu sushi presentation. He also wraps it in shiso leaves, lightly batters it, and fries it as tempura.
3. Key point: J-Spec operates as two restaurant experiences under one roof.
There’s the main dining room, which occupies the former Jewel Bako space, and has kept its stunning, signature bamboo-lined walls.
And then there’s the omakase counter, now known as Esora Omakase, occupying the former home of Ukiyo and, before that, Degustation, where chefs prepared everything right before your eyes.
J-Spec draws from the traditions of those beloved restaurants in its two dining rooms but puts a decidedly J-Spec (read: beefy) spin on the experience.
In the main dining room, which opened in November, the surroundings are elegant, but more casual, and chef Kazyua Saito oversees a menu that showcases his diverse grasp of Japanese cuisine. Here, the emphasis is on steak, including Wagyu that you can cook at your own table. You’ll also find hand rolls, sushi, sashimi, and small bites on the menu, too. The menu for the accompanying outdoor dining area is the same as the one for the main dining room inside.
Saito was most recently at 15 East, and while he’s practiced traditional itamae-style cooking and sushi preparation for the past 20 years, his specialty is handmade soba noodles. General manager Natsuki Samuels says you can expect to see soba on the menu at J-Spec someday soon.
In the omakase counter space, which opened in May, the vibe is much more intimate: For now, only seven diners can sit at the omakase counter per night, starting at 6:30 or 7 p.m. (but they may open it up to two nightly seatings soon). The space was designed to give you a perfect view of all the action behind the counter as chef Koichi Endo presides over the $180 eight-course tasting menu. It’s particularly fascinating to watch chef Endo preparing each course to order, especially when it comes to the tempura courses.
4. Speaking of which, the omakase here isn’t all about sushi.
While most associate omakase with sushi, at J-Spec’s Esora, the omakase is all about Wagyu and tempura. There are nearly a dozen different bites of tempura in chef Endo’s omakase menu, including that aforementioned Wagyu tempura.
Endo is a tempura master who previously worked at Tempura Matsui, and at J-Spec, he’s applying his expertise to J-Spec’s array of A5 Wagyu, including that special Ozaki beef, too. His tempura is light and airy, and he tries his best to use the best of what’s in season, like fresh corn from Long Island, and the best of what Tomoe can procure, like snow crab from Hokkaido.
5. There’s an off-menu tasting course you should definitely ask about.
You won’t find it on the website, but if you ask, there’s a special $110 four-course tasting menu available in the main dining room and outdoor dining area, too. It starts with an A5 Wagyu macaron with Wagyu tartare, sea urchin, and foie gras, followed by miso-simmered Wagyu wrapped in a Japanese omelet. The third course is a classic A5 Wagyu steak, and the final course is the J-Spec TKG, a dish featuring uni, salmon roe, caviar, and a poached egg over rice.
J-Spec Wagyu Dining is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 5 to 11 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays for both lunch and dinner service. Esora Omakase is open Tuesdays through Saturdays for 6:30 p.m. seatings.