Oh, the memories this Japanese joint brings back… A classic favorite of NYU students during my freshman year (partially because of the cheap, cheap food but mostly because of their blind eye towards underage drinking), I remember coming here every Thursday and Friday night while pledging in between exams. And then there were times when we came back twice within a night to a confused waitress that asked us, “Really?! Again?!”
Kenka still stands in the same spot on St. Marks, but the days of non-carding and underage drinking are over. Nowadays, for those of us that can drink legally, they’ve made drinking even cheaper. Where else in New York City can you get a 32 oz Sapporo on draft for only $5?! Heck, we couldn’t even buy a 40 for that price anywhere.
Amy is super excited. (And no, I did not photoshop that $5.00!! red sign into that menu leaflet!)
Actually, Amy agreed to pose since I was the designated photographer. At first, I didn’t realize that 32 oz was that big. The waitress came by and smacked the glass onto the wooden tabletop and our eyes widened. “You’re going to drink all of that?!” Amy inquired. “Um yeah, I hope so,” I responded. Thou shall not waste food beer.
We arrived around 9:15pm on a Saturday night to a long waiting list. Luckily it was just Amy and me because it looked like groups of three or more had to wait alot longer. Staring into Kenkas along the busy nightlife of St. Marks, Kenka epitomized that popular restaurant that you see in a Time Out Japan guidebook. Despite clearly having a heavy Japanese vibe, guests of all races aligned the wooden stools along the bar. It was refreshing to see non-Asians at a restaurant where the menu was the paper version of an anime comic, predominantly in Japanese with few words of English for description purposes.
So we waited for about 10 minutes before we got our seat. And then only a minute before the server came by to take our drink orders.
32 oz Sapporo Draft ($F-to the-I-to the-V-to the-E!!!)
I wish I had taken the shot upon arrival, in all its glory with its 1.5 inch thick foaming head but… It was so difficult to decide what to get. The menu has an extensive list of ramen, udon, and soba, but it was way too hot to get anything with a soup base. Sushi was out of the question (I’m not sure I trust eating raw fish here although I’m sure the turnover rate for the fish must be high), and we sure as heck didn’t want rice, so… we were left with their pancakes.
Oh, and did I mention? They serve turkey testicles and bull penises. Definitely out of the question.
Okonomiyaki: japanese pancake w/ pork, squid and vegetables ($6.00)
Instead, we got the okonomiyaki, the popular Japanese pancake and our favorite of the night. Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) actually means “what you want” (okonomi) “grilled” (yaki). The base is usually flour + yam + water + eggs and then your meats, vegetables, and seafood. Man, if I ever go to Japan, heck, I’m not going to Tokyo- I’m going to go to Osaka first to get myself some authentic Osaka style okonomiyaki.
The okonomiyaki is topped with tokatsu sauce and mayo with some bonito flakes sprinkled on top. Bonito flakes are essentially fish flakes and if dropped on top of a steaming plate of okonomiyaki, they start waving back and forth, as if dancing. It’s trippy at first, but it’s really just the steam. I think Amy got a bit scared when I told her it was just fish (omitting telling her flakes).
We also ordered the Yakiudon (焼きそば), which should be no stranger to any Japanese food lovers. Udon are thick noodles (my personal favorite) and yakiudon stirfries the udon with vegetables and pork. The traditional version is Yakisoba (made from soba noodles) but the concept is the same. Usually it’s topped with “aonori” or seaweed, but ours wasn’t. Either way, the yakiudon while good, wasn’t terribly delicious. However, with that 32 oz Sapporo, it was good company for my taste buds. The flaw with all yakiudon that I’ve noticed is that THEY GIVE YOU TOO LITTLE!
Modanyaki: japanese pancake w/ noodles, pork, squid and vegetables ($8.50)
Initially, we only ordered two dishes. By the time we finished the food, it was around 10:30pm and my beer still had a third of it left. We were at the mercy of Clare, who was attending a wedding and so Amy and I wanted to sit at Kenka longer. Taking all that into consideration, we ordered another dish. Don’t ask us why now because by the time it came, we were about to burst and couldn’t only manage to eat less than half of it.
Modanyaki (モダン焼き) is okonomiyaki but with thin fried noodles in it. It tasted good, but that’s as much as I can tell you because by that time, food was the last thing on my mind… I do have to say that alot of the flavor from many of their dishes come from the heavy usage of their sauces, but what can you expect for a $6 entree?!
By 11pm, things were starting to get quiet. The table to our right, full of college-age kids, were winding down their drinking games and the long line outside began to dwindle. I can tell you from past experience that this is just a blip, as around midnight, there’s usually another wave of hungry (more like drunk) New Yorkers seeking for cheap grub.
Our whole bill came out to…
Holy shiz. $28! For that beer large enough to fill my three-person family on a normal night and three entrees?! $28! I still can’t get over it.
Anddd, as if that wasn’t enough, they have a COTTON CANDY MACHINE outside. When they present the bill, they give you a tiny plastic cup of pink sugar. You pay the bill, make your way outside, and flip a switch. The motor starts humming and you spill the sugar into the center of the hole. Then… you start twirling and twirling.
And twirling and twirling…
Too mad neither of us like cotton candy. I just like the concept of me being able to make it.
And Amy does a good job posing as a cotton candy lover.