This Japanese Speakeasy-Inspired Concept Brings a Touch of Class to Midtown

In the last few years, Manhattan’s Koreatown has transformed into a bustling cultural haven in the heart of Midtown. In hopes of capitalizing on this newfound traffic, restaurateurs may find the somewhat more subdued surrounding blocks as space for opportunity.

Credit: Julia Weinberger

Tucked on a sleepier stretch of W 38th Street, discerning diners know that this is where to find a hidden gem: CLASS on 38th. Offering a contemporary take on traditional Japanese techniques, this is the newest concept from chef-partner Alexander Lee.

After honing his craft at the French Culinary Institute and working his way up through Michelin-starred restaurants––plus, some of New York City’s top Asian restaurants––Chef Lee established MINKA in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. He then went on to collaborate with Rudi Jan, Renk Dong, Jane Rotari, and Nick Hwang to open Antidote in Williamsburg, as well as Nemesis in Flatiron. CLASS on 38th is the latest venture from this dynamic crew of hospitality partners.

As with all of their restaurants, the name itself is quite layered. While evidently drawing inspiration from its address, the number 38 represents wealth and abundance in many belief systems. While it does happen to class up the block, the letters stand for “Cocktails, Liquors And Specialty Spirits.”

Credit: Megan Shelton

The intimate space hosts 38 seats across the bar and dining room, gold accents, Japanese wallpaper decor, and exposed brick. An open window into the immaculate kitchen allows diners a glimpse into each step of the preparation process.

The seasonally influenced a la carte menu features 20 plates, all of which are presented on vintage chinaware, personally sourced by the chef. Some pieces date back to the 1950s; others are adorned with 22k gold rims.

The components of each dish are sourced directly from trusted farms and vendors, permitting accessible price points. While most come from Japan, a handful of ingredients are intentionally brought in from different countries. To elevate each dining experience, caviar and truffle supplements are available.

Credit: Megan Shelton

The menu is separated into three sections, with the most robust being the Small Plates. Opt for the Tataki (torched bluefin fatty tuna, wasabi soy, shiso avocado purée); the Yakitori (heritage chicken breast and thigh skewers, yuzu, shanso pepper); or Karrage (crispy monkfish, mentaiko mayo, nama shichimi, matcha).

Credit: Megan Shelton

The Wagyu Tartare is comprised of 50/50 Japanese A5 from Miyazaki, Japan and American Wagyu; Asian pear; and foie gras atop milk toast with truffle duxelles shaved right at the table. 

Credit: Megan Shelton

From the Signatures, the King Ebi Furai comes highly recommended. African tiger prawns are fried in a light layer of panko and served with cabbage slaw and wasabi tartar. There are just two Vegetables offered, but they are true standouts: Aona Gomae (chilled broccoli rabe, sweet-savory sesame, crispy sunchokes) and Miso Grilled Cabbage (savoy cabbage, grilled fennel, red miso leek soubise, chili garlic crisps, chives).

Credit: Megan Shelton

A sampler of three petit fours is the only dessert, and it comes from a New Jersey bakery beloved by Chef Lee.

As far as the beverage program, low-ABV cocktails are the primary focus, along with sakes, wines, and aperitifs. Start with the GTS (Green Tea Sour)––composed of Ginza No Suzume shochu, green tea syrup, aquafaba, and passion fruit––or the Ume-Groni, which includes shochu, Luxardo Antico, Select Aperitif, Yukari shiso, kumquat, and salted plum foam.

For an exceptional evening out, book a table at this Japanese speakeasy-inspired spot.

Top Takeaways

Location: Midtown, New York City

Address: 55 W 38th St, New York, NY 10018

Cuisine: Japanese

Price Point: $$

Takes Reservations: Yes – Resy

The vibe: Black-and-white tiled floors, an exposed brick wall, emerald-hued accents, and the cozy dining room evoke a sultry Japanese-inspired speakeasy. 

Our favorite thing on the menu: The small plate format allows for sampling various bites. We highly recommend the Wagyu Tartare, which is presented with a finish of truffle shavings right at the table. The Karrage (crispy monkfish, mentaiko mayo, nama shichimi, matcha) and Miso Grilled Cabbage are also standouts.

The attire: Smart casual

Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner: Open Wednesday through Monday from 5:15 PM to late, with the last seating at 9:30 PM. CLASS on 38th is closed on Tuesdays.

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