Classic Tables: Restaurant Nippon

This soba and sushi pioneer is still stylish

Restaurant Nippon is beyond classic: Back in 1987, New York Times critic Bryan Miller called it "the granddaddy of Manhattan Japanese restaurants." It was 24 years old at the time.

But even now, the title still fits.

Nippon's dining room is a throwback, with a soy-sauce patina on the walls, an elegant dropped ceiling (from back when one could invoke elegance with a dropped ceiling) and little tatami rooms where you can eat with your shoes off.

The restaurant is credited for inventing a dish called beef negimaki–grilled scallion and beef roll-ups that have since become a Japanese restaurant standard–and for being the first NYC restaurant to serve sushi, back in 1963.

Long before it was hip to know where your food came from, Nippon was on top of it: The restaurant's own farm in Quebec grows the buckwheat flour and soybeans it uses for house-made soba and tofu.

Those soba noodles–square, with a distinctly nutty flavor, always perfectly toothsome–know no superior in the city. With winter looming, the hot preparations are the way to go, though soba's texture and flavor are best showcased when it's served cold (if you opt for cold, choose a traditional set-up like the zaru soba, instead of a Nippon invention called "soba salad").

The tofu–made fresh daily–is also excellent and deserves a spot at your table; try the deep-fried agedashi tofu.

And if destination-worthy noodles and tofu doesn't make you want to go to Nippon, check out this heartfelt press release commemorating the death of Michael Jackson (click here to download). You thought you took it bad, but did Jackson ever do an impromptu performance of a Japanese children's song in your dining room?

Restaurant Nippon, 155 E. 52nd St. (between Lexington and Third aves.); 212-688-5941 or restaurantnippon.com