After two years of pandemic crisis in Hell’s Kitchen, the team of Ikebana Zen shifts from omakase to speakeasy, with a focus on craft cocktails and tapas-style Japanese cuisine, as well as live entertainment.
Manager Pat Wongboot, bartender Jommie Ratchoo and owner Andrew Yuan opened Ikebana on W53rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues in July 2020, after plans to launch in March were thwarted by the New York City shutdown.
Originally conceived as an omakase sushi restaurant, Ikebana turned the lockdown into an opportunity to invest heavily in their outdoor dining shed, creating one of the most elaborate temporary spaces in the region. When the team was finally able to accommodate guests in their unrestricted space, they decided to expand their offerings beyond the confines of a nighttime tasting menu.
“We want everyone to feel welcome here,” Jommie said. “Every night will now have a different vibe.” Along with hosting low-key weekday happy hours, they’ve also added weekend entertainment, including DJ nights, cabaret shows, and a future drag brunch.
Ikebana Zen recently celebrated Halloween with a Cirque-du-Soleil-style burlesque performance, featuring a candy-themed lollipop dancer. “We love that people come here for a cute date one night and come back for the DJ another,” Jommie added.
Although they no longer offer a formal $158 omakase menu, manager Pat explained that the restaurant focuses on flavors from Japan. “We import a lot of food and alcohol, like Wagyu beef and our sake and whiskey from Japan,” she said.
“Everything is made from scratch – we really focus on fresh, natural ingredients,” added Jommie. The restaurant’s new menu features favorites like pork gyoza dumplings, matcha panna cotta and select cocktails.
Jommie and his team of bartenders have crafted a beverage program centered around Japanese sake, vodka and whiskey drinks that evoke the flavors of Tokyo with a nod to the Big Apple. They even created their own take on the classic New York martini, using sake instead of vodka or gin to create a cultural culinary fusion and unique drink. Another Ikebana exclusive? The bar’s signature whiskey-soda aerator, ensuring a freshly carbonated, perfectly balanced cocktail every time.
For Pat and Jommie, adjusting the concept of the restaurant to attract new Hell’s Kitchen customers comes naturally – both Pat, who worked at a now-closed Hell’s Kitchen Thai restaurant while in college, and Jommie, who is a VIV Thai veteran. , At Nine Thai and several other West Side restaurants – are longtime members of the neighborhood’s hotel community.
“I’ve worked at Hell’s Kitchen for almost 10 years,” said Jommie, who said that after living in Hawaii, he was happy to be back in the city and reconnecting with the West Side community. “It’s really, really good to be back and seeing all my neighborhood friends again.” He added that building his own space with Pat and Chef Yuan was “really different” and that the challenges of launching the restaurant and launching his new concept – which they changed in just a week – were intense: “ It’s a challenge, but I like challenges,” he said. “We’re going step by step.”
The duo may bring back an official omakase program in the future, but for now, they’re excited to see where Ikebana’s life as a speakeasy takes them. “The most important thing for us is to treat everyone in the neighborhood like family,” Pat said. “We just want everyone to feel welcome.” Jommie, for his part, already feels welcome. “Coming back to Hell’s Kitchen is like coming home,” he said. “Being behind the bar and seeing everyone in the neighborhood makes me feel alive.”