After a successful stint owning and operating Tzarevna, a Russian restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side, Ricky and Mariia Dolinsky have pivoted to their next venture. In October 2022, they transformed the former Tzarevna space into Yo+Shoku, a new restaurant concept that fuses Eastern European and Japanese flavors.
Like their previous restaurant, which was inspired by the couple’s Russian and Ukrainian heritage, the Dolinskys have a personal connection to the cuisine. Ricky’s grandmother was a Taiwanese native who grew up during the Japanese occupation, and Ricky later learned that many of his favorite childhood dishes would be characterized as yoshoku cuisine, a distinctive Western-influenced Japanese style of cooking.
“Yoshoku directly translates to ‘Western cuisine,’” said Ricky. “There was a lot of trading with the British during the 19th century that started this, and Western ingredients started making their way into [Japanese] dishes.”
Ricky explained that popular yoshoku dishes include omurice (an omelet with fried rice) and wafu pastas, which are similar to a bolognese but incorporate ingredients like shoyu, mirin and sake instead of wine.
“Yoshoku has been around for 150 years but it hasn’t had much expansion,” he said. “We’re trying to be true to the algorithm but we want to put our stamp on it and do something original within the cuisine.”
One example: Yo+Shoku’s omurice is served over plov — an Uzbek rice dish associated with Eastern European cuisine — and is topped with a Mexican mole negro sauce inspired by the Dolinskys’ time in New York. Pelmeni-style dumplings are paired with sour cream, a traditional Eastern European accoutrement, as well as chili oil, a nod to Japanese tastes.
“We’ve taken our former borsch and infused it with dashi broth and curry,” said Ricky. “That cuts the sweetness and fattiness of the borsch and makes it into a whole new entity, served with udon noodles and a ramen egg. We’re elevating a staple of Eastern European cuisine and making it into a Japanese noodle bowl.”
Yo+Shoku is a pop-up restaurant, currently set to run through June 2023. Guests can also enjoy the Yo+Shoku menu at Paper Planes, the Dolinskys’ adjacent cocktail bar, which features a creative drink menu that fuses Western and Eastern flavors.
As an example, the House of the Rising Sun cocktail combines Japanese whiskey, single-malt scotch, orgeat, lime, orange blossom water and egg white, creating what Ricky described as “a tiki drink between Hawaii and Japan, with a small detour to Scotland.”
While the logistics of launching a new restaurant concept have at times been challenging, Ricky finds it rewarding to introduce existing and new customers to yoshoku cuisine.
“What’s interesting is that even for a city as big as New York, there are even fewer yoshoku restaurants than Eastern European restaurants,” he said. “It’s an educational challenge, showing people a new cuisine that’s done in our own style. We’re giving people an authentic take on yoshoku while expanding the canon of the cuisine.”
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