The Japanese dish known as Jingisukan, or Genghis Khan, takes its name from the legend that Mongol warriors cooked lamb over their helmets. At Dr. Clark, a new Hokkaido-inspired restaurant in Chinatown, the plan was for diners to cook their marinated lamb and vegetables at their tables, using cast-iron skillets resembling Genghis Khan’s helmet. But when the coronavirus shutdown scuttled the restaurant’s March 15 opening, the operators had to shelve the armored skillets and come up with another plan of attack.
As of this week, customers can instead order a $35 Genghis Khan set for delivery via Caviar or for pickup via Dr. Clark’s website. Illustrated instructions will show them how to pour the sesame oil into any old pan of their own, stir in the chives and veggies, add the thinly sliced marinated lamb shoulder, and enjoy the two-person portion with BYO beers.
Takeout wasn’t what Yudai Kanayama, who also operates two East Village locations of The Izakaya NYC, imagined when he decided to pay tribute to his home prefecture of Hokkaido, an island known for its lush scenery and sulfur-spring resorts. Behind its brass-paneled facade, Dr. Clark boasts an inviting, bamboo-screened interior dreamed up by East Village-based furniture designers Green River Project; the servers’ sheepskin hats and uniforms were created by Lower East Side designer Bode. A reproduction of an iconic statue of the restaurant’s namesake– William S. Clark, an educator who helped bring American agricultural practices to the nascent city of Sapporo in the 1870s– stands proudly behind the bar.
“We just wanted to transport you,” said David Komurek, a partner in the restaurant, of its design. “Take you out of the city and enter a whole different world.”
Obviously, that won’t be happening when diners prepare Genghis Khan in their modest tenement kitchens. Nor will they be able to enjoy late-night festivities at Dr. Clark, meaning “midnight parfait” (another Hokkaido trend) and karaoke (the space at 104 Bayard Street was formerly home to legendary karaoke dive Winnie’s, whose faded sign is still on the storefront). Add to which, the takeout and delivery offerings– including lamb curry and Hokkaido-style fried chicken– are just a small portion of chef Munetake Ogata’s dine-in menu, which will feature an entire section of uni dishes and a $145 “Hokkaido feast” consisting of house-smoked sashimi, uni-stuffed grilled squid, scallop risotto, and other plates.
Still, Komurek is hopeful that nostalgic Japanese New Yorkers— the type who know that Hokkaido-style fried lamb noodles have their own mascot— will become regulars from the comfort of their homes. “Any time I’ve told any Japanese person in New York that I’m opening a Genghis Khan restaurant,” he laughed, “they get a tear in their eye, like they’re about to hold a puppy.”
Komurek says the restaurant’s operators “don’t think we’re going to make a ton of money” on takeout– even with bottles of whiskey from Hokkaido’s Akkeshi distillery going for $150. But they’ve decided to live by Dr. Clark’s motto— “Boys, be ambitious”— as well as by the message that recently graced a sandwich board outside of sister restaurant The Izakaya: “NEVER GIVE UP.” A photo of the sign appears on The Izakaya’s GoFundMe, which has raised $5,269 out of a desired $30,000. On the fundraiser page, Kanayama and his partner Keisuke Kasagi say they are “having very difficult time to keep the business going.” As Japanese nationals, they are unable to apply for a small-business loan, making it “harder to keep the business and pay our employees,” they write. The Izakaya has switched to takeout and delivery; Kanayama and Kasagi decided to do the same at Dr. Clark because they’ve found a demand for it among housebound New Yorkers, Komurek said.
Komurek declined to say whether Dr. Clark’s landlord has cut it a break while the dining room is dark; regardless, he and his partners aren’t showing any Genghis Khan-like hot-headedness about opening their doors. “I think we should only be open when it’s 100 percent safe for people to be going out,” he said. “When we have answers or evidence that it’s okay to be going out again.”