Hotoke Japanese Steakhouse
41 Route 111, Smithtown
Deep bass pulses like a heavy heartbeat, sound traveling with subtle rumblings through extensive modern woodwork. Cosmopolitan chic oozes out of every painstaking detail; deep tray ceilings softly glow ice blue, a lighter counterpart to the bold indigo that highlights the tasteful detail of the glass-tiled sushi bar and New Age Asian décor. A rather extraordinary venue deceptively hidden in a perfectly ordinary shopping center in Smithtown on Route 111, Bobby Lam’s Hotoke is a sexy, upscale hideout for discerning diners who need to step out of Long Island for one hot minute.
The delighted shrieks of children at the ample teppanyaki tables—the extensive seating fitting groups up to 20—are easily muted by partitions that separate the sushi bar area, keeping the main dining room dinner date-friendly, while allowing families to enjoy the ambience and superb dining without worry. The usual show elicits gasps and laughter, as it should, but it’s truly the food here that takes center stage.
Sweet shrimp is lightly seasoned and arrives on your plate in vivid form, while lusciously tender steak sizzles with promise on the cooking surface. The chicken is tender, but the real showstoppers—as with any respectable Japanese restaurant—are the seafood dishes. Fresh, rich salmon gets drenched in heavy, sweet teriyaki sauce and is surface-charred to tickle every tastebud. Scallops dance with abandon on the grill, but beyond comparison is the Chilean Sea Bass, a seared-crisp, thick white fillet whose purity of flavor and firm, luxurious texture is second to none. The teriyaki sauce is a perfect complement to the lightness of the fish, and paired with the standard broccoli, onion, mushroom, zucchini and carrot medley, the fabulous fried rice becomes the mere cherry on top in light of its counterparts.
However, the hibachi tables are only half of the sensory ecstasy Hotoke has to offer. For those dining in the swanky main area, the luxury of wallowing in an unhurried experience is well worth taking advantage of. Green tea margaritas are a fun and subtly flavored start, and the peach version is a great summer drink to accompany lighter appetizers like Mandarin crispy duck salad, with seasoned greens, jicama and beets with olive balsamic. Fusion Salad attracts seafood lovers with organic greens, tuna, salmon, avocado, mango and white ginger. For diners seeking a heartier experience, the fried oysters are exceptional—the plump Japanese oysters simply burst with searing flavor as soon as your teeth release the pressure of the panko breading.
Off the menu but on the specials board (if you’re lucky), the hungry can’t go wrong with meaty cubes of sea bass wrapped in beautifully seared filet mignon, served in a light sauce that hides nothing but enhances everything. For the truly hedonistic, the lobster sashimi, a tender but massive tail with shredded green onions and a lovely toasted sesame oil undertone, is a rare treat that must be ordered hours in advance.
The specialty sushi rolls are imaginative and exciting, the quality consistently above average due to the rigorous standards the staff imposes on their suppliers. A restaurant that takes pride in creating an overall experience, management has no qualms about sending back fish that doesn’t make their own cut, ensuring every bite a customer takes is without comparison. The sushi and sashimi make a great base here, but it’s with the signature rolls—like the Hotoke Roll (lobster, mango, avocado, tobiko in a soy wrap with tuna, avocado, and honey wasabi) and Passion Roll (seared white tuna, mango, spicy kani and seaweed salad and Thai chili sauce)—that bring the “fusion” part of the restaurant’s inspiration to life.
Affordable lunch specials starting at $7 offer amazing choices of rolls, hibachi, rice bowls, bento boxes and other sub-genres make Hotoke accessible, while dinnertime at the sultry spot turns a regular night into a sexy date and prelude for sensory awakening.