Everyone likes being in on a secret, so here’s a juicy one for you. At Walter’s, a very American and Brooklyn-esque restaurant in Fort Greene, there is a door that leads to Karasu, an elegant Japanese speakeasy hidden in the back. Out goes the scrappy bearded hipster hangout, and in comes the sleek and beautiful black-and-gold cocktail lounge. I felt like I was back at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, only I was surrounded by white people wearing normcore clothing instead of businessmen wearing suit-and-tie. Different people, similar ambiance.
Karasu is more of a cocktail bar with small plates to accompany your drink and not the other way around. The drinks list is an extensive and interesting one. You wouldn’t expect anything less from Thomas Waugh, who is the head bartender and made a name for himself at places like ZZ’s Clam Bar and Death & Co. We ordered the Ginger Baker, a refreshing and fruity drink made with ginger and tequila flavored with oolong tea; the Thrice Rice, a smoky and savory cocktail made with Dewar’s infused with rice cakes, and the Dippermouth, another smoky and manly concoction of bourbon, black walnut and creme de banana. All three cocktails were excellent, but if you want something simpler, you can also order some sake, shochu and Japanese whiskeys. We had two cups of the Kamoizumi Summer Snow Sake, an unfiltered and sweet sake that was simply delicious.
The food features Japanese izakaya favorites like pickles, karaage, sashimi and potato salad, although with a Western twist. One example is the karaage, which is normally prepared as fried chicken, but Karasu re-interprets it as soft duck wings in a spicy sesame sauce that feels more like a teriyaki. There’s also the inventive tagliatelle pasta with uni, which is not something you’d find in any Japanese bar, and the heavy flavors of smoky ham and butter that dominate are very much American. I thought the best dishes were the ones that stayed truest to the Japanese flavor profile, the refreshing and clean crudo of kampachi with shiso and the miso potato salad with sesame and nori.
My favorite moments at Karasu are on the earlier side, when there aren’t as many people and the noise level isn’t so high. You can comfortably carry on a conversation with your dining companions while enjoying the jazzy music in the background, but after 8 pm or so, that becomes harder to do. But after a few drinks, and when owner Danny Minch chats you up with fun stories about his travels to Tokyo and Kyoto, that becomes less of an issue, and you’re more focused on when you can drop by again to pick up from where you left off.
Karasu, in the back of Walter’s
166 DeKalb Avenue (and Cumberland St)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
call 718-488-7800 for reservations