Remember the world in the movie Her, where people walked around blissfully by themselves in their high-waisted pants talking to their operating systems? Had they been born centuries earlier, perhaps they would have frequented Ichiran Ramen, the new restaurant in Bushwick famous for its solitary ramen experience. Customers sit in solo “flavor concentration” booths designed to totally automate the whole ramen ordering and eating experience so that human interaction is unnecessary. There’s an order form that lets you check off how you want your broth and noodles, and all you have to do is slide it across the table, where a faceless server will pick it up for processing. If you have any questions about how different options will affect your ramen flavors, there are detailed flyers hanging in your booth that will explain all of that. And if you want some extra water, all you have to do is press a button and show a card that writes out what you want.Read More
You might describe a sushi omakase as luxurious, long and expensive, but rarely is it ever fun. At Shuko, sitting through 29 courses of the sushi kaiseki is the most fun you’ll ever have. With rap music blaring on the background, the friendly staff plying you with drinks, and the sushi chefs answering questions like, “what’s your guilty pleasure?”, there’s no way you won’t have a good time. Read More
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
A typical Korean breakfast for me growing up was rice, soup and grilled fish. The fish was usually something a little fishier than your typical salmon or cod–think mackerel or pike. And the line up of banchan side dishes would change from time to time, but I was always very partial to the jeon and jangjorim. It was clearly different from all the cereals and Pop Tarts that were advertised on TV, and while there were times I wanted to fit in and eat all that sugar, in hindsight I’m glad for my mom’s nourishing meals.
The popular Japanese breakfast at Okonomi in Williamsburg reminded me a lot of the Korean one from my childhood. Not a huge surprise since these countries aren’t too far from one another. Structurally they are pretty much the same. No meal is complete without a bowl of rice, accompanied by grilled fish and side dishes. Of course, the breakfast set at Okonomi is served on beautiful ceramics in a tranquil setting with good feng shui, which transforms one of the most hurried and neglected meals of the day into a small luxury.
I was pretty excited to see bluefish as one of the protein options, which is a fish you don’t normally see on the menu. It tastes like a very mild mackerel and a wonderfully fleshy hamachi collar. I asked Yuji Haraguchi, who runs the restaurant, where I could get this fish. Turns out Yuji himself is going to start selling it at his own store, pending funds from a Kickstarter campaign. I can’t wait to support his campaign, but I do wish I could get my blue fish a little sooner than that!
A lot of things come out in the Japanese breakfast, but the portions are pretty small. What it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty and nourishment. The bright green blanched collard greens, the earthy multi-grained bowl of rice, the roasted purple sweet potatoes, they were like little dabs of color on Yuji’s palate. They say you eat with your eyes, not your stomach, and I felt like this was very true at Okonomi.
On a side note, I forgot to mention that Okonomi only accepts walk-ins, so we had to wait about an hour for our table. Thank goodness for Blind Barber, a bar next door to Okonomi that sells $5 cocktails and some very decent bar food while you wait. It’s things like $5 cocktails that make me want to move out of Manhattan and drink in Brooklyn everyday.
While we were waiting, we stopped by a tea tasting pop-up run by Kettl, a NYC-based tea company that imports artisanal teas from Japan. Zach Mangan, one of the founders of Kettl, was brewing some complimentary samples of the company’s soba cha and a very interesting varietal of green tea.
His story is an interesting one. Mangan partnered with some Japanese entrepreneurs who had connections to the country’s best tea producers to bring this award-winning product to the States. He explained how the farming process is such where tea leaves can be farmed to a certain taste. If a customer wants something more earthy or bitter, the farmers can basically blend different harvests to achieve this, much like how a vineyard might resort to blends to make a consistent bottle of wine every year.
Kettl sells its highly sought after small batch teas to some very prestigious Michelin star restaurants, and as you might expect, the teas are on the pricier side. And the shelf life of the loose leaf teas is only a month, so best of luck if you open a bag and need to go on vacation soon after. But some tea varietals like the soba cha, which comes in tea bags, are very accessible in both taste and price point. The pop-up is taking place every weekend, so if you’re ever curious to know how a green tea can be spicy and unctuous and need to wait out a table at Okonomi, now is the time to learn.
Okonomi and Kettl Pop up
150 Ainslie St (between Leonard and Lorimer St)
New York, NY 11211
524 Lorimer St (between Ainslie and Powers St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Bar Goto is a new Japanese cocktail bar in the LES run by Pegu Bar alum Kenta Goto. Its quiet elegance and serious-minded approach to cocktails is very reminiscent of other Japanese lounges such as Angel’s Share or B Flat. Something about it though feels a little more like a destination bar in a way that these smaller places don’t. Clearly it would be a waste if you ordered a traditional vodka soda or a gin and tonic here. Properly utilize your bartender and have him mix you an interesting cocktail like the fizzy Calpico soda or an “Umami” Bloody Mary. These might sound like silly, lightweight drinks, but they are actually far more thoughtful and complex than what their labels suggest.
There is a limited food menu should you want to pair your drink with some small bites. The highlights by far are the savory okonomiyaki Japanese pancakes and the crispy miso sesame chicken wings. Coincidentally they also happen to be the most substantial items on the menu. If you want something more delicate, the sesame oil coated celery sticks and the octopus sashimi will hold you over without overpowering your palate. But whatever you do, make room for refills of that wonderfully effervescent Calpico cocktail.
245 Eldridge St (Stanton and E. Houston St)
New York, NY 10002