Door #1, 2 or 3…hmmm. Always a chance you’ll miss the prize if you choose wrong, but not here. First door takes you into Walter’s, an agreeably hip neighborhood pub. Could be a very pleasant evening. Views of Fort Greene Park, cocktails, raw bar, fried chicken, weekend brunches. You know the drill. And it’s good. But if you march yourself straight to the back of the dining room and push open door #2, you will tumble down a chic NYC rabbit hole and find yourself in a speakeasy of the Japanese persuasion.
A peek through the Walter’s window…
Door # 1
We pass through tables of people enjoying themselves, the Walter’s hostess nods as we stare ahead purposefully. We follow her lead to the way back, an unlit hall and a large blue door. #2. She opens it, gesturing for us to go inside. We’ve arrived into cozy sophistication, an alternate universe of dining, imbibing, charm. Jazz spinning on a turntable, good jazz. Nothing to do but live a little.
Art deco lighting, flattering and indirect of course, with Japanese blonde screens, deep blue walls, all hand built by the owners out of a former doctor’s office.
Gorgeous bar. Big beveled mirror. Congenial waitstaff in very cool jackets with large buttons and small pockets. It’s all sumptuous, lush, au courant but not precious.
Owners Dylan Dodd and Danny Minch along with Head Chef Yael Peet, chef Josh Goldstein, and infamous barkeep Thomas Waugh have created something they refer to as Kyoto casual, a modern take on seriously seasonal Japanese dining. Peet’s offerings take strong influences from izakaya, robata and kaiseki cuisine with an ever changing menu. It’s all sensational. Mr Waugh hails from ZZ’s Clam Bar and the Major Food Group, and has devised a grand list of incredible Japanese whiskeys and sakes. Sometimes a classic drink is the thing, but should you be feeling frisky and devil may care, he has a coterie of cocktails re-imagined with timely Japanese ingredients, augmenting smoky, sweet, citrus, creatively inspired beauties guaranteed to tease and thrill. I’m talking about the cocktails.
A friend had the Smoked Palomino with mezcal, sherry and grapefruit. August in a glass. Layers of smoky citrus and then a head spin as you hit notes of sherry.
I had the Ginger Baker, partly because I’m a tequila fan but also because he is one of the greatest drummers of all time. Reason enough to drink him. The reposado tequila, oolong tea, ginger and cassis were surprisingly complex and incredibly good. I had more than one.
Hoyo “Sawayaka Junmai”. Soft and easy. One of many choices on a list of great sakes.
It’s a 40 seat Japanese cocktail bar turning out a mean mix of spirits as well as divine food. As is the new normal, dishes are meant for sharing and are divided into snacks, raw bar, smaller plates and larger plates.
Previous press tells the story of the name, Dylan Dodd was in a Seattle antiques shop and found a little carved figure that seemed very Japanese. Returning to Brooklyn with it in hand and without a name for the new spot, one of the Japanese chef’s suggested Karasu – loosely translated as little crow. Perfect.
Otsumami means bar snack of the day and we were lucky enough to be there for a favorite, uni wrapped in nori. It was sweet, briny, buttery. I can easily see sitting at the bar one day, nosing down one of the more rare whiskeys and indulging in several plates of these.
Can potato salad be ambrosial? Yes Virginia. If it’s Japanese potato salad topped with miso and sesame seeds. Taking an American classic and flipping it upside-down. The Japanese way. Addictive is a word flung far and wide to cover almost anything lately but it seriously applies here.
Karaage duck wings, four plump wing drums dressed with a kicky, spicy sesame sauce and adorned with scallions.
House made tagliatelle with uni in a smoky butter. I often feel that with uni pasta, there’s never enough of the prize ingredients to really be satisfying, but Chef Peet’s version is Japanese comfort at its best, a gratifying, impeccably composed dish that won’t let you go until the tears have stopped.
Tonkatsu pork chop. With cabbage as it should be. Breading that’s light and crispy. Also as it should be. Because that’s how you do.
Impeccable Donburi bowl, ocean trout sushi with ikura and rice. A tonic for these warm days.
The whole fish is a meaty seafood parade of shiso pesto on a perfectly cooked daurade ordered with a side of seaweed flecked miso koshihikari rice. Superb. This is a dish to dive into, fingers, chopsticks, fork, whatever you can use quickly before a dining companion gets the better of you. Break apart the white filet, that lightly seasoned fatty skin, avoid the bones. You’re golden.
Apparently one of the more revelatory reasons to get here pronto is for the aged prime rib steak rubbed with fermented koji rice then dipped into the accompanying vinegar sauce – which seems to be akin to doing peyote in the Teachings of Don Juan. Mind blowing. We only had one steak eater at the table and it’s quite a substantial dish, so next time. It’s going to be the talk of the town if it isn’t already. Don’t miss out.
Summer focused ice creams were offered for dessert – ginger, green tea matcha, and black sesame. I think flavors vary daily but these were sublime.
Karasu isn’t old world traditional but it’s also not hipster hell. It’s a gem. A grown up good time. Door #3 is the door to your heart, because you’ll like it here and will have found a new place to love. It’s a find. Especially when you push through the wardrobe door and…well…find it.
166 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene *located in the back of Walter’s
Closed Tuesdays / Kitchen open weeknights 5:30-11:30 and weekends till midnight. The bar is open later.