Hail To King

King

Three girls three. That’s how this tale of a boîte-to-be begins. Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt were working at the infamous River Cafe in London and they shared a dream. An introduction to Annie Shi, a general manager at the cutting edge Clove Club brought forth a further meeting of the minds, plus some hopes, fantasies and luckily for those of us on this side of the pond, a plan. New York City. As luck would have it, they scored the about-to-be-vacant-after-10-years space belonging to Mekong, and the rest in these short weeks gone…is history. This charming, kicky, cozy, irrefutably sublime bistro is every bit as good as the word on the street has been.

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It’s a concise, continually changing menu leaning keenly on southern Italy and northern France, a modern European take on comfort dishes, classic dishes, dishes with refinement…sparked by creativity.

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There are several tables in the small bar for dining as well as stools for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great cocktails. On the lighter side but that bartender will do a strong classic for you in a second.

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The menu includes the date because at the very least it partially changes daily.

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Carta di Musica, a favorite of mine is thin, crisp, crackling and treated to a pool of buttery oil.

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Highly enjoyable bottle from a well rounded and well priced list. Definitely one to have with food. Big and fruity, good tannins, long finish.

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Salt cod on grilled polenta was a fusion of cool, creamy, whipped, warm, crunchy. Layers of satisfaction with a nod to northern Italy’s favorite carbohydrate and an homage to the preferred dish of the Vikings, baccala, imported from them to the Veneto in the 15th century. The sweetness of the polenta counterbalances the saltiness of the cod. It’s a great bite with a glass of red wine but I think I’d love it for breakfast as well. Breakfast wine up to you.

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Fresh ricotta with lentils and marinated anchovy was lovely. The anchovies provide a umami quality offering depth and complexity to those earthy stalwarts, the lentils. Perfecting the plate is the familiar pair of lush ricotta and bitter greens. All together, comfort at its level best.

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Hand cut tagliarini with chanterelles and parmesan was both hearty and delicate. It gives you that sense of place, maybe a cozy trattoria on a snowy Italian afternoon? Though its hook translates seductively as a contemporary dish of an evening in west Soho.

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To paraphrase a favorite Preston Sturges line from The Lady Eve , the halibut roasted over lemon leaves with braised spinach and baby artichokes was a poem. Each bite was a delight, traversing from spinach to fish to artichoke and back again. I couldn’t stop eating it. And the lemon leaves…ahhh. Our lovely waiter suggested we sniff them and then lick them. In all earnestness!  He was right, the fragrant lemony aromatic fills your senses and somehow lends a deeper understanding to the French-ness of the dish.

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Slow cooked Florentine fennel was soft, deep and carmelized. A pleasing side dish.

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Prune and cognac are classic companions and though this prune and cognac tart wasn’t grand, it was definitely good. A thin riser of pastry laid with a cozy cover of custard that suspended juicy prunes and was lightly baked.

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The atmosphere is bright and spirited with the intermingling of a busy kitchen and chatty clientele, almost like a big family dinner with every recognizable character at the table. Except it has an understated elegance, is nothing short of charming and neighboring diners don’t eat off your plate.

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The always evolving menu provides an ideal canvas for the chef’s mastery and style. Their appetite for timeless dishes enhanced with an edgy imagination appears effortless, and offers the warmest of invitations. Flavors are straightforward, satisfying, beguiling. Service is on point, everyone working seems to be having a good time and interested in sharing that with the room.

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Alchemy is in play here, this trio of women, the food they create, the ambience they’ve fostered…the magnetism is inescapable. It’s the kind of place you wish was in your own neighborhood but wouldn’t think twice about hopping an uber to pretend that it is.

King

18 King Street with entrance at Sixth Avenue

917.825.1618

Closed Sunday. Monday-Wednesday 5:30pm-Midnight Thursday-Saturday till 1am

The Other Japanese

Autre Kyo Ya

You can’t leave this restaurant and not feel like you’ve just arrived home from a delightful trip far far away. . This post is about a lovely late spring dinner but every season is supremely celebrated here.

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It’s an intricate balance of French and Japanese influenced cooking with timely ingredients found locally and in Japan that are then applied to more traditional French techniques. West meets east then congas through shifting seasonality to create something else entirely. Chefs Shuji and Takashi both worked at Kyo-Ya and also come from backgrounds that include French training for Shuji as well as Takashi’s experience from Kajitsu, the lovely Japanese focused vegetarian restaurant in midtown.

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They took over a restaurant called The Barrel but the decor is very fitting for them. Elegant but comfortable. Warm and glowing.

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They have sake, wine, beer plus an interesting cocktail list, lighter and Japanese focused with elements like yuzu citrus jam and edible flowers. Plus there’s a cocktail hour from 530pm – 7pm with $1 oysters. So no excuses for not going.

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The menu is less extravagant than the mothership of Kyo-Ya, their mainly kaiseki restaurant on East ninth street. And while that restaurant, near and dear to my heart and tastebuds is remarkably unique, the thinking here too is intriguing and creative.

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Hand made plates.

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Goma-Tofu Cocktail with house-made sesame tofu, bonito-kombu broth & hanaho flower.

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A chilled and layered broth in a martini glass with excellent house-made sesame tofu that has just enough texture to keep it lively. Beautifully leveled tastes that incorporate hojiso, the sprigs of the shiso plant studded with tiny cupped flowers with seeds and miyoga, the young tender buds of the Japanese ginger plant. Executed masterfully and very inventive.

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Hokkaido Sea Urchin Consomme Gelee with onset-style egg. Delicate uni topped with edible flowers, an utterly opulent slow poached egg ever so gently cooked, in a gelée crossed with the very present sweetness of parsnip puree. The chilled broth melts on your tongue, the citrus aromatics really brighten and balance the richness of the egg. It’s smooth, viscous, ethereal. A fabulous dish.

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Gindara Tsubu-Miso, Miso marinated black cod with roasted shallots & pickled kohlrabi, you might think ubiquitous but you’d be wrong.

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Next are several dishes involving mushrooms, oysters,  seafood tempura, daikon and custard. All distinctive and gratifying.

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From the spring seasonal menu, White Asparagus and Seared Scallop with scallop dashi sauce, candy beet & watermelon radish. A playful combination of creamy, crispy, sweet and mild.

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Sakura Ebi Kamadaki Rice, the claypot rice dish of the evening, assembled and served at the table.

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Kakiage, mitsuba greens, myoga, ponzu, yuzu-kosho. Toothsome kernels of rice flavored by fish and smoke. It’s a refined but deep layering of tastes.

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They serve sake with true panache.

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Between Kyo-Ya, the ultra serene cocktail bar Angel’s Share and Sunrise Mart, one of the better places for Japanese food shopping in the city and just next door, the owners have created a mini empire in the East Village. And at Autre they also pay attention to execution and beautiful presentation. And they succeed. Autre, opened less than a year ago is a bit more casual, more affordable than its counterpart and less exotic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not stellar and its own experience. Because it is and it is.

 

Autre Kyo Ya

10 Stuyvesant Street between Second/Third Avenue

212.598.0454

Open:

Tues-Wed 5:30pm–11pm (last call 10:30pm)

Thurs-Fri 5:30pm-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sat 11am-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sun 11am-10pm (last call 9:30pm)

DINNER & WEEKEND BRUNCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opalescent Dining

Mother of Pearl

There’s something glimmering in the distance, light casting itself off a small shiny trend it seems…what is this iridescence, this possible culinary treasure? Why it’s the vegan movement! Suddenly and without warning, vegan restaurants are a hot commodity. And even our favorite carnivores are having a good time. One of the grand promoters of this dining trend in NYC is Ravi DeRossi, a cult leader in speakeasy/cocktail bar world. Having opened one of the early and more revered hipster spots, Death & Co, as well as the tequila/mezcal themed Mayahuel and the intimate bitters bar Amar y Amargo, he’s definitely made a splash. With varying partners, he has over fifteen drinking and dining places in his anthology with onward and upward plans on the way. Cienfuegos, his rum focused passion project is right next door to Mother of Pearl, a half tiki bar and now half fantastical vegan restaurant. I say fantastical because it’s akin to being inside the pages of a winsome child’s fairy tale or maybe someone’s electric kool aid acid test. It’s a confection.

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Mr DeRossi’s semi recent spin to revamping virtually all of his restaurants as vegan seems to have born itself of a revelation he had when life events crossed with the realization that it was necessary to amend his personal habits. And then there’s the Earth to consider. A longtime vegetarian then ultimately vegan, Mr DeRossi spent weeks with his dying cat, Simon last Christmas and had the time and focus to consider the life-planet-future connection. His personal philosophy measures a myriad of reasons for all to consider a plant based diet though naturally there are the headliners – animal rights, the environment/global warming and health. As cited in Jeff Gordiner’s profile piece in the NYT, “he attributes his success to dumb luck and random impulses.”

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Mother of Pearl is just plain heavenly. After all, it’s really more about the food than the trend anyway. Dinner and brunch are equally delightful. Chef Daphne Cheng has created a Polynesian inspired menu that is disarming and intriguing. The cocktails and even the wines are made with only plant based ingredients. No fish scales, no cream. The beauty here is that vegan dishes are the star not the offhand we’ll throw you a (non)bone hastily fixed sub par version of some classic meat dish. In this particular tributary of his vegan empire, the savory dishes and drinks are fruit based. And they have decorative flowers. Food as beauty, healthy indulgence and fun. Plus so so good.

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There are whimsical, eclectic, tasty cocktails designed by Jane Danger. My extremely wonderful Tide Is High pictured above is a combination of mezcal, reposado tequila, cashew, pineapple and lime. Below is the almost infamous Shark Eye (and the glass is available for purchase) with passion fruit, lemon, tiki bitters, curaçao and bourbon.

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This is a get down-good time vegan menu. The food is bright and colorful and there are many fetching options to choose from, maybe because it feels kind of new. This menu is not your average bear. (No carnivore humor intended!)

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Fried guacamole. Yes, I said fried. And it works. It’s got crunch, it’s got fluffy, it has spicy avocado velvety happiness with house made caramelized crispy plantains.

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With black bean puree, sriracha and adobe aioli.

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Potstickers rule here. The Lychee version come with a black vinegar sauce and thai basil. Delicate crisp sour/sweet bite.

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Mushroom and Cabbage Potstickers with ancho chile bbq sauce have the right tooth to crispness pitch with a very flavorful loamy filling and then that saucy spicy zing.

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Kalua Jackfruit and Shitake Mushroom Buns with ginger aioli and five spice ketchup are layered with spice and earth, they’re golden and gratifying.

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Crispy Coconut Tofu with adobe aioli, chimichurri and pineapple relish, vegan island comfort food.

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Green Mango Poke with tomato, jicama, crispy rice and macadamia is not to be missed. The waiter said to get it, I hesitated, he was right. It’s mango, tomatoes, jicama, macadamia nuts and an array of sesame oil, lemon juice, rice wine and and and. It’s a wild composition of flavors but also civility.

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On another day, a great meal once again for brunch.

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The Indus Valley with pineapple, toasted sesame oil, lime, sugar cane syrup and gin. Plus green and red pepper flowers. I feared sweetness, nope, I feared too fruity, nope, I was surprised by toasted sesame oil – now I want it in every drink. This was divine.

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The non alcoholic Forbidden Fruit with orange, grapefruit, lemon, ginger, turmeric and oregano. Apparently as satisfying as a glass with liquor. So much flavor, the inebriation wasn’t missed.

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Panikeke Lapotopoto aka fried pancake balls are a find. The menu lists ambrosia fruit, coconut cream and a pineapple rum sauce. It doesn’t tell you that these are the giddy version of pancakes. Light, fanciful, fruity but with resonance.

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Avocado French Toast with ricotta, sriracha maple syrup and fruit. We thought okay avocado on French toast, yeah we can skip that for now. Yet another time when I succumbed to our waitress who said – the dish you’re missing is this one. The sum is way more than its parts. Sweet, savory, crispy, creamy. Fan-frigging-tastic.

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Jackfruit Hashbrowns sweet and spicy ketchup. Potatoes lightened up with much jackfruit so not only interesting and satisfying but guilt free fried potato eating.

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The panorama…

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Located in East Village central, it almost looks like we’re in some (albeit) urbanized Polynesian paradise.

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It’s important to note that DeRossi is a major player in the animal welfare universe and has a menagerie of rescue dogs and cats of his own. His non profit called BEAST, Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today focuses on altering perceptions of how being involved with animal rights is defined.

For all of the commitment and seriousness of his passion and animal politics, he’s created a whimsical, distinctive, exquisite Polynesian oasis to revel in. Dine, enjoy late night cocktails, you can find your own passion here.

Mother of Pearl

95 Avenue A at 6th street

212.614.6818

Daily hours 5pm-1am Sunday-Tuesday and until 2am Wednesday-Saturday.  Weekend brunch hours 11:30-3:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind The Green (Blue) Door

Karasu

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…

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Door # 1

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hoyo “Sawayaka Junmai”. Soft and easy. One of many choices on a list of great sakes.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Karaage duck wings, four plump wing drums dressed with a kicky, spicy  sesame sauce and adorned with scallions.

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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.

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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.

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Impeccable Donburi bowl, ocean trout sushi with ikura and rice. A tonic for these warm days.

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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.

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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.

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Summer focused ice creams were offered for dessert – ginger, green tea matcha, and black sesame. I think flavors vary daily but these were sublime.

Sweet change.

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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.

Karasu

166 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene *located in the back of Walter’s

347.223.4811

Closed Tuesdays / Kitchen open weeknights 5:30-11:30 and weekends till midnight. The bar is open later.

 

 

Bar Goto A Go To Bar To Go To…

Bar Goto

Through a glass darkly could be the theme here in this glowy, seductive cocktail izakaya. With the surfeit of lovely places to drink around town, from speakeasies to any raucous downtown scene – you’d think there wouldn’t be need for more. But there’s always room for one more isn’t there? And Bar Goto is more than just another hip bar. It’s a pretty fabulous, intimate, innovative, interesting bar by treasured alum Kenta Goto from Pegu Club fame.

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A warm summer evening and the windows are open to a quiet part of Eldridge Street. The wooden door swings wide, there’s Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack, smoldering lighting, congenial, casually sophisticated crowd and a warm welcome. I’m in.

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You can grab a seat at the lovely walnut bar or stake out a table. It’s a small architecturally creative space and can easily get crowded but it’s generally very comfortable. If there’s a wait, it’s actually a civil wait. Respect and graciousness rule the roost.

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That’s the mise-en-scene, but the stars here are the Japanese tapas-esque plates ready for sharing and of course the signature cocktails that demand to be tasted one by one. Each one sounds fantastic. $15 per drink and you can go through several quite handily. No worries if you want something to be made for you from a favorite assemblage, or you prefer straight sake, wine, beer or your spirit of choice. But the signature cocktails are off the charts. They are exquisite, not meant to send you under the table but to settle on the palate, caress the taste buds, satisfy the soul.

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One of the much talked about cocktails. And for good reason. The Sakura Martini comprised of sake, gin, heightened by a maraschino musk and adorned with a beautiful dried cherry blossom. It’s delightfully velvety and the second one is even better than the first.

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Another favorite for me is The Far East Side (from early Pegu fame), a heady little combo of sake, tequila, shiso, elderflower, lemon and yuzu bitters. Oh, it may not get better than this. It’s not too much of any one thing, perfectly blended…nectar, heaven, divine – the holy trinity of cocktail description. But for real. And with a generously sized muddled shiso leaf.

Kenta along with great longtime bartender (and former cohort) Mat Resler, stand behind the bar liquifying magic. On a second visit sans camera, drank the Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler with gin, watermelon, cucumber, lime, lemon and wasabi salt tasting sublimely better then you’d imagine if the mix was in lesser hands. Summer at its best. The Matcha Milk Punch with matcha, sencha, vodka and half & half. I love that Goto described this drink as a concept bringing together tea ceremonies with the classic milk punch. It allows for the delicate green tea flavor to have prime focus. A relaxed finish to any deliciously alcohol infused evening here.

No perfect bar (or izakaya) could actually be such without food that complements intricately designed drinks…or maybe even dishes that hold their own. As it happens, Mr Goto, who clearly has taken great care and pride with every last facet of his lounge, also has the esteemed Chef Kiyo Shinoki (from semi-secret Bohemian fame) in the kitchen.

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Something as simple as celery becomes profound. The Kobu Celery is fresh celery with salted kobu seaweed, roasted sesame, sesame oil and red shiso flakes. Brilliant. Don’t smirk. This is celery at it’s absolute best. Would eat it every day.

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New York City loves a food phenomenon and currently the top banana, or top pancake is the Okonomi-Yaki, savory cabbage pancakes served with okonomi-sauce, drizzled kewpie mayo plus dried bonito flakes and picked red ginger on the side. That’s just the base. Served in cast iron pans, there are five choices on the menu and I’ve tried two so far. The Fisherman’s version with octopus, rock shrimp, and calamari and the Herbivore with shitake & shimeji mushrooms, nira-leek, carrot and scallions. Loved them both. There’s also a pork belly, seafood, cheese variation, an all grilled cheese with sun dried tomatoes kind, and the Carnivore with pork belly, chicken and bacon. Everybody can be happy.

Love the Pickle bar snack, vegetables done in house are great but it’s that yuzu pepper paste that will drag you back. Gobo French Fries – fried Japanese burdock roots, with shichimi-pepper & sea salt, another snap-them-up-while-you-imbibe-delicacies kind of treat.

Miso Chicken Wings have become a mini legend. Split in two so you nibble off one bone, getting more crunch and popping the flavor. The wings with roasted black sesame, scallions and a miso buffalo hot sauce are knocking socks off all the way around.

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Bar Goto is a cool customer. Chic but beautifully bound in the heritage of its owner. Kenta Goto was a favored bartender for seven years at Pegu. Now a charming and gracious host, his culture and ancestry are clearly ingrained in the man and the place. As a master in calligraphy, he’s included his last name in the bar logo as an homage to his family. His food remarks on a similar restaurant that his mother runs just outside of Tokyo and his grandmother’s 100 year old kimono has become part of the wall art.

In an early interview, Goto essentially said that his plan was to offer a new and evolving perspective about Asian themed cocktails, modernizing the classics and feature Japanese staples like yuzu, miso and shiso. In this smoky, sexy, chill spot – he’s doing just that. I am forever grateful.

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Bar Goto
245 Eldridge Street between Stanton & East Houston
212.475.4411
Tuesday-Thursday 5pm to midnight, Friday-Saturday until 2am, Sunday until midnight

An Intimate Boîte in the East Village

Toucan and the Lion

THIS RESTAURANT HAS SADLY CLOSED

I choose to think of it as an Asian-Danish-Come What May influenced gastropub. It’s been referred to as any of these and more. What matters though, is that it’s the home of mostly interesting, innovative food with some of my favorite cocktails…ever.

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It’s as if you suddenly found yourself in Monaco but you’re actually smack in the middle of the legendary Biryani Blvd aka East Sixth Street. Tres intime, beachy white with leafy hanging gardens everywhere. A seating capacity of maybe thirty? I’m not good at math but cozy is the word du jour.

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Small plates, slightly bigger plates, a few sides all meant to be shared. It’s convivial, relaxed. No pressure to order up. Just drink your cocktail and see what looks good for the next round of dishes.

A word about the cocktails. I would have happily had any of the drinks we’d ordered. Usually I’m partial, secretly gloating on my good luck at having chosen well or sadly wishing I had been smarter about my choice and gone with my dining companion’s selection. This time we were all winners. Especially because Sundays and Mondays offer half price cocktails all night!

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My trophy was the The Thai Fighter, a fabulous orchestration of bourbon, Thai basil leaves, lime, yuzu. It worked. Had several. Want one now. Also tasted The Lion, a kaffir ginger infused black rum, lime, sriracha. Loved. Not to be outdone by the Smoked Lychee – mezcal, lychee shrub, grapefruit bitters, malt rim. Just dandy.

Brunches are a great way to go here as well as stopping in for a cocktail (or three) and sharing a few tastes if you don’t want a full-on dinner. Loved the briny pop of the fried hop pickles from Brooklyn Brine Co, the lotus chips in a sriracha mayo, the stuffed shishito peppers all full of crab meat and duck sausage. The fish tacos with Asian slaw and dots of a mild white cheese were spot on. As was the yellow curry with tiger shrimp, hot hot peppers – a dish maybe meant for one of the many Indian joints down the block but veering more towards Thailand here. Toss in an order of the toasted bao buns with garlic lime butter and I’m a lifer.

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Rounding off the meal was a lovely trio of creme brulees. You think yeah, whatever but kapow. These made it worth having creme brûlée again! A dark chocolate with basil, a red bean with ginger and an orange blossom with lime maybe. Sadly I may have these mixed up but happily – I don’t care. Just get them.

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Things are pickled, spiced, muddled and combined with the unexpected. Not everything soars but I’d say for the most part it’s delightful, surprising and you do not, do not want to miss the cocktails.

The Toucan and the Lion
342 East Sixth Street between First/Second Avenues
212.375.8989
Closed Tuesday

Atmosphere & Alcohol Of The ECC Kind

Experimental Cocktail Club

The gourmet cocktail craze shows no signs of abating, along with the spiffy themed and gracious settings that we gather to sip them in. Welcome stateside to-the-direct-from-Paris…Experimental Cocktail Club (now in London too). And welcome -yet again- to the 1920’s. Guess we all want to feel just a little naughty while we imbibe, a touch glamourous, so a soupcon of prohibition with a dollop of Boardwalk Empire and away we go. The speakeasy is ever thriving. Pretend clandestine, gorgeous, sophisticated playtime dots the urban landscape everywhere these days. Don’t get me wrong – I like it. It’s fun, it’s an escape and in this case, a current mixing DJ keeps it all anchored in the now.

Enter the glow. You will be greeted by someone in dapper array, twenties style. Cute. Fine. It’s drinking as theatre. And the staff couldn’t be lovelier. Both Coco our genial male host and Nina, our cocktail server were a delight. The decor from the wallpaper to the lighting is inviting, pretty, a comfortable chic. Unfortunately the stools surrounding the low tables make you sit up quite a bit higher than your chair seated companions. A bit odd but maybe after a cocktail or three you’ll be happily slumped downward and the disparity evens out.

We sat in the front room, the action spot I guess. Home of the DJ and the early arriving hordes. I think I’d prefer the larger back room which is just as lovely but a tiny bit more serene.

Onto the libations! There are about 14 specialty cocktails offered, and of course the traditional American drinks that you’d expect. The most intriguing or say…amusing offers are their vintage cocktails. I won’t give away all the secrets but there is a “Vintage Dry Martini” made with Gordon’s Gin circa 1950’s available for $200. I can offer the same from my parents liquor cabinet I think. So, a thrill or markedly better?

We experienced three confections. The Artist, a combination of seven ingredients including Calvados, Billecart -Salmon Champagne, Absinthe and a surprise or two…

…the Black Heart, also seven ingredients but more from the bourbon, bitters and coffee angle and then the Noblesse Oblige, my favorite. Six ingredients including Bittermen Mole Bitters and Mezcal, two selling points for me.

I found the Artist a mishmash of tastes, sharp and sour points, not well thought out so we traded that for a straightforward and well blended Manhattan. The Black Heart was fine though erring too far to the sweet and then my drink – Noblesse Oblige, the best of all. Yet…the overriding fail here is that these carefully constructed jewels have layered themselves right out of balance. What’s so successful about PDT, the adjunct bar to Crif Dog (ha!) is that the cocktails are complicated, tasty, actually have enough alcohol and remain in perfect harmony. These are fun enough, but less alcohol and less composure render them not yet quite good enough.

Food is available in small plate form, charcuterie, cheeses, scotch eggs and the like – all from the Fat Radish, a wonderful gastropub nearby.

Go and explore the list. The standard drinks are well made, three champagnes are on the menu, Billecart-Salmon, Krug and Jacquesson plus a few more entertaining menu surprises. It’s a lovely and lively atmosphere and hopefully the artful cocktails will find a way to meld with the aesthetic balance they’ve created with the rest of that world.

Experimental Cocktail Club
191 Chrystie Street near Rivington Street
no phone
Email for reservations: madameandmonsieur@experimentalcocktailclubny.com