There comes a time in the life of a Hopper when it all gets to be too much and the Hopper is exhausted. She still roams here and there, partaking of the seasonal delights and slurping freely from the grand ramen bowl in the sky, but she has become lax, unobservant, and ill-suited to the true rigors of Hopping. Sad, but true: we’ve been sliding.
Happily, this state of affairs came to a resounding halt this past weekend, as the two founding Hoppers got together at Bar Goto, a fun, casual izakaya we had been meaning to try on the Lower East Side. With the winter behind us and the first of the spring buds emerging, we were pleased to celebrate the new season with the fresh dishes, and fine beverages, all on offer at this unassuming New York izakaya in the best possible iteration.
Kenta Goto, formerly of the fine cocktail lounge Pegu Club, has set up a discreet and bustling spot where he pours a masterful mix of beverages infused with Japanese spirit and panache. I started things off with a sprightly “Far East Side”, which married a biting flavor of ginger with tequila and mellow sake. It was a serious brew that came, appropriately, in a classic coupe. Fellow Hopper went with the Sakura Martini, a sake-based offering grounded with pickled cherry flower in full splay. We followed this with a sampling of the Jasmine-Apricot 75, another sake-based drink spiked with sweet apricot, before parting beverage ways: one for a sensible Malbec, the other for a little Ryujin “Dragon God” sake.
We Hoppers had a lot to catch up on (big Hopper news coming down the pike this season—we go international! Stay tuned for more…) so we were pleased to keep our glasses full and our plates brimming with the original takes on traditional Japanese bar snacks. Fries made of gobo root (or burdock, as it is more commonly known in the west) came long, slender, and perfectly crisp, wanting only a sprinkle of the side condiments on offer: powered wasabi root and finely-grated chili flakes.
These seasonings brought out the earthy sensibility of the gobo root, with just the slightest overlay of ocean brine that this Hopper swears she could detect. Far more complex, and ultimately satisfying, than a usual order of fries, the gobo spears paired perfectly with the brightness of our drinks and were fun to dress up with sprinkles from our various and beautiful seasoning bowls.
We next tried the Goto pickle platter, a rich assortment of pungent roots and vegetables that had been sauced up and arrived just in time to cut the light grease of our opening appetizer. Pickled beets glistened like red garnets, while the pickled taro root offered a starchy rejoinder.
It was perfect snacking, talking, catching up food ahead of our main event—the miso-infused wings. “These have been prepared in the Nagoya style,” the founding Hopper explained. “It is a hearty, thick preparation of the wings to give more energy and sustenance to workers. This truly is classic bar food, ready to eat with your fingers and satisfying after a long day of real labor.”
Nagoya, she was quick to add, is smack in the middle of the main island of Honshu, home of Toyota and where a great number of hard workers come to bars and izakaya just like Bar Goto to fill up and chill out.
While neither of us had done any “real labor” on this warm, early spring Saturday in New York, so too would any workers be hard pressed to complain about the toothsome, full-bodied preparation of these wings: redolent with rich miso flavor, there was perhaps just as much sauce as meat, all of which we washed down easily with sake and wine. We gestured for our refills, promising each other it would be our last for the night, and continued to talk long into the evening in a little wedge of the Lower East Side that transported us, for a good few hours, back to Japan.
245 Eldridge Street
New York, NY
Tues-Thurs, 5 pm – 12 am
Sat-Sun, 5 pm – 2 am